Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Silent Film


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Make More Noise! Suffragettes On Film
"An illuminating and funny compilation of 21 silent-era archival pieces." | Photo: Courtesy of the BFI

An excellent counterpart to Sarah Gavin’s Suffragette, Make More Noise! Suffragettes In Silent Film is an illuminating and funny compilation of 21 silent-era archival pieces from the BFI National Archive, showing women on film in the first decades of the 20th century.

A project long in development at the British Film Institute, which faced numerous challenges getting the footage together, the highly entertaining result is a testament to the hard work of programmers Bryony Dixon and Margaret Deriaz. The collection screened at the London Film Festival before its general release.

The footage of the suffragettes brings home a key tactic of their campaign - to "make more noise" and to exploit the then-new technology of film. That meant making sure cameras were there to cover them at public meetings, in music halls and theatres, and demonstrating on the streets and in front of government buildings. Some of the images will strike a chord with those who recently watched Gavron’s film: one of Suffragette’s key scenes involves a protest-turned-violent outside Parliament following a refusal by the government to amend the voting laws, a historical event briefly seen here in the old newsreels. There is also footage of Suffragette Emily Davison being knocked down and killed by the King’s horse on Derby Day, as well as the huge crowds that gathered for her funeral in Bloomsbury, London, and burial in Morpeth, Northumberland.

Alternating with the Suffragette-focused material are several humour shorts which not only highlight some of the ways the women’s rights movement lent itself to various parodies and scare tactics (witness the extremely politically incorrect sketch of a husband dreaming of becoming prime minister and declaring Suffragettes illegal) but also how women could playfully subvert society’s expectations of them in anarchic comedies. A particular treat are the demented hijinks of the Tilly girls duo Alma Taylor and Chrissie White, a two-woman St Trinian’s who’s modus operandi involves exploding into a room, usually on a bicycle or horse, and knocking everything and everyone over with a cheeky smirk and a wave.

More details of screenings around the country can be found at the BFI.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2015
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Archive footage from 1899-1917 showing women on film.
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Director: Various

Country: UK


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