This film is part of Free

The Vanishing Street (Material)

Raw images of London E1 and the disappearing Jewish East End

1959 13 mins Silent


Hessel Street, E1 is today a quiet tower block-studded side street, rich with Indian subcontinent roots; there’s little trace of Whitechapel’s former terraces and large Jewish community. Over fifty years ago, as developers moved in, Jewish Hungarian émigré Robert Vas arrived with modest funding and a 16mm camera. His Jewish Chronicle- and BFI-supported project saw light of day as the magnificent The Vanishing Street (1962). What you see here is some of Vas’ raw footage.

The completed film, one of the best of all film records of mid-century Jewish life in London, is also available on BFI Player: comparing it with this production material (whose film stock, incidentally, is dated to 1959) allows us a rare chance for direct insight into a documentary filmmaker’s working methods and the role of editing in ‘cooking’ raw materials. Vas, who’d already made the brilliant Free Cinema short Refuge England (1959) would go on (after a spell as editor for the National Coal Board Film Unit) to join the BBC, where he became a major talent in poetic and often politicised documentary television.