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Pompidou: Matt Lucas’s silent comedy comes to BBC2

February 21, 2015
Matt Lucas and Alex MacQueen in Pompidou

Matt Lucas and Alex MacQueen in Pompidou

Matt Lucas is a bit of a comedy hero, from his hilarious cameos on Shooting Stars, to the taste- and boundary-pushing Little Britain, to the trenchant way he knocks down the idiots to try to step to him on social media. I may not like everything Lucas does, but he is one of the most original, and bravest, voices in TV comedy. Unafraid to go against fashion as ever, his new project is a “visual comedy” TV series, Pompidou, which debuts on BBC2 on Sunday 1 March.

Lucas has co-written the series with Julian Dutton, and he plays the title character: “an elderly oddball aristocrat who has fallen on hard times”. Alex MacQueen plays his long-suffering butler, Hove. And they have a canine companion, too: the elegant Marion, an Afghan hound.

New silent comedy on our screens is always a cause for joy and anticipation – so we’re very keen to see how this one pans out. There are six 30-minute episodes to come, and in each of them, we are promised, Pompidou and Hove face a new, bizarre, challenge.
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The Dawn of Technicolor 1915-35 review: ‘A beautifully textured visual history’

February 19, 2015
Clara Bow, with her red hair on show

Clara Bow, in Red Hair (1928)

This is a guest post for Silent London by Rosie Taylor. An event producer and freelance film researcher and historian, Rosie is festival curator for Afrika Eye Festival, and assistant curator and head of digital media at the Slapstick Festival.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Dawn of Technicolor since I first saw James Layton and David Pierce’s presentation in Pordenone in October 2014. And the immediate thing that struck me when I first lay eyes on this book is its sheer size. It is second in size only to an enormous old and out-of-print book I have on Paul Cézanne – I’m going to struggle to fit it on my bookshelves!

The reason for its size is immediately obvious from looking at the cover, which boasts a closeup of a strip of “35mm nitrate Technicolor cemented print” from Fig Leaves (1926). As you turn the pages you are not overwhelmed by images (as I was originally expecting, which slightly disappointed me at first), but instead the book is carefully laced with a variety of photographs, film strips, diagrams, and images of archival texts and diaries, giving a beautifully textured visual history, which complements the reading nicely. The quality of the illustrations “reproduced almost entirely from original artefacts”, is excellent, so if like me you enjoy having a good look at everything, it’s exciting.

However, as much as one likes to take a gander at the impressive pictures, a bit of reading is also important. And, if I am honest, I did find the size of the book a little daunting at first. However, once I started reading, I discovered that the language is very accessible, and though it is essentially a factual history, it is passionately written without being too personal. It takes you through the complex and multifaceted aspects of the company’s development, giving a great sense of the personal and professional aspirations, challenges, set-backs, and triumphs – all to the point that I was rooting for the Technicolor team!

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Dig deep and discover the pioneers of African-American cinema

February 13, 2015

Pioneers

Have you ever heard that phrase “pale, male and stale”? I don’t really like it myself, but it has its uses. It’s how us hardbitten hacks like to oh-so cynically refer to the Establishment with a capital E – the Etonians in our cabinet, the stuffy old geezers at the top of our legal system, the posh “luvvies” winning all the big arts prizes. It’s not that we don’t like old white men, it’s just that the world is bigger than that, right?

So, we want the people who represent, protect and entertain us today to reflect our own diversity – that’s a no-brainer. Sometimes it seems as if there is a long way to go, but we shouldn’t “whitewash” history either. There are a whole range of factors at play here, but the simple fact is that it’s too easy to forget to contribution made by women, people of colour and other minorities to our cultural past. Picture a silent movie set, and you’d be forgiven for visualising a sea of white faces, and a chap in riding trousers calling the shots. But the truth is more complicated, and more exciting, than that.

Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux

A new venture from Kino Lorber is intended to push that “pale, male and stale” image right out of our minds. The American label is collating a box set of movies from the earliest African-American film-makers – from Oscar Micheaux to Maria P Williams. If you didn’t know there were any – well, that’s understandable, but now you know that there were, you should be intrigued. And if you are intrigued, or if you are punching the air and shouting “Finally!”, there’s good and bad news to come.

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Trento Tunnel exhibition: a unique perspective on cinema and the first world war

February 12, 2015
The Trento Tunnel exhibition

The Trento Tunnel exhibition (tgcom24.mediaset.it)

This is a guest post for Silent London by Neil Brand, writer, composer, silent film accompanist and TV and radio presenter.

Deep beneath the mountains of the Trentino range of Italy and Austria’s Dolomites lies one of the most extraordinary exhibits, in one of the most extraordinary galleries, in the world. One walks into a gigantic road tunnel, through a curtain and into one of the most potent and gripping representations of WWI cinema anywhere on the planet. From the very first image (from the Imperial War Museum) as a real shell strikes a galloping troop of British field artillery, leaving dead horses and soldiers on the field as the smoke clears, we are in the binary world of WWI “reality” as seen by the cameras of the time and the imaginations of those who came after.

 

That this exhibition, by the Trentino History Museum, should be a chilling reminder of the inhumanity of Italy’s White War on the Austrian border is no surprise – what is utterly unexpected is that it should also be a clear meditation on the very notion of cinema as “point of view”, with our attention continually drawn to the voyeurs and showmen, the “victors” and “victims”, the selective nature of documentary and the over-exaggeration of the “real”.

The exhibition’s existence is the result of a fruitful collaboration between Fondazione Museo Storico del Trentino and Cineteca del Friuli (with the assistance of archives around the world) in which the Museum, which owns and programmes the tunnels, has turned to experts at the Cineteca (particularly Pordenone mentor Luca Giuliani), to trace the history of WWI on film all the way from the outbreak in 1915 to the most recent films on the subject.

 

All the classics are contextualised on the way: J’Accuse, All Quiet on the Western Front, La Grande Illusion, Paths of Glory. The result is 46 full-size academy screens, through which we walk, looking to left and right, for half-a-mile, taking in a century of imagery and cinematic treasures beautifully configured into intriguing sub-genres; wounds, adventure, heroism (Italian strong-man star Maciste fighting the Austrians), fiction, imperialism, and more. Three-quarters of the way up the tunnel we emerge into sound, via a soundproof screen and the “Control Room” which is almost the most fascinating part of the exhibition. There we are introduced to the magic behind the screens: the film-makers, their equipment, and ourselves as their intended audience.

J'Accuse (1919)

J’Accuse (1919)

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Book now for the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2015

February 10, 2015
Lillian Gish in Annie Laurie (1927)

Lillian Gish in Annie Laurie (1927)

The fifth instalment of Scotland’s only silent movie festival announces its programme today – and judging by previous years, you should start snapping up tickets straight away (tickets go on sale today, 10 February 2015, at noon). The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema takes place in Bo’ness, a small town tucked away on the banks of the Firth of Forth in Falkirk, Scotland. Bo’ness has a stunning vintage cinema, the Hippodrome, which has been restored to its 1920s glory, and each year hosts of a celebration of the silent era that is as welcoming as it is wide-ranging.

HippFest celebrates its fifth birthday in style with three major World Premiere Festival Commissions, a pop-up cinema at Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway, the chance to discover forgotten stars Colleen Moore and Eric Campbell and get hands-on with a series of workshops and interactive events covering everything from beatboxing to Joan Crawford’s favourite dinner party recipes.

You can find all the information about the festival, and how to book tickets for the events, on the festival website here. You can also follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter. This year’s event runs from 18-22 March 2015 and below I have picked out some highlights from the programme. I have to say I am pretty excited.

Synthetic Sin (1929)

Synthetic Sin (1929)

  • The Friday night gala screening will be the hilarious Synthetic Sin, starring Colleen Moore. There’s a dress code ladies and gents – flapper glamour! Neil Brand will accompany on piano and some silent movie blogger or other will be introducing the film …
  • “The Film Explainer” Andy Cannon will perform alongside extracts from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, along with musicians Wendy Weatherby and Frank McLaughlin.

