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August 2011

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at the Roundhouse with Innervisions, 19 August 2011

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

The Roundhouse in Camden has long been one of London’s most inventive and atmospheric arts venues – and now it has just had a radical, zoetrope-inspired makeover courtesy of artist Ron Arad. What could be better? Perhaps a late-night screening of the mind-bending expressionist horror The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, with cool electronic accompaniment.

The illustrious Berlin-based electronic music label Innervisions joins forces with Ron Arad to present a spell binding evening of film, music and artistic installation. The evening will feature a projection of the epic 1920’s classic Dr. Caligari with Innervision’s Henrik Schwarz, Ame and Dixon performing a live score they’ve written to accompany the film.

The evening also features a live DJ set in collaboration with the technical and aesthetic expertise of Arad’s studio to project a range of stunning visuals by Berlin visual collective JUTOJO, providing a completely immersive and unique experience for the audience.

Tickets cost £25 or £18 for concessions. Doors open at 7.30pm and the film will begin at 8.30pm. To find out more, and to book tickets, visit the Roundhouse website.

Silent films with live music – festival special

The Great White Silence (1924)
The Great White Silence (1924)

No festival worth its salt is without a silent film screening these days – which is a great way to introduce people to this world. Rock festivals increasingly offer cinema tents and film festivals are often involved in commissioning new scores for films, or simply offering musicians an opportunity to perform their soundtracks in front of a large audience. It’s well worth keeping an eye on what’s going at festivals, even if you’re not planning to attend: what debuts at a festival one year, may turn up in your city the next. Here’s a selection of interesting festival events coming up in the next month or so alone.

  • At the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons (19-21 August), the rock band Minima are performing an improvised set to a selection of early science films in the Einstein Tent. Over in the Cinema Tent, Blue Roses will perform her piano score to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920). You may remember that this score first appeared as part of the Birds Eye View Festival’s Sound & Silents strand back in March. Watch out for news of a forthcoming UK Sound & Silents tour on their website.
  • The following week, at the Edinburgh Fringe, Minima will perform their score to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari six nights in a row – kicking off at midnight.
  • Also in Edinburgh and courtesy of the Birds Eye View Film Festival Sounds & Silents strand, there will be a screening of Lotte Reiniger’s Hansel & Gretel with a live score by Micachu  – that’s at the Edinburgh Art Festival.
  • The Cambridge Film Festival runs from 15-25 September and although it hasn’t announced its full lineup yet, I am pretty certain we’ll see some silent movies in the lineup. And before the festival even begins they are hosting a special screening of Douglas Fairbanks’s Robin Hood in Rendlesham Forest with a new score by Neil Brand – that’s on 29 August, bank holiday Monday.
In the Nursery perform their soundtrack to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
In the Nursery perform their soundtrack to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
  • Also on the bank holiday Monday, Bath Film Festival is hosting a screening of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr and the short film One Week, with live music from James Harpham.
  • At the beginning of September, the Little White Lies cinedrome at the End of the Road festival in Dorset will be showing all kinds of good things, including The Great White Silence.
  • Back in London, on 17 September, gothic electronic duo In the Nursery will soundtrack The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in a pop-up cinema as part of the Portobello Film Festival. And as reported elsewhere, the Peckham Free Film Festival is screening Safety Last and Battleship Potemkin, on 16 and 18 September respectively. And entrance to all of those screenings can be had for the very reasonable price of zero pence exactly.
  • The New Forest Film Festival has a very exciting event planned for 18 September. The Dodge Brothers (featuring Mark Kermode) and Neil Brand are teaming up to score another movie. The Ghost That Never Returns is a Soviet film directed by Abram Room (Bed and Sofa) about a fugitive from jail being chased by an assassin in South America. What makes the screening even more exciting is that the cinema will be powered by bicycle – it’s a movie, a gig and a workout, all in one. The Dodge Brothers’ performances have been a highlight of recent British Silent Film Festivals, so let’s hope we see this one in London soon.
  • The Branchage Film Festival in Jersey commissions and hosts all sorts of fascination film/music combinations, and holds events in London throughout the year too. Its festival closer this year is a very beautiful thing. On Sunday 25 September, Simon Fisher Turner and the Elysian Quartet will play their intensely emotional score for The Great White Silence live at Jersey Opera House. Not to be missed.

