‘We put the world before you’

26th November 2013

To The British Library for a splendid talk by Dr Luke McKernan (the text of which is now available here) about the life and films of Charles Urban, gloriously accompanied on the keyboards by Mr Neil Brand. Earlier this year Luke published Charles Urban: Pioneering the Non-Fiction Film in Britain and America, 1897-1925, and this lecture was a celebration of the book and of its subject. Urban was a major figure in early cinema, one of the key figures in the development of factual filmmaking, and perhaps most remarkably a great innovator in colour cinematography.

Rather than attempt to précis Urban’s career, let me point you in the direction – with the warmest possible recommendation – of Luke’s compendious website about his hero, Charles Urban, Motion Picture Pioneer. Along with much else, you will find an extensive biography, numerous documents and images, and a selection of embedded films, four of which I reproduce here for your entertainment and edification (others can be found on Luke’s website here). The first is an early ‘phantom ride’ film, the second a test shoot for Urban’s Kinemacolor process, the third one of his most celebrated films (shot by naturalist filmmakerPercy Smith), and the fourth a personal pleasure, given that I was born and brought up in Whitstable.

View from an Engine Front – Barnstaple (1898)

Tartans of the Scottish Clans (1906)

The Acrobatic Fly (1910), a re-issue of the 1908 title The Balancing Bluebottle

Oyster Fishing at Whitstable, England (c.1909)

Image: The logo of the Charles Urban Trading Company shows the Roman messenger god Mercury apparently travelling with the assistance of a train wheel (or possibly a reel of film), carrying a banner bearing Urban’s much-repeated slogan, ‘We Put the World Before You’. From Charles Urban: image gallery.

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