I dragged my sorry drunken ass out of bed today despite a rancid hangover to stumble into town and get to the Showroom for before 10.00 to see a double header of documentaries about pubs and clubs and beer. Not being mad abut film of any kind this was my solitary doc fest visit but was certainly a great opportunity to see material that usually wouldn't make it to the cinema.
Things didn't get off to a promising start - it was £7.70 for a start, which seemed a lot for a combination of previously seen footage, what the T.V chaps would call "repeats". Then there was waiting on the stairs in bizarre sauna temperatures for the screening to start 10 minutes late - having nearly killed myself to get there in time this was most annoying.
Once in the cinema there was a brief intro by a British Film Institute bod, and a welcome drop in temperature before the show began.
First up was A Sheffield Working Man's Club, a documentary by a German filmmaker with all the charm and warmth of Siberian Roadkill, edited in a way that suggested he had run out of sellotape for the spliced intersections. That said this was a fascinating study of Sheffield in the 1960's, and more specifically Dial House Social Club. There were a few pumpclips on the pumps which will be pertinent later on, it seemed to have sold Stones, and of course, everybody, upon everybody smoked.
The footage of the club, its drinkers and some truly bizarre acts (Romanian style fast folk a' la Taraf De Haidouks? Who'd have thought?) was interspersed with still photos and rather odd snippets of footage of Sheffield, including some ham fisted attempts to address the issue of immigration. That said, the overall impression is fascinating, and the fact that Pop (can't remember surname) was still the president at 80 and that the hierarchy of the club at the time comprised of no-one under 70, shows you the rigid and impressive continuity of the organisation in the community. Essentially by the 1960's it appeared to have changed little in its purpose and function since the 1930's.
Next up was a collection of British Film institute and Arts Council films covering the subject of the pub from 1944 to 1984 (ish, am not clear when the very last piece dated from). This was another fascinating look at pubs on film, and the method and manner of portrayal of such places through the ages.
The first piece was from the war office and it seemed was intended as both an education and a morale booster for troops, although it seemed mainly to be an exercise in reinforcing stereotypes - all Northerners had flat caps and said "Gradely" and all Somerset folk drank cider and wore boots and smocks. Am not saying none of this was true of 1944 England but it seems tremendously convenient to have the characters so instantly recognisable.
Aside from that film's patronising tone there was also an interesting film about the Hope and Anchor Brewery on Claywheels lane (of Jubilee Stout fame) Sheffield and their international sales push involving provision of a replica Rose and Crown at Hoylandswaine. at a trade fair in Canada in the 1950's. Details of the pub and how it was replicated were provided, along with much emphasis on the token female's ability to smile. Both these early rolls showed a rather twee sexism which in the grand scheme of things ended up looking absurd rather than offencive.
Then followed 3 or 4 miners report newsreels from the 1950's and 1960's, a perhaps too lengthy segment mixing news of mining technology and the drinking dens of their communities. This was followed by a fascinating film about the Ship Hotel, Tyne Main, on the banks of the river Tyne.
This was interesting because it showed real people in a real pub yet clearly had a vague plot foisted on it. As a portrayal of an area in shabby decline it was amazing - at no point in any of the outdoor scenes did any sun get through the fog and smoke, and the road was barely surfaced, the river seeing only small tugs as opposed to the larger trade vessels of its heyday- but it was also a really interesting portrait of a down to earth working men's pub in Tyneside in the late 1960's.
Interestingly many punters were drinking hand pulled ale (no pump clips here, not like the Bass in London and Somerset) and only one drank Newky Brown. Everybody smoked, and there were traditional pub games and singalongs a plenty. The only thing that let it down slightly was the sound was significantly out of sync, so coupled with the thick accents of the locals it was fairly difficult to understand what was being said.
The last piece was about a pub fabricating business - building new pubs from old buildings using fibreglass moulds of authentic features. Strange to see such heinous practice exposed in the 1960's and 70's, when it seemed that so many of the country's public house treasures were lost for good for no justifiable reason. The export of fibreglass ancient village locals abroad was understandable but their imposition on inner city London venues was baffling, whilst simultaneously symptomatic of the idiotic approach to pub design and stewardship shown by the pub companies today.
All in all this was a really interesting look at pubs on film over a forty year period - I understand a DVD of the BFI material is available at the Showroom box office. Judging by the crowds outside, there seems to be plenty of people interested in attending the numerous venues for the festival which I think runs until tomorrow.
Of course the only way to fully pay tribute to the drinkers of old was to go off to the pub and become extremely relaxed, which I did with respectful gusto, the details of which will follow in the next post.