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Out of Tarr's Universe

An uncompromised vision (FW34)

Open Road

Claude Friese-Greene recorded The Open Road, ‘a cinematic postcard of
Britain in the 1920s’, in summer 1924 with the aim of capturing British life
from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
Determined to continue his father William’s pioneering cinematography, Friese-
Greene exhibited his colour footage, from his road journey across Britain, at trade
fairs in 1925 – observers were impressed but Friese-Greene could not correct
flicker and colour fringing, and no further development took place.
Inspired by the BFI/BBC collaboration, The Lost World of Friese-Greene, the BFI
have corrected Friese-Greene’s footage and issued 65 minutes of digitally restored
highlights, with an appropriately pleasant, unobtrusive soundtrack by Neil Brand
and Günther Buchwald.
Friese-Greene’s colour cinematography intended to marvel, as did Lumière
and Méliès’ early demonstrations, not so much by demonstrating technological
advancement, but by showing ordinary people their involvement within it. For a
contemporary audience, the colour remains enthralling, because it captures mid-
Twenties Britain (particularly its village life) with such vivacity, providing an insight
into a society lost after the Depression and the war, with a quaint, slightly naïve
tone to match.
It’s an affectionate portrait, with (stereo)typically English self-effacing humour:
Torquay earns a comparison to Rome, as both were built on seven hills, whilst
Blackpool is sold as ‘England’s Coney Island’. Friese-Greene is aware of the
spectacular nature of his film, but applies restraint – apart from a peacock displaying
its plumage, the intention is to record a peculiar vision of British life, less than
to indulge in the potentialities of colour film.
The restoration process is explained in a beautiful booklet that puts Friese-
Greene’s footage in context – although there is no mention of B. Vivian Braun’s
Beyond This Open Road (1934) a witty (but – alas – non-colour) response to Friese-
Greene, available on their Britain in the Thirties collection. Also included is Friese-
Greene’s Across England in an Aeroplane (1920) – a delightful short companion
GJ Buckell