Birmingham, 1901. Electric trams are making their debut on the Bristol Road, councillors are plotting to bring water all the way from Wales, and at the Curzon Hall in Suffolk Street a showman named Waller Jeffs has just begun his first...
Feat. The Destroyers; Paul Murphy; Simon Britton
Birmingham, 1901. Electric trams are making their debut on the Bristol Road, councillors are plotting to bring water all the way from Wales, and at the Curzon Hall in Suffolk Street a showman named Waller Jeffs has just begun his first season of animated pictures in the city. Two shows a day, with as many as 3,000 punters per show marvelling at scenes of comedy and romance, the exotic and the mundane, acompanied by live music, sound-effects and performing animals. Within ten years he will be a Birmingham institution, but the audiences who have discovered film at ‘Curzonora’ will desert him as full-time cinemas arrive on the scene.
There is our story in a nutshell. Over the course of one evening, fifteen-piece ‘musical whirlwind’ The Destroyers will summon the spirit of those early shows and their mind-blowing variety. You may remember the group created new scores to a series of Mitchell and Kenyon films back at Flatpack no.1, and this time they will be exploring the full spectrum of 1900s filmmaking ingenuity from actualities and travelogue to sci-fi and melodrama. Float down the Ganges, get a taste of action in the Boer War, let Georges Méliès catapult you to the moon, and then come crashing back to earth in time to see your friends and relatives leaving the local ammunition factory on their lunch-break. This is cinema, but not as we know it.
Waller Jeffs was born in London in 1861, the son of a doctor. He worked as a journalist overseas and later as a lantern-slide lecturer, then at the end of the century began to work for the notorious promoter A.D. Thomas. In 1901 they brought the ‘Thomas-Edison Animated Picture Co.’ to Birmingham for the first time and despite some teething troubles - including a flaming projector - Jeffs’ shows quickly became a fixture in the city’s calendar. By commissioning films of local events – a number of which can be found in the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection – and employing ingenious PR he was successful in luring a middle-class audience suspicious of this new medium. However competition increased as the 1900s went on, and in 1912 Jeffs was forced to cancel his Curzon Hall residency. In later years he was a manager at the Picture House in Stratford-on-Avon until his death in 1941. He is buried at Brandwood End Cemetery in Kings Heath.