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b. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1895

d. 26th January 1972, Brighton, England.

Journalist, Publicist, Exhibitor – founder of the UK’s first dedicated art house cinema, the Academy Cinema, London.

Elsie Cohen was educated at Priory College and Queens College, London. She was a freelance journalist before joining the Kinematograph Weekly in 1914 or 1916 (Coxhead, p. 133) and after interviewing D. W. Griffith she decided that she wanted to devote her career to promoting film as an art form. By the time Cohen left the Kine in 1919 she was Associate Editor. She then joined the Pictures and Picturegoer as Associate Editor where she remained for a year. Cohen was a member of the National Union of Journalists and also worked as Film Correspondent for National News as well as being Secretary for various Film Benevolent Fund schemes.

In May/June 1920 she joined the Literary Department of the Anglo-Hollandia Film Company (Granger-Binger Films) in Haarlem, Holland (KW, 3 June 1920, p. 7). By 1922 she was Chief of Publicity and travelled to New York to sell the US distribution rights to the company’s films. The Cinema reported that Cohen was not only ‘the first qualified woman film journalist in England’ at this time, but that she was also ‘the first woman in the British trade to take up the direction of foreign sales’. The same journal lauded her as ‘a first class business woman’ as she began her return trip in May 1922 ‘with a trunk full of contracts’ for the US rights for Hollandia’s films.

During 1922 Cohen additionally worked as the Dutch correspondent for her former employer, Kinematograph Weekly.

When Hollandia was dissolved, Elsie spent time in Berlin before coming back to England and working as a studio floor manager. According to Elizabeth Coxhead, ‘the lack of organisation made too painful a contrast with […] Germany’. Elsie was based in London from the mid-1920s onwards. She was a member of the Film Society and in 1928 took over the run-down Windmill Theatre for a year in order to screen Russian and German films. From 1931 she managed the Academy Cinema on Oxford Street, London, and through this played an instrumental role in bringing European and art films to the British general public. According to her obituary (penned by Ivor Montagu, Denis Foreman, Sidney Bernstein and Marie Seton), ‘she built up a steady and ever increasing audience through the use of intelligent publicity’ and ‘the opening nights at the Academy became affairs to attend’. Rachael Low describes Cohen as ‘a key figure in the development of the subtitle’ due to her importation of foreign films.

Cohen championed the films of Rene Clair, Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, G. W. Pabst and others and was part of attempts to rescue Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished project, Que Viva Mexico!, by shipping the rushes to Moscow for the director to edit. This plan was stymied by the start of the Second World War, and the conflict also led to closure of the Academy in 1942 due to bomb damage. Cohen then worked with Basil Dean to provide entertainment for the Armed Forces, a job which she continued until 1947.

According to her ‘Who’s What’ entry in the 1922 Kinematograph Yearbook, Elsie’s hobbies were travelling, dancing and rowing. In her 1930 entry she mentions working as a production manager for ‘QTS’ on His House in Order (1928?). (NM)

Sources

Kinematograph Yearbook 1922, p. 283.

Kinematograph Yearbook 1930, p. 313.

The Bioscope, 3 June 1920, p. 7 (reports Cohen has ‘joined the Literary Department of the Anglo-Hollandia Film Company at Haarlem’).

The Cinema: ‘Bon Voyage to Elsie Cohen’, 19th January 1922, p. 12; ‘Elsie Cohen in America’, 4th May 1922, p. 24.

‘Obituary’, The Times, 5th February 1972, p. 16

‘Elsie Cohen in an interview with Anthony Slide’,
Silent Picture 10 (Spring 1971), np.

Cohen, Elsie, ‘The Academy Cinema in the Thirties’ (interview with Anthony Slide), Picturehouse 20 (1994-1995), pp. 3-7.

Coxhead, Elizabeth, ‘Towards a Co-operative Cinema: The Work of the Academy, Oxford Street’, Close Up, June 1933, pp. 133-137.

Eyles, Allan, Cinemas and Cinemagoing: Art House and Repertory (BFI screeonline article)

Low, Rachael, The History of the British Film 1929-1939: Film Making in 1930s Britain (London: Allen and Unwin, 1985), p. 16; p. 100

See Posts for Elsie Cohen

Researchers

Tony Fletcher (SB)

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