This exhibition, which opened in December 2015 at The Grange Museum, celebrates the Golden and Silver Age of British film making with its many associations with the Sussex Coast. The exhibition will focus on how Sussex, Brighton particularly so, has featured in numerous classic cinema films that were filmed on location in an era when most films were shot on a studio backlot.
Genevieve (1953) captures the thrill and spectacle of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally which director Henry Cornelius caught on celluloid by filming the action around the actual 1952 run, all shot in glorious Technicolor. Richard Attenborough’s celebrated Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) was almost entirely filmed on Brighton’s West Pier, and used the rolling Sussex Downs as a mass war grave to amplify the mismanagement and waste of life seen in World War One. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) sees Hollywood superstar Barbra Streisand play a seductive 18th century courtesan singing and dancing through the magnificent rooms of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. Brighton Rock (1948) was much enhanced by its 8 week shoot in Brighton. So effective were the results that one contemporary reviewer declared “Brighton is now a film star.”
There were many associated film stars, writers, directors, designers and artists whose significant contributions have left an indelible mark on the British film industry include Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Streisand, Max Miller, Anna Neagle, Herbert Wilcox, Dora Bryan, Terence Rattigan, Enid Bagnold, Cecil Beaton, Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Taylor, Rowland Emett and many more.
Among the many film stars accompaning the film crews to film their scenes, and sitting for publicity photographs in Sussex was Audrey Hepburn, then (June 1951) a 23-year-old “starlet” with only a few bit parts in films to her name. She was brought to Rottingdean by photographer Joseph McKeown who was commissioned to shoot Hepburn on her ‘day off’ for Illustrated magazine. The resulting photographs, included in this exhibition trail her paddling on Rottingdean beach, frolicking by the village pond, and posing next to the Rottingdean windmill, and provide a rare glimpse of a future Hollywood icon on the threshold of superstardom.
During this unique time in film history, Brighton and Sussex proved to be a haven for a multitude of British film stars and film makers, many of whom settled here to be close to the British film studios, and to escape the immense pressures of film making. This exhibition puts the spotlight on actress Anna Neagle and her phenomenally successful collaboration with the film producer and director Herbert Wilcox. Together they provided glamour and sophistication to cinema audiences with their fairy-tale musicals, lightweight comedies and historical dramas which saw Neagle become a top box-office draw in the British cinema between 1938 and 1959.
Also Dora Bryan who was a stage and screen actress of great warmth and humanity whose dramatic performances brought her acclaim, awards and official recognition. While as a comedienne, her comic genius brought laughter into the lives of millions of people which earned her the title of National Treasure; And last, but by no means least Brighton-born Max Miller who was a British comedian who was widely regarded as the greatest stand-up comedian of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950’s. He made films, toured in revues and music hall, and sang and recorded songs. He was also known for his flamboyant suits, his wicked charm, and his risqué jokes which often got him into trouble with the censors.
Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor was a regular visitor to Rottingdean because of her professional associations with the Rottingdean author Enid Bagnold, and both are featured in this exhibition. When she was only 12 years old Elizabeth Taylor got her big break when she played Velvet Brown in the 1944 MGM film National Velvet based on Bagnold’s acclaimed 1935 novel of the same name. Taylor never forgot the great debt she owed Bagnold for providing her with the opportunity to play this much-coveted film role which put her on the road to stardom, and thus they remained life-long friends.
There have been many memorable moments in British cinema, and this exhibition recreates one of the most poignant courtesy of Ron and Joan Field’s celebrated marionettes. For many years a popular feature on the English variety circuit, they were brought to the big screen by director Richard Attenborough, and given a special cameo spot in his 1969 film Oh! What a Lovely War which plays out World War One as an end-of-the-pier attraction. The Field’s marionettes, which took the form of French soldiers became one of those fateful attractions, and in a bitter-sweet moment of startling brutality, they were ‘blown apart’ as they rode a fairground carousel to emphasize the horrific loss of life on the battle-ground. For this exhibition puppeteer Ann Perrin, Ron and Joan’s daughter has painstakingly put the ‘blasted’ marionettes back together, piece-by-piece, and which can now be seen, almost 50 years on restored to their former glory.
The 1968 British film musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is another feature of this exhibition, its focus being the series of fantasmagorical mechanical machines that were made for the film by Ditchling-based inventor, cartoonist, artist and engineer Rowland Emett. Fondly remembered and justly celebrated today, the resulting ‘chitty machines’, credited in the screenplay to the fictional inventor Caractacus Potts played by Dick Van Dyke, became an integral part of the film’s success.
Extraordinary talents at the height of their creativity who were active during an extraordinary time in British film making. All are bought together for the first time and justly appraised and celebrated in ‘Cinema by the Sea’.
Marcus Bagshaw, Curator, Cinema by the Sea
For more information on ‘Cinema by the Sea’ please contact the curator Marcus Bagshaw on Tel. 07826 236827 and email email@example.com
For information on our past exhibitions please see our Grange Museum Archive page