Q&A with Caroline Seddon, Programmer of The Cinema Museum
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
How did come up with the idea for the Women & Cocaine series at The Cinema Museum?
The idea for the monthly Women & Cocaine film series at The Cinema Museum first came about when I participated in the BFI’s Fierce: The untameable Joan Crawford season held at the Southbank in August 2018 which celebrated the career of the Oscar winning actress Joan Crawford. There was an intro from one of the BFI Programmers, Anna Bogotskaya, who said she’d organised and chosen the films, and it was like a light bulb went on in my head, suddenly I knew that I wanted to be a programmer. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than introducing people to classic cinema, and I had never even considered that I could turn that into a career.
I had no experience, so I decided to create my own after working as a volunteer at The Cinema Museum, and that’s when the idea for a monthly film night came to fruition.
I needed a catchy name to grab people’s attention, and always loved Tallulah Bankhead’s shocking quote taken from Denis Brian’s 1980 publication Tallulah Darling: A biography of Tallulah Bankhead - “My father warned me about men and booze but he never mentioned a word about women and cocaine”. I decided that ‘Women & Cocaine’ would be the perfect title for the monthly event, as it encapsulates the rich decadence of these bold, sensual and defiant women, who embodied early feminism and pushed the boundaries of what being a woman meant at a time of great social change.
I’d always been interested in the historical and social significance of pre code films, I’m fascinated by the idea that there was this brief window of female liberation in film between 1930-1934, before the oppressive production code sought to change that with their list of rules.
I decided that each month I would honour a different female star of the era. My favourite pre code film is Barbara Stanwyck’s ‘Baby Face’, which I chose for my first screening in January 2019. In my opinion, it’s the most perfect, seminal pre code film charting one woman’s mission to reach the pinnacle of high society using her body and feminine wiles by ensnaring men into her honeytrap.
Each screening begins with a brief intro on the star and her life, then before the film I’ll show an interview or news clip to give the audience a deeper perspective, for the Garbo screening in February I found a 10-minute clip on Youtube of all that remains from one of her silent films. Then after the film I will do a raffle and give away a small gift like a poster or book. It’s all about giving the audience more than just a film, and everyone loves a raffle.
Why The Cinema Museum?
Screening these films at the Cinema Museum was an obvious choice as I had been volunteering there for around a year, helping out on the bar and cafe at events. I met with Martin Humphries, one of the owners of the museum and told him my idea; he was very supportive and gave me some advice, like how to source licenses and to advertise events.
I also loved history of the iconic grade 2 listed building – it was Charlie Chaplin’s former workhouse from the age of 7. For the first screening I booked the smaller 36-seater downstairs Cinema but those tickets sold out in less than 48 hours, so I moved the event to the much larger upstairs cinema in the main hall, which has a capacity for 120 people as it was clear then that this event was going to be much more popular than anticipated, and it was, I sold out the larger cinema within a couple of weeks.
I have now begun to use the museum’s archives to curate a small monthly exhibition of items relating to whatever woman we are celebrating that month.
Before and after the film, the guests can browse this display that usually consists of posters, lobby cards, books, news articles and interviews.
In May I screened She Done Him Wrong starring the indomitable Mae West. There was a display of her items such as film posters, books and stunning publicity photos,
I also played her music too, songs she has sung from films, and a very kitsch album called ‘Way out West’ which was an album of rock and roll covers she did in the 60s as an intended comeback. The event became an immersive Mae West experience, and the audience loved it, one guest told me that screening “was the best so far, there was no way to not leave the screening as a fan, she was larger than life and this event definitely honoured that.
Tell me about your collaborative work with fellow practitioners.
I am always looking at new ways to develop my event, in July 2019 I collaborated with Fringe! Queer arts & film fest, an East London based LGBT festival. We merged our Worlds and screened the queer pre code film Queen Christina at the Cinema Museum and added a performance by New York drag artist Dream Boi and a Q&A panel with specialist academics on gender and Hollywood, Cathy Lomax and Donatella Valente.
The best part about running the event, apart from watching people watch films that you love, is the community that has started to form, and the people this has led me to. At the first event I was introduced to a performer called Peter Groom, I had fallen in love with his Marlene Dietrich performance a few months earlier but didn’t realise that was him when I met him because he was out of drag, it is just as well I didn’t recognise him as I would have completely fan girled. But it blew my mind that he came to my event and I am honoured to have so many magnificent and creative people from the London scene attend my screenings.
Can you discuss your future plans?
I hope to take the event around the world, most likely starting with Lisbon, Portugal in 2020
because this event transcends language, age and gender, and brings together a wonderfully eclectic mix of people who each take their own meaning from the night, all brought together by their mutual love for ground breaking, feminist women and classic Hollywood.
The pre code era only lasted 4 years so eventually I will run out of films to screen, I haven’t thought much about what to do then, perhaps I will just screen the whole season again and give opportunities to a new audience to discover these gems. Until then, there are still plenty of pre code women left to feature and I won’t stop until I have celebrated each one.