I remember, as a child, leafing through history books.
There was one particular photograph of a street I knew well. I walked down it often. The picture was taken during World War Two. It was of a building on fire, a bomb had hit it during an air raid.
I remember walking down that street after reading the book. I was mesmerised by this building. It was thirty years after World War Two but the building hadn’t been repaired, even though it was quite central.
In other words, it was much the same as it had been. And yet, I couldn’t quite connect the real thing with the photograph. I stood there for quite a while, staring at the building, imagining I was there on the night of the air raid. I heard the bombs fall in my head. They made me flinch.
Today, I came across a film of London in 1927. It also made me flinch. It made me flinch because it was in colour. It should have been in black and white.
The film isn’t a Hollywood epic, there’s no narrative. It’s simply a tour of London. But it affected me more than any film I’ve seen for a long time. The people in the film are doing nothing, just going about their day. Some notice the camera, some don’t.
The night before, I’d seen the new Planet of the Apes movie. In that film, the goodies are very good, the baddies are very bad, the action moves forward in a way that is predictable. It had great effects, vertiginous fight scenes, lots of chases. And I was unmoved.
The film of the simple journey through London moved me. It was 1927. The film was in colour and I felt that I could almost reach out and touch these people who are no longer with us. The child in me was mesmerised. The past was no longer in black and white.