Nothing to do with Women and Film but about a Free Senior Matinee at the NFT. Lots of questions. The film shown was Rene Clair’s Break the News (1938) featuring Maurice Chevalier, Jack Buchanan and June Knight. It is surprising to me that even as early as the 30s the press was as obsessed with celebrities as it is now. The subject could have been the base of an interesting and funny film given Clair’s history as director and scriptwriter. Unfortunately I agree with the Spectator’s review of 26 May 1938. The film is a dismal failure. For a comedy, there were only a few scattered laughs in a packed Screen 1.
We were told that films are recommended to the programmer by a dedicated group. In particular this one was suggested by a named person. My first question to the BFI is who is this dedicated group?
The introduction to the film was a talk by John Oliver about the real life friendship between the two main actors, Chevalier and Buchanan. Was it telling that the only personal comment he made was to mention the performance of a minor character? We did not stay for the discussion.
How come that in the huge archives of the BFI such a bad film is chosen? The programme notes listed 4 reviews: a publicity comment from bfi.org.uk, an inaccurate one from tvguide.com and two contemporary reviews: The Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1938 was lukewarm while the Spectator’s (26 May 1938) was very critical.
The next important question is how does one programme free senior film sessions? How does the BFI see their senior audience? There are many ways of choosing a target audience. What is the BFI strategy in this instance that led to such a disappointing session?
Personally I do see the BFI senior matinée as an educational exercise. I hope that the first film of the year does not signal a dumbing down trend away from the classics, or from films relevant to old age, films that make going out in dismal weather on public transport worthwhile.