‘Talkies’ to ‘Talent’ the end of an era
Wembley TV Studios to Close
In January 2016 the company who owns Fountain studios in Wembley UK, announced they had sold the site for property development. The facility would close down in the December of this year. Although the building has become known in recent years for hosting ‘XFactor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ when it is razed to the ground next year, Wembley will lose it’s physical heritage of film and TV forever. But hey, there will be a lot more unaffordable housing for offshore investors.
Welcome to my website and video blog documenting the final year of this magical edifice right up to (and hopefully) when the diggers move in.
It’s never been a pretty building that much is true. Then again it was never meant to be. It was designed to make movies and TV programmes. The magic and beauty usually happens inside the big ugly black box of any studio.
In 1927 the film industry had been revolutionized by America’s first talking movie with Al Jolson in 1927 (The Jazz Singer.) By June of 1929 Alfred Hitchcock was flying the flag for Britain and had released the first UK ‘Talkie’ (Blackmail) By the September of 1929 a company called British Talking Pictures had built England’s first purpose built sound studios (on the site where Fountain currently stands.) These three stages were all fitted out with company’s own sound system.
One of the first ‘Talkies’ to be made here was Dark Red Roses (1929) directed by Sinclair Hill. A rare movie, which sadly disappeared into the mists of time. A wonderful and cheerful story of a Sculptor who intends to chop the hands off his wife’s lover…probably because he’s a dab hand on the Cello. Even though uncredited; there was a rare performance from George Balanchine a Russian born Ballet dancer who eventually became known as the Father of American Ballet.
Film might have been the medium of dreams but it was such a dodgy material, one only had to look at it the wrong way and it caught fire. In the October of 1929 two of the Wembley studios burned down. By November Associated Sound Film industries had Wembley in their assets and larger studios were being built. Work continued with various production companies now using the site. In April of 1931 another ‘lost’ movie was released; The Bells Directed by Harcourt Templeman and Oscar Werndorff. The tale of a murderous innkeeper, driven mad by the spirit of his victim. The music for this movie was the only film score ever written by composer Gustav Holst. Years later his Daughter Imogen would also announce that the score had also disappeared.
Another elusive romance classic made here around this time was City Of Song (1931) directed by Carmine Gallone. It starred the gorgeous Betty Stockfield, born In Sydney educated in Paris and studied acting at the London Dramatic School of art. A talented actress who carved out a living in French and English films and continued working right up until 1960. She died in Surrey in 1966 of Leukaemia.
I do like a good telecine weave and I love these scratchy old jerky films that haven’t quite lost the melodrama of the silent era. This movie includes some fabulous location photography around Naples of the 1930s. There are not many copies of the English version left and the remaining ones are quite badly damaged and have large chunks missing. The affected British accents sound like a hilarious leftover from an Imperialistic Empire. For me the Germans beat us hands down with their version Die singende Stadt (1930) as it contained a secret weapon; Brigitte Helm. She was the ultra hot sexy siren robot lead, in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The sheer scope of Helm’s acting becomes apparent in this movie she is beautiful, alluring, but with a cold almost callous, gaze in her eyes. This makes her character magnetic. That glorious face seems to jump of the screen and warm your heart (Bit like Noomi Rapace today) If you compare this to her performance in Metropolis where she skilfully jumps between Innocent beauty then weird half crazed sex maniac, one can get an idea of this woman’s sheer talent and ability. The movie has the same artistic montage of various Roman ruins around Italy which are just gorgeous. In my humble opinion none of this beauty compares with the fabulous close- ups of Helm. Even the antique spherical camera seems to fall in love with this German goddess in the flush of youth. For me she’s up there with Garbo, Dietrich and the eternally ethereal, Louise Brooks.
Of course the most enduring element to this film has a clue in the title. The opera singer Jan Kiepura gives some of the most beautiful performances which really do stand the test of time. Although he looks like he belongs in a Bela Lugosi movie, whenever he belts out a song it easy to imagine the audience of the 1930s being totally astonished at this powerful and timeless voice filling the picture house.