I first read about Charlie Stevens a few years ago while looking into local history. It surprised me that such an amazing individual and his story was not more well-known and celebrated. As I live in Bedminster, I returned to him for my digital story.
In researching the film, I first went out to photograph present-day barbershops in Bedminster. None of these seemed to fit with the story, but other story-makers suggested Mr Swanton’s in Park Place, Clifton. His shop is full of curious antiques and hairdressing-related artefacts. By a strange coincedence, Mr Swanton happened to have a painting at home of Charles Stevens himself, dating from 1912. This is featured several times in the story and was a fortunate stroke of serendipity.
For the other material in the film, I wanted to experiment with moving image rather than stills. Finding copyright-free material was made easier by the discovery of archive.org, and the large collection of public domain film available to download. The technique was partly inspired by the Adam Curtis series “The Power of Nightmares”, which used film clips to complement and interpret a spoken, and politically controversial, narrative.
The challenges of finding literal footage for some of the more unusual aspects of the tale forced me to loosen up and be playful. Also, viewers may notice wild historical inaccuracies in the choice of clips which I hope can be forgiven in the pursuit of telling a good story.
Even though I have used applications such as Adobe After Effects and Flash, retricting myself to Apple iMovie (a much more basic editing programme) was helpful in order to concentrate on the story. I also decided against using any transitions to simplify the process even further. Unusally for me, I worked without a drawn storyboard. Working in a group setting was also a first and was great fun and very rewarding.
The story is adapted from www.brisray.com/bristol/bemmy6.htm. Many thanks to Mr Swanton’s Barber Shop, Clifton, Bristol.
This story was made on a four and a half day training workshop for artists and practitioners aiming to join Bristol Stories Network in order to help facilitate future programme of workshops, and also benefit from other training opportunities.
The course was led by Ruth Jacobs and Liz Milner, and took place at Watershed during February and March 2006. The project was supported by Bristol’s Museums, Galleries & Archives.
The barbershops of Bristol are now a less adventurous place, ever since Charlie Stevens died over eighty years ago.
Charlie was the Demon Barber of Bedminster, a showman and daredevil, decorated in the war and winning medals for bravery in peacetime.
He wouldn’t flinch in front of… knife throwers.
Apples were sliced in two… on his throat…
In his spare time he enjoyed the odd parachute jump.
He would box lions and shave his customers… in a lions cage.
How did he get a lion into his shop? Suppose health and safety would cut that out now.
Charlie’s most spectacular attempt was to cross the Niagara Falls… in a barrel.
He had one specially made, by a cooper in Bath, for £20 (in 1920, then his life savings).
The barrel, was state of the art - made with sturdy Russian oak, a spacious interior with 32 inch diameter, waterproof obviously, and fitted with an electric light.
Lead weights would ensure the barrel stayed upright, but many critics felt it was too large and heavy. Charlie thought not, and for extra weight and good luck, he insisted on taken an anvil with him.
On that fateful morning, Charlie was strapped inside the barrel and launched upstream. He bobbed towards the edge of the falls…
The critics were sadly proved correct. The barrel crashed against the bottom of the river, with such force that only a single piece of Russian oak was recovered - with his right arm still attached.
Charlie Junior followed in his father’s footsteps… and became a hairdresser.
But the barbers of Bristol seem less daring these days. However it leaves me wondering about Charles Stevens… Would you trust a man who does things like that to cut your hair?
All media not otherwise credited created by the story author, or permission obtained, used under copyright licence.