Silent London

A place for people who love silent film


April 2011

Walpurgisnacht Gothic Magic Lantern Show at the Last Tuesday Society, 30 April 2011

A magic lantern

Did you know that 30 April is Walpurgisnacht? It’s pagan festival celebrated in lots of countries across Europe. There are several different interpretations of the feast, but it’s always on the same date each year and it is usually associated with dancing, bonfires – and sorcery.

In one corner of Hackney, Walpurgisnacht will be celebrated this year not with a witch-burning, but a spooky magic lantern show. It’s always a joy to see a little bit of pre-cinema technology being used, shared and enjoyed in the capital, so I’m glad that Professor Heard, who treks up and down the country with his glass slides, is coming to the Last Tuesday Society to terrify the good people of east London.

Professor Mervyn Heard will conjure up the black art of Phantasmagoria with his 19th Century Magic Lantern. Watch and behold as skeletons waltz across the wall and nuns bleed to their death despite a life of virtue.

The Last Tuesday Society is based at a curiosity shop in Mare Street, Hackney, and hosts an eclectic series of lectures and workshops on everything from tantric sex to Iranian literature. The magic lantern show will be returning to the venue for Halloween, but that’s far too long to wait for your vintage thrills.

There will be two seatings for the Walpurgisnacht Gothic Magic Lantern Show. Tickets cost £10, and are available at the website here.

Der Golem with Sawchestra at Apollo Piccadilly Circus, 30 April 2011

Der Golem (1920)
Der Golem (1920)

Who says silent film screenings can’t be cutting-edge? Excuse the bad joke, please. The Sci-Fi London film festival is putting on a screening of Der Golem (1920) and the music will be provided by Sawchestra, who play saws (obviously) as well as toy instruments and other found objects. What’s more, they’ll be handing out some more instruments to the crowd, as they’re very big on audience participation. I can only imagine how rowdy this is going to get – but it sounds like a whole heap of fun.

Der Golem: How He Came Into the World is an early Expressionist horror, full of black magic, high drama and outright weirdness. The plot concerns a rabbi in 16th-century Prague who creates a man out of clay, and then brings him to life to terrorise those who are persecuting the Jews. It’s a little ridiculous, of course, but Karl Freund’s Expressionist cinematography is a treat, and playing along with Sawchestra should be a great opportunity to camp it up and enjoy this strange film.

Der Golem screens at Apollo Piccadilly Circus at 7pm on Saturday 30 April. More details are available here.

Battleship Potemkin: review

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Dir. Sergei Eisenstein, USSR, 1925, 71 minutes, cert PG

As the Black Sea foams and crashes into the shore, an intertitle describes the waves of revolutionary feeling sweeping Russia in 1905, and the 55-piece orchestra swells into action. Sergei Eisenstein opens his classic film Battleship Potemkin (1925) with an adroit combination of image, word and music – which we can now experience here in Britain for the first time.

So much is fresh to UK audiences about this 86-year-old film resident on countless Greatest Ever lists and pored over by generations of film students. First, there’s the original orchestral score written by Edmund Meisel and a handful of reinstated shots, some of which were excised from the unforgettably tense Odessa Steps sequence. Not only this, but the film has been beautifully restored, and the title cards recreated according to the director’s wishes. The language is stronger and more socialist than before. It’s bolshier.

Eisenstein’s second feature film is all about solidarity, as it tells the story of a mutiny aboard the eponymous battleship. A group of sailors refuse to eat soup made with rotten meat, and face a firing squad of their peers, but the spirit of comradeship intervenes as the crew rise up against the senior officers – and proudly hoist a bold red flag as they sail into Odessa harbour. On shore, the locals also support the sailors, with terrible consequences. The question is, will the rest of the fleet welcome the revolutionaries home, or follow the command to fire?

Because Battleship Potemkin is an appeal to fellow-feeling and collective action, it is only right that the restoration work creates a more immersive film, one that places no barriers between a 21st-century audience and its monumentally powerful imagery.

In this print, the maggots in the sailors’ dinner squirm in all their greasy glory and the splatters of blood on the Odessa Steps glisten, wetter than before and more gruesome. But it’s not all about horror. The sunlight glints sharply off the calm waters, or is diffused gently through the early morning mists. The scenes of small boats with white sails bringing supplies to the Potemkin are particularly gorgeous. That red flag is vividly, almost luridly hand-tinted red – as aggressively bright as the senior officers’ white trousers, in cruel contrast to the lower orders’ dingy uniforms.

The gloomy scenes below deck are free of murk, too, and we can pick out individuals in the massive crowd scenes. It’s perfect for tracing each extra’s individual path down those infamous steps, some trampling on bodies, and some stumbling over them as they fall.

