Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Electric Edwardians

Young women 1890 (New York Public Library)

Possibly early 20th century couple (New York Public Library)

I have just finished viewing "The Electric Victorians," a film from Netflix, which contains original footage of people in 1900, in Great Britain.

Men are shown wearing top hats and vests. The only really casual wear in the film was the football players on a field. The women's clothing was mainly dark skirts and white blouses. Not all women wore hats. It seemed to be more of a decoration or style, than a symbol of any belief. The beginning of the film was rather slow and repetitive, but as it progressed, was more interesting. There was a parade, and it it was a woman's group marching "for the family," against the demon alcohol. Men and children were also in the group supporting the ban of strong drink. Banners read "A Better Future For Your Children." The women were wearing white skirts and blouses and beautiful hats decorated with huge white roses, probably made of some kind of crinoline.

This film was made for the purpose of showing, later, at a theatre. The film makers would go to a street where people were milling around, or a park or a factory at closing time, and make a film of people. Then they would hand them a card and tell them where they could go to watch themselves in the movies. It was quite a popular thing to do , at the time, but it fell out of favor as film began to be used for other things like dramas and stories and news reports. These canisters of films of ordinary people were put in barrels and stored underneath a store, for preservation (it kept it cool) and discovered in this decade. The damaged parts were repaired and the films were restored enough to show again. I found the entire thing so interesting, for many reasons.

One thing I noticed was the friendly smiles and gestures between young men and young women. In our era, we tend to think of the Victorians and Edwardians as stiff and formal, with a lot of rules about courtship and such, and yet the young men and women coming out of factories seemed to be so friendly, it was as though they were just brothers and sisters. Maybe they were, but I thought it was interesting to see the interaction between them. It was a silent film, with music added to it.

Horses and carriages were shown as transportation in this film, and people seemed to enjoy walking around on the streets and parks. Men and women seemed happy and innocent and even enjoyed playing around with the camera, making faces and silly gestures. I would have liked to see their food preparation and the inside of the houses, but I suppose at the time, film makers needed the outdoor light and therefore did not do very much indoor filming.

In spite of the formality we sometimes associate with that era, the people seemed a lot more comfortable with each other than we do in any given crowd scene today.

This is from a school in Knoxville, Tennessee
(New York Public Library)

I enjoy looking at the clothing, especially the contrast between men and women's garments. There seems to be a greater difference between men's and women's clothing and hairstyles. In the film, the men and women appeared to be very comfortable with each other. The impression I had, was one of having a common interest or of working together for something that was deeply important. Others may watch this film and find different interests, but I really enjoyed seeing them all walking around together in a normal way. While we sometimes stereotype people of that era, saying that women were not allowed out without escorts, etc., it didn't seem like that in this film. They were enjoying walking around in a free society. Men occasionally tipped their hats. Children held the hands of their fathers, and people smiled a lot! This is surprising, since the actual photographs from the same era do not have so many smiles.

I liked the clothing, and I have heard it was actually very colorful in that era.

I plan to order this again and get a better look. The extra materials on the discovery of the films, and the making of the movie are also really worth listening to.


Nicole said...

As a history buff this sounds like a fantastic film to me! My understanding of the reason that folks didn't smile in pictures back then was because it took a few minutes for the picture to develop on the film and so everyone had to stay completely still. As a result, photographers would tell people not to smile, because it is hard to hold a smile for five minutes, and in the end people's faces would then look blurry. I even read that for small children, who had a hard time holding still, they have these neck-brace things to hold them in place for he picture! Just a fun little history tid-bit.

And thanks, Lady Lydia, for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment! :)


Mimi said...

I was going to say the same thing that Armchair Housewife did. We have many old family photographs, and I asked my mother why they didn't smile in them. I got the wrong impression that people in the old days never smiled, but that was most definitely not true. I should have known better, as some of those folks were still alive -- albeit very aged -- when I was a child, and I have nothing but memories of them smiling in real life. I learned later that it took a while for the photograph to be taken, and people were encouraged to be very still.

