Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Shooting Stars" at Surbiton

I am nothing if not up-to-date - and therefore I seem to be nothing... Because here I am reviewing a movie that was made in 1927. Shooting Stars was co-directed by Anthony Asquith, the son of a prime minister who went on to make a long and honourable list of British films.

My affection for this silent dramedy is enhanced by the knowledge that it was made not far from my house in glamorous Surbiton, a corner of south west London these days known for, well, not for anything really. Shooting Stars is about a love triangle among three actors making films, and makes extensive use of the studios that used to exist on Park Road.

I didn't know this when I dialled it up at the bfi's wonderful (and free) Mediatheque facility one day last week. But as the film started I was surprised to see it credited to "British Instructional Films" of "Surbiton, Surrey", and then I got my Googling attachment out. I knew there'd been a studio nearby, but not that anything in the way of a classic had been made there.

The studio closed a few years after the making of Shooting Stars, though I don't know if it was demolished immediately. The larger site it stood on belonged to the grounds of Regent House, a mansion built in the late nineteenth century by the founder of London's Cafe Royal (which is on Regent Street).

In those days, Surbiton was in the countryside and the owner had his own deer park. After he sold up, or perhaps after he died, the Stoll company established a movie studio in the house's ballroom. The behind-the-scenes shots in Shooting Stars are clearly of a brick-built, hanger-style studio - double height, I should say. I'm sad enough to freeze-frame movies to look at the quality of the brickwork in the background, and I can report that the studio at Park Road didn't look like it was built to last.

The site where the house, grounds and studio used to lie is now covered in houses. But they're not all quite of the same age, and I have a feeling that the studio site may have been built over later than the rest. Some features of the boundary wall still survive, though these are not in great shape.

It would be fun to mobilise the homeowners on the site, equip them all with metal detectors, and see what we could find... Maybe a film can here, a prop medal there - I believe that various World War I dramas were shot amongst the shrubbery. We could get Time Team over... "Here, Tony! Look at this!"

And just think: if we had managed to retain the lido and the film studio, this part of the suburbs would really be quite something, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The most-used line in Eastenders...

... is: "Why aren't you in school?"

I haven't been keeping score, but I bet you all the money in the world (and all the debt) that this line has been used more times than any other in the entire history of the show.