Then there’s the score. Motoring through the film’s brisk 71-minute running time with a booming bass drum, the music is at its best mostly when it is bombastic. I liked the sustained woodwind sound before that first, fatal thrown plate, and the crashing percussion that announced the arrival of the cossacks. I wasn’t so convinced by the cracking sounds that synchronised with the gunshots, but soon these musical sound effects won me over. Occasionally the score tends towards jaunty, when perhaps it could have been tense, such as when the sailors dive off the Potemkin in an attempt to rescue a fallen comrade. But my qualms were swept away by the film’s final sequence: the music pulses faster and faster as the ship gains speed and prepares for battle, ratcheting up the tension superbly.

Battleship Potemkin, restored by the Deutsche Kinemathek, is on theatrical release from 29 April, screening in London at the BFI Southbank and the Curzon Renoir among other venues.

Manasse with Minima at the East End Film Festival, 30 April 2011

Minima (from
Minima (from

At last year’s East End Film Festival, Minima rocked up at Spitalfields Market for an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s The Lodger. To say that you enjoyed that evening would be an understatement – it was a great night and the film was an inspired choice, with a plot coloured by the East End’s most notorious villain, Jack the Ripper.

This year, the East End Film Festival has booked Minima for another silent screening, and it’s one that reflects a happier aspect of the local area. The East End of London has long been home to a strong Jewish community, and the festival is celebrating this with a Romanian film, Manasse (1925).

This is not just a fresh addition to Minima’s repertoire, but a UK premiere! I was completely unfamiliar with it before today, but I can tell you that it is directed by Jean Mihail, and based on a play from the turn of the century, which was written by Roman Ronetti on the theme of religious intolerance. It’s a story about a romance between a Christian man and a Jewish woman, the niece of the title character Manasse Cohen, a Bucharest banker (played by the famous Romanian actor Romald Bulfinschi). The play was hugely controversial and was not performed in Romania for many years. So one would imagine that this film, made a quarter of a century later when the Yiddish cinema scene was flourishing, would have been highly anticipated. I’m definitely intrigued.

The festival programme has this to say:

Manasse is a highly dramatic take on the problems inherent in Romanian society at that time. Mihail was one of Romania’s most important early directors, and he explores and debates the most sensitive of issues with sincerity, visual panache and unflinching dramatic power.

As with previous years, the film will be screened in Spitalfields market, and it’s scheduled for Saturday 30 April 2011 at 8pm. Tickets for the East End Film Festival are available as of this morning, but this screening is free. Free. So fill your boots, people.

Nosferatu at the Ritzy Cinema, 29 April 2011

Nosferatu (1922)
Nosferatu (1922)

Twilight, this is not. We could argue for hours about which is the greatest vampire film ever made, but Nosferatu is probably the most visually distinctive of the lot, definitely one of the scariest and a fairly faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to boot.

If you haven’t seen Nosferatu before, no doubt you will have seen many a homage to its expressionist style and the stiff, hollow-eyed lead performance by Max Schreck. The shadow of Nosferatu gliding up the stairs must be one of the creepiest, and most often copied, moments in cinema.

This screening at the 100-year-old Ritzy Cinema in Brixton benefits from an acclaimed live score by the band Minima, who will have performed at the Prince Charles Cinema the previous night accompanying The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and will play the following night at the East End Film Festival. Believe me, these guys know how to create an atmosphere. And you can insert your own joke about how scary it is to go south of the river here.

Nosferatu accompanied by Minima screens at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton on 29 April 2011 at 8.45pm. Tickets cost £11.60 or less for concessions and they’re available here.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Prince Charles Cinema, 28 April 2011

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

The Prince Charles Cinema is offering a night not to be missed: the expressionist madness of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, accompanied in spine-tingling style by a group who excel at accompanying silent horror films. Who better than Minima to soundtrack this combination of mad monks, mind-bending set design and people that get bumped off in the night?

If you’re wondering what the titular Dr Caligari keeps in his cabinet, I’m afraid it’s not a china dinner service, but a psychic sleepwalker, Cesare, played by Conrad Veidt. Cesare’s psychic predictions are fairly reliable. If he says you’re about to die, he’s right – because he’ll see to it himself…

But it’s the look of the film, as much as the plot, that will give you nightmares. Cesare’s eye makeup is grotesque, and the angular, distorted scenery was as influential as it is unforgettable. If you enjoy Caligari’s expressionist style, you’ll want to look out for Nosferatu at the Ritzy the following day.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, accompanied by Minima, screens at the Prince Charles Cinema on 28 April 2011 at 8.45pm. Tickets cost £10 or £6 for members and they’re available here.

