Week 10: Text: Genet's Encyclopedie du Cinema

BANKS, Bridget (1890-1910) Actress. Born Belia RIKOWSKI in Poland, 1890, she began her career in film after migrating to London at the turn of the century. Rescued from a life of prostitution at the age of 15 by Willy BANKS, vaudeville entertainer and pioneer of film production and distribution in the United Kingdom, she appeared in many of his variety acts and in the first of his experiments with short trick films. These were generally extensions of their stage act in which she appeared to be sawn in two (His Better Half), eaten by a lion (Here Kitty), or sent mad (by a Dr Jekyll-like potion in Lady Astor and the Science of Madness).

Banks died shortly after filming of Lady Astor and the Science of Madness ceased in October of 1910. Her death generated much interest in the film. It was the first time an audience in London had seen a performer’s animated image, seemingly alive, well after it was known that that performer was dead. The film was a brief piece of slapstick comedy and trick photography but audiences were spellbound by the apparition of Bridget Banks upon the screen. The accompanying score was rewritten by Willy to suit the film’s new chilling, sombre tone and the film soon went from being a small part of the Majestic Theatre’s evening program, tucked between sing along’s, sketch-pieces and magic acts, to become the headline attraction. The street press seized upon the phenomena. One headline read, “Ghost of Lady Astor Haunts West End.” The story soon escalated into a scandal in which Willy BANKS was rumoured to have murdered his wife by poisoning in order to excite the very kind of publicity he and his film were enjoying. Banks disappeared from London’s West End leaving behind many debts, the legend of Lady Astor’s Ghost and a daughter, Jane RIKOWSKI. (See further references to “art terrorist” Tara RIKOWSKI).

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