In Focus: Cecil Hepworth

By Helen Cox

Ever wonder who was there at the dawn of film? Who devised early special effects and dreamt up innovative new ways of using the camera to effect? Cecil Hepworth was such a man. Undoubtedly amongst the founding fathers of the British film industry Cecil Hepworth experimented with a range of camera shots developing a great deal of the film language we use today.

Silent films were, and sometimes still are, criticised for holding the camera in a single position allowing the actors and actresses to move on and off screen rather like watching a stage play. Hepworth, however, not only changed the position, angle and height of his camera but also devised a range of early special effects.

The British Library and British Film Institute recently showcased his reimagining of Alice in Wonderland:

I was lucky enough to be at the British Library when this film was unveiled to the public last year and there was a tremendous sense of watching something wonderful and pioneering.

Cecil Hepworth’s most successful film was undoubtedly Rescued by Rover. The short, silent film about a dog who rescues a lost baby was an instant hit with the public and was so popular that it had to be re-shot 3 times as the negatives kept wearing out:

Blair, the dog who played Rover, was considered by many as the first ever film star and was so beloved that he had his obituary printed when he died. It’s difficult to say how seriously these obituaries were taken when they referenced Blair’s penchant for eating shaving foam but having an obituary printed is, I imagine, an honour that very few animal actors have been awarded.

Issue One of New Empress Magazine contains an article on The Smallest Show on Earth which features Cecil Hepworth’s last film: Coming Thro the Rye.

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