Great cities are highly changeable by nature, though certain skyline-dominating landmarks endure. Visitors and residents alike romanticize the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the Colosseum. (That last one’s got real staying power)
In Wonderful London in 1924 and 2014, above, filmmaker Simon Smith goes with the flow established by his predecessors, Harry B. Parkinson and Frank Miller, who featured St. Paul’s Cathedral on the title cards of their short documentary series, “Wonderful London.” That iconic dome makes for a lovely and sentimental view. These days, it can be taken in from the Millennium Bridge or 6th floor cafe of the Tate Modern (housed in the former Bankside Power Station).
Time has altered all of Parkinson’s and Miller’s locations over the last 90 years, as Miller’s 2013 footage shows. The iconic architecture may remain, but Covent Garden now caters to tourists, a rack of Boris Bikes flanks the Haymarket, and the West End reflects the sensibilities of ladies who dare appear in public in trousers.
Using Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony as a sort of sonic mortar, Smith bricks the present day onto the British Film Institute’s recent restoration of Parkinson and Miller’s work. Actually, it’s more of a keyhole effect, through which viewers can peep into the past.
Assuming the medium (and species) survives, we may one day seem as quaint and the sepia-toned figures bustling through the earlier film. Unthinkable? What will the modern world surrounding our keyhole look like?