Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love and Filmic Ephemera

"Forget Me Not" WWI decorated needlepoint token. Image from: Needleprint, May 2010.

Happy Valentine's Day to you, dear readers!

I wish you a day on which you feel assured or simply hopeful about love's presence and power in your own life and in a global sense too.

In honor of this holiday, I might direct you to past posts about chocolate and Valentine's postcards or sweetheart brooches.

Today, I'll add to this little collection of sweet treasures a couple of film snippets found in the IWM's online collections. They capture a few moments of WWI-era weddings, whether that of a Canadian officer at St. James's church, Picadilly or that of the 1916 wedding of Field Marshal French's son. I can't seem to upload thumbnails of the videos here, but click on the links and watch, and then come back!

In the first film's case, the bride and groom emerge on the church steps after their ceremony. It is fascinating to notice that, in this early era of "moving pictures," the happy couple and their wedding party are at first quite static, posing for photographs. Then, perhaps prompted by the man behind the movie camera, they launch into (somewhat self-conscious looking) motion, talking and interacting with the flower girls and bridesmaids who hold giant baskets of posies. Clearly, these pleasantries are staged, with darting glances at the cameras indicating the couples' awareness of being on film.

The second wedding is a portion of WWI-era newsreel, only the opening act in a set of footage that includes military operations and geographical documentary. The couple in question, the Honorable John R. L. French and his wife, Olivia, whisk past the cameras in the first few seconds of the reel. He wears his uniform and she is clothed in a veritable cloud of white, veils and dress sailing across the frame and into their car. Lest we feel denied more of an onlooker's pleasure in the happy occasion, we are next presented with a sequence filmed at the groom's family home. We see the newlyweds strolling in the garden with John's mother. While Mr. French looks rather serious and tends to avert his gaze, the new Mrs. French smiles blithely and moves with quite impressive ease in front of the mechanical eye of the camera. Ultimately, they play with pets and walk confidently towards us down a beautiful tree-lined path, as though the stars of a feature film marching right up to the celluloid boundary that separates the viewer's world and theirs.

"We're off to see the Wizard!" © Warner Brothers, image from "I Heart the Talkies."
If the last seconds of the wedding film remind us of something like the above famous film scenes, it is only because of our post-1939 perspective, of course. And yet, by the 1910s, film acting was its own art, and viewers understood a range of tropes as conveyed in this medium (such a topic deserves its own post). Suffice it to say that the happy couple in the French wedding footage, as they walk down that path along with the elder Mrs. French, appear confident, energetic, and perhaps relieved that their time on film is coming to a close.

Weddings on film, as the two WWI-era examples show us, were the modern way to publicize society marriages, something which, in one form or another, was nothing new. And yet, the dynamic sight of a bride sweeping down the church steps all in white or a happy couple together, enjoying the greenery and simple pleasures of a garden, was no doubt a thrill and an encouragement to this particular era's viewers. Other war footage was not far behind (and in fact was joined to the French wedding scenes as part of a larger news program). Thus, these fleeting glimpses of post-ceremony smiles or the swish of veils and skirts would have linked an often tense and unpredictable wartime moment with farther-reaching eras, traditions, and celebrations. Life did go on, and weddings and wartime were not mutually exclusive.

Donald and Flossie Tutt. © The Centre for Kentish Studies
I realize that this post has taken a somewhat serious tack, though Valentine's Day is not usually the most serious holiday in the calendar. But amid all of the candy, cards, gifts, phone calls, joys, and disappointments that this day can bring in all its many forms, these bits of filmic ephemera show us that love conquers all.

© Fiona Robinson

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