That looks like an interesting film. (project home economics).

Anonymous said...

I want to see that. I would like to see some smiling Victorians and Edwardians. I love the clothing of late victorians and Edwardians. Technically Like evry thing up to the earky 60's but the Edwardians had it going on!

Nicole said...

I also wanted to say thanks for often including artwork and photographs depicting black Americans. Sadly, we don't see enough of this, especially in school textbook and history programs, etc. As I said, I'm a history buff, and I've had a special interest in African American history, so thanks for digging up these treasures!

Anonymous said...

My mom always told me people didn't smile in pictures, because they didn't have nice teeth!! :)

elderflower said...

Until the end of the Edwardian era in England there was a substantial difference between the customs and manners of the nobility and gentry, and those of the middle and lower classes.

On the subject of greeting in the street or other public places, it used to be the custom for a gentleman to wait to see if the lady bowed or smiled at him first before he responded, in case she might not wish to acknowledge his acquaintance. This only applied in the case of someone who had previously been introduced, of course; it would have been unthinkable to try to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, and might even have been interpreted as insulting.

As for escorts, in families of the very rich it was certainly the case that a young lady would never have gone out in London without some attendance, usually by her own maid or perhaps a footman, who would walk at a discreet distance behind her. If she was out with a party of friends they would have been carefully approved in advance by her mamma, with the assurance that no unsuitable introductions would be made. In the provinces there was a little more freedom, but lone ramblings were discouraged (remember how shocked Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst were at Elizabeth's walking alone to Netherfield!) and sisters or neighbouring friends would normally accompany each other on walks or shopping expeditions.

This continued to be the case, for the most privileged in society, until the First World War altered that way of life for ever.

Women from humbler families had of necessity to be allowed greater freedom, or less protection, depending on one's point of view.

As for the dress code: my understanding is that if a lady was wearing a blouse and skirt or a frock out of doors a hat was deemed to be optional (though a suitable decoration might be worn in the hair), but that with a costume (suit) or a coat it was a necessity. But then English ladies were not on the whole renowned for their elegance: the French used to be very disdainful of the fact that they sometimes appeared in public without gloves!

Anonymous said...


-Christine from Arizona

Lydia said...

The Electric Victorians was filmed before the war. Still, they appeared to be very comfortable and even casual with each other. LIke today, there may have been formal rules which common folk and working people did not pay much attention to.

Lydia said...

Another thing amusing in this film was that apparently the moving picture was a new invention. Often when being filmed, the person behind the camera seemed to motion for them to "move." They would stand still and pose, as for a photograph, as soon as they noticed the camera. Then, as though someone had told them to move, they would wave and smile and walk around.They might have been getting used to the moving picture as opposed to the photographic camera.

Amie said...

I really enjoy your taste in films. Could you please give us a list of your favorites?

I did enjoy "The Magic of Ordinary days" you suggested sometime ago. However, outside of Jane Austen adaptations I can't find any feminine movies to watch this over this long winter.

And if it is not too much to ask a list of favorite fiction as well? I love Grace Livingston Hill, I have almost exhausted my libraries supply of her books.
Thank you.

Alexandra said...

I can't help but wonder if they smiled more and seemed to enjoy each others company because people were more interdependent back then. I live in the south and I notice that in the lower socioeconomic areas people are a lot more friendly and supportive with each other than say, the yuppie communities where no one knows their neighbors.

Shaolin said...

I watched a short 3 minute clip on Youtube and got emotional. There is such a sweetness and innocents that comes across. Every single person is dressed nice. No T-shirts!!! I'm so tired of looking at frumpy and sloppy dressed people in our modern day. Such a disrespect of themselves.
Loved seeing the horses working along side people a part of daily life.
I long for kindness, and sweetness, genuineness of heart, honor chivalry. Our modern culture is so course and vulgar, the 'let it all hang out' attitude has brought us to ruin.