'Williamson's Rescue Narratives', chapter within, Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain, 1896-1930, Andrew Higson, ed., University of Exeter Press, 2002, pp 28-41. ISBN 0 85989 717 6
The study of the work of the early English film-makers George Albert Smith (1864-1959) and James Williamson (1855-1933) has been a focus of my research for over a decade. During the years 1897 to 1901, when film was emerging as a new technology and as a new form of entertainment, Smith and Williamson made significant contributions to the early development of both film editing and narrative film. Internationally, they are known collectively as the 'Brighton School' and positioned as being at the forefront of Britain’s contribution to the birth of film language. Running in parallel to my research has been our archive’s creation, in partnership with Hove Museum & Art Gallery, of a study collection at Hove of films and objects (such as cameras and projectors) related to the history of the Brighton School. This work led in 2003 to the opening of a new gallery devoted to these film pioneers.
Williamson’s early work drew on aspects of contemporary English life and current events such as the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. Inspired by Smith’s concept of the shot and the edited sequence, he produced his first multi-shot narrative films: ATTACK ON A CHINA MISSION (1900) and FIRE! (1901). This chapter examined these films in the context of the rescue narrative. Typically, these are stories in which familiar representatives of society – men, women, children and families - are thrown into a crisis precipitated by the arrival of a disruptive force. The rescuer is that force for good that can and will restore order. Such saviours, in modern texts, are embodied usually by fathers, the military, the police and the fire service. Rescue narratives generally function to provide emotive depictions of survival, security, comfort and hope for a ‘real’ world that suffers from terror, tragedy and death. It can be argued that the rescue narrative’s relationship with the dialectics of life and death, good and evil, provide it with its cultural purpose and significance.
My chapter formed a part of the collection, Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain, 1896-1930. This publication, which grew out of the British Cinema Conference of 1998, marked the first serious attempt to create a scholarly selection of essays and a bibliography that would explore and map the nature of contemporary research on British silent cinema.
I have also contributed the entries on Williamson for various reference works: New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), the Encyclopedia of Early Cinema (Routledge, 2004) and Directors in British and Irish Cinema (British Film Institute, 2006). I am now preparing a book-length study of the Brighton School.
"The book has a progressive and forward-looking vision – evident in many of the contributions – fully appreciating that it is now necessary for silent film history to be contextualised in relation to both external as well as internal influences on its development."
(Richard Brown, review of ‘Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain, 1896-1930’, Film History, Vol 14, 2002, pp 461-462)