Lottie Lyell: the silent work of an early Australian scenario writer

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Screening the Past, 2015
Issue Date:
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Lottie Lyell was a much-loved silent movie star in the early days of cinema in Australia. She was also an accomplished writer of scenarios, film director and film editor. Quietly working alongside director, Raymond Longford, her considerable influence and contribution to the 28 feature films they made together was well known in film circles, yet often went unnoticed by the public, and un-credited on screen. However, in 1916 Lyell began receiving co writing credits and, before her untimely death from tuberculosis aged 36, she was receiving sole scenario writing, co directing and film editing credits. Lyell grew up in the era of the suffragettes and many of the films she and Longford made had spirited young women as central characters. She was the leading player in most of the films, did all her own stunts and was an accomplished horsewoman. Lyell and Longford were partners on and off screen, but never married and many of the films they made were about women who step outside of convention and consequently suffer at the hands of men or the law. Their most successful film The Sentimental Bloke (Longford 1919) was shot on the streets of Sydney and depicted working class life with a documentary quality and a naturalistic performance style that was unusual for the time. Lyell, who played the lovable Doreen, was a trained stage actress, but she clearly understood the demands of the new medium. In this paper I will focus on Lyells work as a scenario writer and argue that the knowledge she brought as an actress, and a film editor, informed her skills as a writer and a director, and what has been described as Longfords understanding of film language can arguably be attributed to the silent work of a woman whose growing understanding of the new medium increasingly informed the photoplays she was a major contributor to.
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