Arun Ghosh Cine-Concert: The Adventures of Prince Achmed at the Purcell Room 23 April 2011

When is a silent film screening not a silent film screening? When it’s a cine-concert perhaps…

Clarinettist Arun Ghosh‘s event at the Southbank Centre in April is all about fusion. Playing as part of the Alchemy Festival, which celebrates the convergence of UK and Indian South Asian culture, the Cine-Concert also merges film and music in an unusual way. Ghosh and his musicians will perform his score to Lotte Reiniger’s pioneering animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) – and as they play, their silhouettes will be projected on to the screen, mingling with Reiniger’s animated cut-outs. What’s more, the soundtrack itself takes inspiration from a diverse range of musical and cinematic references:

Ghosh’s revitalised score – written for clarinet, bass clarinet, double bass, vibraphone, cello and percussion – draws upon the cinematic orchestration styles of retro 70s blaxploitation, Bollywood melodrama, classic westerns, and the infamous Hammer horror films, with elements of hip-hop, jazz and traditional Middle Eastern sounds.

It might not be a traditional silent film screening, but it promises to be a fascinating night out. After the film-performance, there will be further live performances in the Front Room at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – these too will have been curated by Ghosh.

Arun Ghosh Cine-Concert: The Adventures of Prince Achmed plays at the Purcell Room on Saturday 23 April 2011. Ticket prices £13 or less for concessions and they are available here.

Piccadilly at the Prince Charles Cinema, 13 April 2011

Piccadilly (1929)
Piccadilly (1929)

Anna May Wong fans rejoice. After a whole evening devoted to the actress at the Cinema Museum, including a screening of Song (1928), and the chance to see Pavement Butterfly (Grossstadtschmetterling, 1929) at the British Silent Film Festival, comes an outing for one of her most famous films – and one of the best London-set silents.

Piccadilly (1929) is a fantastic film, directed by German director E A Dupont and set in a glamorous, jazzy West End nightclub. Anna May Wong plays Shosho, a dishwasher who is “discovered” while dancing on the kitchen sink, and whose sensual routines propel her to fame as the club’s lead dancer. She wins the heart of the nightclub’s owner too, which provokes his ex (Gilda Gray) to become dangerously jealous. Anna May Wong is absolutely stunning in the film, which has been recently restored by the BFI, preserving the original’s striking blue and amber tinting and making the most of its proto-noir photography. This is a film you’ll really love, I’m sure. You can get a taste for it in this extract:

Piccadilly screens at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s glittering West End on 13 April 2011 at 8.45pm. Tickets are £10 or £6 for members – and they’re available here. Piano accompaniment will be provided by Costas Fotopoulos.

Battleship Potemkin watch: April 2011

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as the next silent film fan about the theatrical release of the the newly restored Battleship Potemkin (1925) with Edmund Meisel’s orchestral score. I circled the date in my diary, I even wrote a blog about it. But when I heard that the government had called a bank holiday, purely to celebrate its UK release, well, I felt like my own efforts were a little inadequate. Wow, David Cameron sure likes Sergei Eisenstein a lot more than you would expect.

So, while the rest of you are distracted by the preparations for your Battleship Potemkin street parties (the bunting must be red, of course, but let’s not put maggots in the bread eh?), I will make it my mission to keep you updated with where and when you can catch this masterpiece on the big screen. This is quite an endeavour for a woman who still, still, can’t watch that pram bump down the Odessa Steps without squirming.

Our first port of call (see what I did there?) is the BFI Southbank, who will be screening Battleship Potemkin on 29 and 30 April and all through May. The April dates have been announced and they are as follows:

  • 29 April 2011: 4.20pm, 6pm, 8.45pm
  • 30 April 2011: 3.30pm, 6.10pm, 8.30pm

Tickets as usual cost £9.50, or less for concessions and members. Of those screenings, I would recommend 6pm on Friday 29 April or 3.30pm on Saturday 30 April, as those are the NFT1 shows. You really want to see this on a big screen if you can. Grab your tickets here, on the BFI website.

The 14th British Silent Film Festival – full programme and ticket details

Twinkletoes (1926)
Twinkletoes (1926) (image from

Ta-dah! The full programme for the 14th British Silent Film Festival has been announced. You will find a few surprises in there, and a few things that you have been expecting since the first announcement in December last year. I am very pleased to say that there are some interesting British films in the schedule, as well as gems from abroad such as Ozu’s I Was Born, But… and the Beggars of Life screening at NFT1 with music from the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand. There will also be a world premiere in the form of the restored British musical score for the Russian film Morozko, and lectures from experts including Matthew Sweet, Luke McKernan and Bryony Dixon. So, without further ado, here’s what you can look forward to at the event, which runs from 7-10 April at the Barbican:

Continue reading “The 14th British Silent Film Festival – full programme and ticket details”

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