Smoke Screen makes a welcome return to the Cinema Museum before the year is out


With a cinematic heritage that appropriately intertwines with the legendary comedy star Charlie Chaplin (being a former Victorian Lambeth workhouse where Chaplin spent time as a child) and packed to the rafters with an incredible array of film memorabilia, the Cinema Museum remains today a cinephile’s paradise par excellence. In case you’ve missed it (very easy to do, given it remains hidden away behind housing complexes and out of sight from the main road running past the tube) the Museum is located in Kennington, not too far from Elephant and Castle underground station in Dugard Way off of Renfrew Road. Assuming you don’t go on one of the bookable tours, a visit to the museum during one of its many ticketed and free events (ranging from 35mm or 16mm film screenings to book fairs and silent film shows with piano accompaniment) will give you a chance to gawp at tis staggering treasure trove of artefacts that preserves the history of cinema from the 1890s to now. This place is bursting at the seams with bric-a-brac.

Seeing the museum itself is part of the whole experience of attending an event, with a great deal of memorabilia on show around the building at all times. You’ll spot something new every time you visit; tin fact the last time the Smoke Screen was there, he noticed a strange bulb-like device adorned with coils and antennae that looked like it came right out of Dr Frankenstein’s lab on display in one corner. It looked like a bizarre prop, but a sign observed is was in fact a lighting device from the Hollywood golden era. Co-founder Ronald Grant started collecting curiosities like this decades ago, when he was moved to save from destruction a significant quantity of artefacts belonging to the James F Donald cinemas in Aberdeen, where he had once worked. These items are at the heart of the collection, which has since taken in everything from movie posters and prints to old perfumes used to scent cinemas in the days before deodorant. Some side rooms have boxes stacked to the ceiling. You really do have to see it (or smell it), to believe it.

This is the last post the Smoke Screen will make before going on the annual winter hiatus (he has, unbelievably, as much a need to take a break as any other struggling blogger) and so it feels appropriate to devote it to the veritable Cinema Museum. The below pictures come from the Museum’s recent Silent Guns memorial screening day, which was organised by the silent film collective The Kennington Bioscope. Silent Guns marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War with a day of rarely seen silent films (plus some clips, adverts and shorts), curated in conjunction with the film historian Kevin Brownlow, all being made during or featuring World War One. Supporting a host of 16 and 35m screenings were live scores from the leading silent film pianists in the UK, John Sweeney, Costas Fotopoulos, Cyrus Gabyrusch, Lillian Henley and Meg Morley. Apart from the pictures of the eclectic venue, below are some details about some of the films, shorts, snippets and commercials that screened during that day. Before savouring the below please do take a moment to show some support for the Cinema Musuem here; the venue always seems to be facing an uncertain future.

The Big Parade (USA 1925) - King Vidor’s powerful and moving American hit The Big Parade (1925) was among the first to explore the psychological trauma of war.


Q Ships (UK 1928)

During World War I, the British navy disguised some of its warships as civilian cargo ships, known as Q Ships, in order to fool the Germans. The film is a dramatised account of real events, and features the war of nerves between a German U-Boat commander and the captain of one of the Q Ships. Directed by Geoffrey Barkas and Michael Barringer, and featuring several real-life naval servicemen from the ‘Q’ service.


How Charlie Captured the Kaiser (USA 1918)

Directed by Pat Sullivan, this is an animated short featuring a caricatured Charlie Chaplin.


Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.