By Tessa Burwood
Spooky films and weird inventions celebrate Birmingham's movie going history as part of Flatpack Festival 2009.
Just off New Street, there’s a long dead couple dancing in the moonlight, amongst crumbling ruins, in a sports shop window. Around the corner, two tragic stars of Vaudeville attempt to saw a piece of wood in half, and on Smallbrook Queensway the shower scene from Psycho plays with text message subtitles.
All this is in homage to Mr. Waller Jeffs- the ‘patron saint’ of Flatpack Festival 2009, who is credited with bringing movies to wide audiences in Birmingham at the beginning of the 20th century.
Waller Jeffs in action
To commemorate Mr. Jeffs, and the movie going traditions of old, the festival has collaborated with Birmingham and Black Country based artists to explore the mechanics of cinema, its history and how humans interact with the moving image.
From bicycle powered animations to an old style variety performance, via an audience with Birmingham’s oldest lovers and a record deck zoetrope, festival organisers 7 Inch Cinema promise surprises around every corner.
The Great Rob Ring
Films on the street
To mark the run up to this year’s festival, shop windows across the city will be turned into film installations by students of Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.
The trail opens on March 5th in Corporation Street, and there are five installations in all, starting with a piece entitled The Great Rob Ring.
Two artists calling themselves simply Chris and Keir came up with the film, which pays homage to one of Canada’s great Vaudeville stuntmen, who died tragically young onstage in a failed attempt to balance on a piece of wood from a great height and saw it in half.
A little further along the trail, shoppers may be confused by The Cabinet of Curiosity. In the film, two long dead Brummies, known as The City’s Sinister Sweethearts, dance in the window of Up and Running in Temple Street.
Still from The Cabinet of Curiosity
BIAD undergraduates Alec Chalmers and Rose Knowles are behind this strange homage to romance from beyond the grave. Alec explains that the scenery is based on local landmarks, including Warstone Cemetery: “We wanted to make use of some of the interesting areas around Birmingham.”
Imagine paying your entry fee to the cinema, only to find that if you wanted to watch the film, you’d have to cycle for it! An art student from Wolverhampton University has invented a strange movie making contraption that requires just that.
Kevin Timmins’ phenakistoscope is inspired by an early 19th century invention, which allowed viewers to watch an animation by projecting a spinning wheel of images through slits onto a mirror.
Kevin Timmin's phenakistoscope
Whereas the original contraption was powered by hand, Kevin's version is rigged up to a bicycle.
The art student came up with the idea while researching the history of cinema: “I just loved all these little pre-cinema devices- they illustrate wonderfully our thresholds of visual perception.”
The phenakistoscope will be on display and ready for use at Floodgate Kino in Digbeth, as part of a free event throughout the festival.
Outside the box
For the serious projector heads, Un Packed at Digbeth’s Fazeley Studios on March 13th could be just what the director ordered. The day long event provides an insight into the minds of those working in the film industry, through talks and workshops.
They have been wowing audiences across the country for some time, including an exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Visitors to Un Packed can see these machines in action.
A sense of occasion
So why all this in memory of a long dead movie showing Brummie? It seems that for organisers 7 Inch Cinema, Mr. Waller Jeffs symbolises the joy and spectacle of the moving image, and that’s something to be celebrated.
Still from The Great Rob Ring
Flatpack Festival started with film screenings in pubs, in the same way that Mr Jeffs hired out local venues across Birmingham to screen his films, before moving his show permanently to Curzon Hall, where it stayed for over a decade.
Festival organiser Ian Francis explains, “What we love about Jeffs is his willingness to try out different things to create a sense of occasion. We hope that if he were still around, he would recognise Flatpack as a scruffy great-grandchild of sorts.”
Flatpack Festival runs from March 11th to 16th in venues across Birmingham. Click the link below for ticket prices and more details.
last updated: 11/03/2009 at 13:19