Named after a speech by Emmeline Pankhurst in which she encouraged the suffragettes to “make more noise than anybody else”, the BFI’s collection of archival footage of suffragettes from the silent era is well aware of its titular irony and this playfulness is reflected in the choice of material that makes up the film. As well as documentary footage of suffragette demonstrations, meetings and, tragically, a funeral (that of Emily Davison, who famously stepped in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby and died of her injuries four days later), there are also comedic shorts portraying both early examples of strong, independent and rebellious female characters and anti-suffragette sentiments.
For those like myself who have both an interest in early cinema and political activism for equality, Make More Noise promises to be a fascinating experience but sadly proves to often be somewhat tedious instead. While the captions between each piece of footage do their best to put the film in context, most of the clips are unfocused and uneventful. This is to be expected of such early footage but even allowing for historical context and given its brief 70 minute runtime, Make More Noise is a tough watch. Foolishly, I had been hoping for some rousing sights but the media’s cautious attitude to women’s suffrage of course results in fairly bland images, most of which are over in a matter of minutes.
The early silent comedies, included to add a splash of lighthearted amusement, are largely no less tedious. A far cry from the masterpieces of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, the likes of ‘Did’ums Diddles the P’liceman’ and ‘Tilly’s Party’ are glimpses of the chaotic, confusing style of the majority of frantic silent comedies. ‘Tilly’s Party’ in particular crams the screen with so much activity that it’s hard to know where we’re supposed to be looking. Slightly more interesting are the shocking duo ‘Milling the Militants: A Comical Absurdity’ and ‘Wife the Weaker Vessel’, the former for its series of punishments meted out to suffragettes, as dreamed up by a snoozing man with political ambitions (the punishment for embarrassing cabinet ministers is “four weeks in trousers”), and the latter for its shocking scenes of brutal domestic violence for laughs, as a cocky bachelor is duped into marrying a woman posing as a submissive housewife who later unleashes the full fury of her pummelling fists on her startled spouse.
By far the most engrossing piece of footage in this compilation is ‘A Day in the Life of a Munitions Worker’, a ten minute clip which, despite its obviously staged elements, gives a reasonable glimpse into the vital work done by women in munitions factories during the First World War. Watching a woman assembling a shell is fascinating for both its technical elements and wider implications about the danger of the work and where exactly that shell will eventually end up. Coming towards the end of the compilation, ‘A Day in the Life of a Munitions Worker’ picks up the film just as it is reaching its climax. The fact that it peters out with another unfunny Tilly comedy only seems to speak of the lack of really interesting material available, as well as the filmmakers’ difficulty in editing it into a satisfying whole.
Make More Noise is released by the BFI on 23rd November 2015. Extras include various other suffragette-related clips and the usual excellent accompanying booklet featuring essays on the films and related subjects.