Start Living in the Reel World
Since its inception in 1933, The British Film Insitute has
built up an enviable collection of films and ephemera dating from the birth of the moving
image to the present day. Together with its own production company, film museum, cinemas,
library and information service, the BFI. can rightfully boast the world's largest
For this brief tour I will begin with their viewing service and film rental. With over
a quarter of a million silent and sound titles housed in the National Film and Television
Archives (NFTVA), there stands a good chance that your request will be available. It was
only by rapidly firing questions at the poor woman on the other end of the phone in the
viewing service department, that I discovered the BFI held a 35mm print of Tod Slaughter's
Bothered by a Beard (1945), a quasi-documentary
detailing the history of shaving and featuring Slaughter in a brief vignette reprising his
role of Sweeny Todd. Also available was Slaughter's later film appearance as a caretaker
of an old manor house in A GHOST FOR SALE (1952) which depicts a ghost through sequences
lifted from Slaughter's earlier film Curse of the
At the Library and Information Services, also at 21
Stephen Street, a visitor will find anything from books, publications, stills, newspaper
cuttings, published and unpublished scripts to copies of , as well as a computer database containing cross references to
thousands of films, personalities, events and organisations. This is the department to
enquire about information on any particular actor or film. You will receive a reply
stating whether they have the information with the charges for photocopies or printouts
from their database. The minimum non-commercial research charge is approximately £11.
Unfortunately from my experiences in following this course with regard to my own research
into the life of Tod Slaughter, the photocopies were of a poor quality. I managed to
procure better copies at a fraction of the cost from The Theatre Museum in Tavistock
Street, London. However, in saying that, nine times out of ten it will only be the BFI
that will have the information you need.
The Stills, Posters and Design Department is situated on the first floor and houses
over 6 million images from more than 60,000 films and television programmes. It would be
an insurmountable task to provide a subject index for these items, but they can answer any
enquiries made about a particular film or programme and whether they are included in the
collection. Prices for 10x8 duplicate prints begin from £5 excluding postage with each
still becoming cheaper, the more you order. For 10x8 colour stills or posters, prices
begin at £11 excluding postage. The cheaper option is to have them laser copied for
approximately £2.50 each, the quality then of course depends on the state of the original
photograph. It is wise to be as specific as possible regarding the still you require, as
the staff will pick their own selection if you have not furnished them with enough detail.
Alternatively you can make your own selection by making an appointment from 11:00-5:00pm.,
Tuesday-Friday where you can wade through the requested files and pick the prints you
require, they will then be ready for you in approximately 4 to 5 weeks.
Across the Thames, amid the grey concrete of the visually repulsive South Bank lies the
BFI's Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) "where 100 years of cinema come to
life". Open daily from 10am-6pm. at a charge of £5.95, this is well worth a
lenghty visit of at least 2 hours. Along the museum's journey from filmland's evolutionary
stages to today's modern techniques the visitor will encounter interactive models,
screenings of early film examples together with some hired actors who have a tendency to
jump out and harangue you into playing a scene before a make-believe camera.
In addition to all that I have mentioned, there is always a series of special exhibitions and lectures promoted by the BFI throughout the year as well as the London Film Festival held annually during November. Now in its 41st. year, the festival is a non-competitive forum for feature films, shorts and videos that have never been screened in Britain before.
So there you have it, a layman's guide to the incredible BFI. Take full advatage of the services it has to offer. For fans like ourselves, the BFI is an indespensible resource as well as one of our greatest national treasures.
21 Stephen Street, London. W1P 2LN. England