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The British Silent Film Festival returns to Leicester in 2015

February 8, 2015
Estelle Brody and John Stuart in Hindle Wakes (1927)

A weekend away … Estelle Brody and John Stuart in Hindle Wakes (1927)

According to the website of the Phoenix independent cinema in Leicester, the British Silent Film Festival is moving back northwards this year! The BSFF began in the East Midlands town back in 1998 and has subsequently been based at the Barbican and the Cinema Museum in London, in Cambridge and Nottingham. It will return to the Phoenix in Leicester from 10-13 September 2015, so mark it in your diaries now.

Here’s what the Phoenix has to say about the event.

Formed in 1998, the Festival fulfils an important role – presenting a wealth of treasures from the silent period to audiences who would not otherwise have access to their own film heritage and to the wealth of international silent cinema.

The Festival is curated, organised and presented by Laraine Porter, Bryony Dixon and Neil Brand and a team of UK experts and advisors in this field.

Open to all, the films are presented with live music from the world’s leading professional silent film accompanists (and we hope, local guest musicians) in a variety of entertaining and accessible ways.

Hat-tip to Jenny Stewart for the news – more details to follow as soon as they arrive.

The Woman he Scorned (1929)

Pola Negri in The Woman he Scorned (1929)

Meanwhile, back in the capital, the popular British Silent Film Festival Symposium will take place again this year at King’s College London. The one day event will be held on 24 April, and proposals for presentations should be sent to Lawrence Napper at King’s by 20 March 2015 – email Lawrence.1.Napper@kcl.ac.uk.

Drawing on the success of our previous events, we again seek to draw together scholars and enthusiasts of early British cinema. This one-day symposium is intended as a forum for the presentation of new research, scholarship and archival work into film culture in Britain and its Empire before 1930.

As such we would like to invite presentations from people working in all aspects of this field, including cinema in the wider context of theatrical, literary and popular cultures; cinema and World War I; cinema and technology, exhibition, reception and critique.

In the light of a recent AHRC award investigating the transition between silent and sound cinema in the UK (1927-1933), we would be particularly interested to include papers on this topic.

Excitingly, the day will be topped off with a screening of one of my very favourite British silent films: Paul Czinner’s The Woman he Scorned (1929), starring the wonderful Pola Negri.

Read more on the British Silent Film Festival.

Love Is All: 100 years of Love and Courtship (2014) review: a kaleidoscopic kiss with history

February 4, 2015
Love is All (2014)

Love is All (2014)

Love is private, intimate. Speak its name aloud and the spell is broken. Share it and the magic is shattered. Except, except … in the 20th century popular culture crashed into the space between lovers, the gap between two pairs of moist lips, the air that thrummed to their heartbeats. Pop music ran away with love, spinning out each precious moment of desire or sorrow for three minutes of passion and repetitive heartbeats. But the movies, arguably, got straight to the dirty bits first. In the dark of a cinema, that is to say a tent or a grubby room, crammed next to a sweetheart or a maybe-sweetheart in the dark, we could watch actors (imagine!) play-act the the motions of love: smooches in train carriages, swoons on the hearth. Illicit affairs, happy marriages, flings, crushes … all the joy and misery of human existence on the screen. And in the cheap seats (they were all cheap), a fumble, a fondle, a kiss or maybe more. And did I mention it was dark? A private act in a public place – disapproval be damned.

Kim Longinotto knows exactly what goes on in the dusky darkness of the Odeon. Her new collage film Love is All (2014) is a super-cut of romance: sexy, sedate or seditious. It’s a full-tilt rush for the hormones, soundtracked by the grizzled, tender love songs of Sheffield music legend Richard Hawley. Not strictly a silent film, this, but one in which the few fragments of dialogue are incidental, another instrument in the orchestra. Hawley sings what is on our lovers’ minds – what they actually have to to say is rather beside the point.

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