Funeral of film and circus showman in 1909
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Film of the late George Biddall and his dogs at Maryport . Then his funeral at Cockermouth on 14 April 1909. Biddall's circus travelled the country and the most famous part of their show was "Biddall's Ghost Illusion", which gave the impression of pictures moving. When George Biddall died in 1909, people flocked to his funeral in Cockermouth inlcluding Buffalo Bill Cody, who was amongst the mourners.
Shots include the coffin being carried possibly from a fairground booth into a horse drawn hearse with onlooking crowds. Mourners get into waiting horse drawn carriages and there are shots of the funeral procession along the crowded street.
Biddal’s funeral is one of very few films that still survive in Scotland from this era. It shows the impresario greeting townsfolk in Maryport, Cumbria, then his very lavish funeral not long after, in the nearby town of Cockermouth. The family filmed the event and showed it on the same Ghost Show a few days after, using the takings to pay for the coffin and gravestone. The film was accompanied by George’s son Victor, who was the show’s ‘elocutionist’. These professional vocalists commented on the action to make these short, silent films more entertaining.
Thanks to Mitch Miller for additional information.
Questions & Activities
- Who was George Biddall and why was he important?
- Who filmed the funeral and why?
- Where do you think the film was screened and who would have seen it?
- What other kinds of films did people see at this time?
- Can you name a famous person whose funeral was filmed recently?
- How is this film different to the kinds of films you see in the cinema today?
- Who was Buffalo Bill Cody?
Research early cinema (see Lesson Guides) and the local topical films. Present your findings through a role play of an early film show or moving image text.
Note all the similarities and differences in style and fashion of children's dress from then to now.
Research early film history and create a timeline of technical innovations in film (ie sound, colour etc).
Create a modern equivalent of this local topical film. You could make a film about a school or local event.
Compare and contrast this film with two other funeral films - that of Jean Armour Burns Brown and Queen Vistoria. What are the similarities and differences? What famous people have had their funerals filmed recently?
|Resource Rights Holder||National Library of Scotland|
|School Subject||Art and Design, Media Studies, Expressive Arts, History, Social Studies, Drama|
|Subject Matter||Early Film|
|Who||George Biddal (showman)|
|Attributes||Black and White, Silent|