Lawrence Napper

Senior Lecturer, Film Studies

Voted for

Burnham Beeches1909
épouvante (Terror Stricken)1911Albert Capellani
Noël de guerre 1916unknown. It's produced by George Lordier
The Battle of the Somme1916
Underground1928Anthony Asquith
Random Harvest1942Mervyn Leroy
Millions like Us1943Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat
It's Always Fair Weather1955Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
The Apartment1960Billy Wilder
Comrades1987Bill Douglas


Burnham Beeches

1909 United Kingdom

Winter trees glide past the camera giving a startling stereoptic effect. On a purely aesthetic level, this is beautiful to look at. The illusion of stereo through camera movement is the whole point of the film, so you can argue that it centrally showcases the apparatus of cinema - that it is 'pure cinema'. Hepworth made a whole series of these, marketed as 'stereo-scenics'. I think this is the most technically successful of them. The depth illusion achieved by the different speeds at which the foreground and background trees move across the screen is more convincing than any subsequent stereo technology. Also, as I said, it's beautiful.

épouvante (Terror Stricken)


An actress discovers a burglar in her bedroom but later saves his life. Mistinguett is the actress and she's amazing, naturally. This is made around the time Griffith was making so many women-trapped-in-houses dramas at Bioscope and Lois Weber was making Suspicion. It ploughs the same furrow thematically, but the difference is the way it emphasises depth from foreground to background within the frame rather than adjoining spaces created by editing. The rhyming shots with Mistinguett at the top of the screen and the burgler at the bottom (separated by the bed and then the gutter) are genius. Also the camera movement at the moment she realises he is there.

Noël de guerre


A postman and his wife whose child has recently died, decide to donate his toys to a local boy who has 'written to santa'. This is a potently emotional 20 minutes. Meaning is created by movement within the frame rather than editing, and this movement is so brilliantly precise and controlled to direct your attention from one part of the screen to another. The scene where in the sorting office where the other postmen are laughing at the child's letter, and then your attention is directed to the grief on the face of the postman who has lost his son. It's so perfectly controlled, and Leon Bernard's performance is nothing sort of a miracle. When he raises his hand to the side of his face to prevent the child seeing his grief... *weeps*

The Battle of the Somme

1916 United Kingdom

Documentary shot on the Somme during the 1916 battle and released in the UK while the battle was going on. Footage from this film will be familiar to many as it has been mined by film-makers and television producers ever since. These images form the primary visual source for our understanding of the trenches - as they did for UK audiences at the time, when the film was more widely seen than any cinema made to that point. In its original form it still retains the power to move and astonish.


1928 United Kingdom

Love triangle set on the London Underground. All the technical and editing developments of 1920s cinema which fascinated cineastes at the time, and continue to fascinate cineastes today are synthesised by Asquith in this film - a kind of sampler of the audacious and innovative techniques so celebrated by intellectual film culture. Here they are in the service of a story which is drawn from popular fiction, featuring 'ordinary' characters, emotions and locations.

Random Harvest

1942 USA

Amnesia Melodrama. The Classical Hollywood style at its most potent and compelling. This melodrama is like a Rolls Royce firing on all cylinders. Such confidence and assurance in every aspect of the production. It's actually quite gruelling in the emotional demands it makes on the viewer, the hopes for narrative satisfaction repeatedly raised and dashed, raised and dashed. The end is worth it though!

Millions like Us

1943 United Kingdom

British wartime drama - a disparate group of women come together to work in a munitions factory and become bound by friendship and sacrifice. British wartime realism is perhaps a little less fashionable than it was in the early days of Sight and Sound. Critics are more likely to espouse its supposed antithesis, the flamboyant dream-like films of Powell and Pressburger. I actually toyed with putting I Know Where I'm Going in this slot, but I reckon IKWIG has enough fans to see it through, and frankly Millions Like Us also has its fair share of dream sequences, over the top production design, audacious editing and full blooded emotion. Nevertheless it's still just possible to argue for its realist credentials too. It needn't be an 'either/or' choice (see also Brief Encounter!). When Celia, singing 'Waiting at the Church' in the canteen, lifts her eyes upwards and the shot dissolves into an image of the bombers flying overhead, silhouetted against the evening sky.... Well, cinema doesn't get any better than that.

It's Always Fair Weather

1955 USA

Three veterans arrange to meet up again ten years after the war and find that they've grown apart. I guess one could choose any Freed Unit musical and argue that it's the greatest film of all time blah blah blah. I particularly like this one because of the way it really uses the CinemaScope frame. In the number where Kelly is on roller-skates, the way the camera's gliding movements follow Kelly's own - it *feels* as though we're flying. The miracle of Cyd Charisse's skirt in the boxing number. Someone once wrote about the 'glacial perfection' of Hollywood cinema in this period. I think that applies here. It's awe inspiring, but also how could it not seem perfect? When one has known it by heart since childhood, it's hard to imagine it being any other way.

The Apartment

1960 USA

I'm always a bit surprised when people in Film Studies are snooty about Billy Wilder, and especially about this film. Sure, it's a romantic comedy centred around despair - both hers and his. What RomCom isn't fundamentally about despair? Well, the other one that I was toying with putting in this slot - You've Got Mail - certainly is. Aside from the emotional punches this offers, there's also the intricate delight of the story telling - the objects that convey information to us that some of the characters aren't aware of (the cracked mirror most obviously) and the snatches of anecdotes we hear from Sylvia throughout which emphasise the numerous other stories that could be told of these tangled up lives. Also that bit of tissue that drifts across the widescreen frame when he's waiting outside the theatre. Was it a happy accident? Or did they do numerous takes to get it just right?


1987 United Kingdom

Story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs who form the first trades union in the UK and are transported to Australia as punishment. The constant references to pre-cinema optical toys and illusions, and the foregrounding of the showmanship aspect of such presentations including in the film itself speak of course to debates about cinema and realism and politics that raged in the 1970s and 80s. They're presented here with such subtlety and delight that it's easy to miss that connection. The political arguments are more clearly present, and no less important for that. But also this is an astonishing visual and design achievement. Images from this film will stay with you forever.

Further remarks

Let's not pretend this is anything but a selection of personal favourites out of the few films that I've seen in my life.