Restoring faith in film

Black and White Film Show at St Andrews Church: John Booler in the church
Black and White Film Show at St Andrews Church: John Booler in the church

THERE were no golden statues, red carpets or paparazzi outside St Andrew’s church on Psalter Lane last Saturday evening, but the film enthusiasts had done their best to dig out their best suits and frocks.

That’s 1920s-style vintage, rather than McQueen, Wang or eco-friendly Lanvin.

Black and White Film Show at St Andrews Church: Janet Ash (left) and Sandra Snook

Black and White Film Show at St Andrews Church: Janet Ash (left) and Sandra Snook

The church was holding a Golden Age of Comedy film night to raise money for the restoration of the adjoining Shirley House building.

The film night was planned last September, long before silent films became fashionable again following the Oscar success of The Artist, the French tribute to 1920s Hollywood.

“It was a complete fluke,” said John Booler, who organised the film show. “We hadn’t even heard of The Artist then.”

John has always been a fan of the silent movie era and volunteered to put together a film show to help the Shirley House Redevelopment Appeal.

“We sent off for some old movies but the problem was deciding which to show. WC Fields and Chaplin made loads of films but we ended up with four out of dozens we could have picked.”

The films chosen were The Fatal Glass of Beer (WC Fields), Daydreams and The Paleface (Buster Keaton) and The Kid (Charlie Chaplin).

“When Chaplin and WC Fields and Buster Keaton started making movies it was like a magic door opening,” said John. “We’re so blasé now, we go to see blockbusters full of special effects, but they’re not like a raw movie from the 20s or 30s. To me Keaton and Chaplin and WC Fields are still brilliantly funny.”

The film show was part of the fundraising for the Shirley House Interfaith Project, set in the former private house next to St Andrew’s. The Victorian building is already used by companies and local groups but needs about about £250,000 of restoration work.

Around £70,000 has already been raised and the local Methodist circuit has offered to match all funds generated.

“We’re over halfway there and we hope to begin work by the end of this year,” said John.

“It’s such a beautiful old building with great historical value and it reached the point where we would either have to shut it down or raise funds to do it up,” said Jan Birch of St Andrew’s.

Twenty to 30 groups already use Shirley House but access, wiring, fire protection, heating and more all need modernising.

The church decided to link the modernisation with the launch of an Interfaith Centre to enable dialogue with other religious groups, many of whom already have links with St Andrew’s.

“It’s very important that we all try and be tolerant of other faiths,” said Jan Birch. “We can all learn from each other.”

John said: “Shirley House is such an asset and we saw that if we didn’t do something with it it will become a major cost and will not be safe for anybody to work in. So the best thing to do is to open it up to everyone.”

Including silent movie fans with interesting hats, glittering jewellery and strange moustaches.

“When we first heard about The Artist, we thought there’s no chance the film will do well,” said John.

“But it’s snowballed because people like nostalgia when things are tough. When mortgages and petrol and shopping are going through the roof, people need something to fall back on.

“There was a depression on when these films were made and you could sit and watch a silent film and get away from things. I absolutely think there’ll be a growing interest in old movies now.”

lShirley House Redevelopment Appeal: contact 2587697. Future events include a concert on April 25 and a quiz night on June 2.