In October, of course, it will be time for the 55th London Film Festival. Watch this space to find out silent film events await us there.

Silent films at the Silent Cinema, Deptford Project, August 2011

Nosferatu (1922)
Nosferatu (1922)

• Update: Sorry, guys, I’ve just been told that these events have been cancelled. Don’t know why as yet, but hope to find out more soon – including whether they will be rescheduled for later in the year.

Have you ever been to a Silent Disco? It’s great fun. You dance around in a huge group of people but the music isn’t played out loud, it’s piped into your headphones. Hilarious for onlookers, but there’s a great sense of community on the dancefloor – like you’re sharing a secret with everyone in the crowd. The Silent Cinema in Deptford, south London, works on the same principle, but with films. The wireless headphones deliver the film’s soundtrack, but filter out the popcorn munching and chatter from your fellow audience members.

Although the name has obviously caught my attention before, I never thought they would show silent films there. But I was wrong. Silent Cinema is devoting a weekend in August to … silent cinema. They’re calling the programme the  “Black & White Classics Weekend”, and why not? Here’s the lineup:

Robin Hood in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, 29 August 2011

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)
Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)

• Update 19 September 2011: Cambridge Film Festival is screening Robin Hood again, tonight, with live music by Neil Brand in the grand surroundings of Trinity College. Sounds wonderful. Click here for details.

It’s going to be a good summer for outdoor screenings of silent films, both across London and at festivals around the country. And I expect this one will be one of the most atmospheric. Cambridge Film Festival On Location is presenting a special screening of Robin Hood (1922), the swashbuckling classic starring Douglas Fairbanks, along with the world premiere of a new score by Neil Brand.

This is an epic, but charming Robin Hood, shot on some of Hollywood’s largest and most lavish sets, with fantastic action sequences and a mischievous streak of humour. Fairbanks leaps tall turrets in a single bound as a spectacularly gymnastic Robin Hood, while Wallace Beery gives us an imposing King Richard. Allan Dwan directs with flair, making the most of the gigantic sets – getting a lot of mileage out of the drawbridge, in particular.

Robin Hood dazzled audiences back in the 1920s. Photoplay magazine (quoted on Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone by) raved about it, while considering it the apotheosis of Hollywood excess:

More than anything else, Robin Hood is a show. It seems to be stretching the word photoplay to classify it under that name. In fact, it’s the last thing in spectacles. We doubt if the silversheet will go much further along this expensive road.

If only Ridley Scott had taken the hint. I love the word “silversheet”, too. Perhaps we should try to bring that one back.

Robin Hood screens at the theatre in Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk on Monday 29 August. Neil Brand’s merry band will include violinist Günter Buchwald and percussionist Jeff Davenport. For more details, click here.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari with Minima at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 2011

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

The much-heralded return of the midnight movie is not confined to London. Oh no. Spooky silent film soundtrackers Minima are bringing the concept to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year with witching-hour screenings of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari six nights in a row. Every night from 22-28 August, the band will be accompanying the landmark Expressionist horror film in Assembly George Square Gardens and the screenings start at one minute to midnight. Here’s a taster of what you can expect to see and hear:

Tickets cost £10 or £12 depending on the date. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Light of Asia and Turksib with live scores at BFI Southbank, August 2011

Light of Asia (1925)
Light of Asia (1925)

You live in London and you love silent film, so you’re probably a member of the BFI. Well, I hope so, because there are two silent film screenings coming up in August – one that is members-only and another that almost is.

First, on 4 August, is Turksib (1929), a Soviet documentary about efforts to build a railway through Central Asia. The name Turksib stands for the Turkestan-Siberian railway, which starts near Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and joins the Trans-Siberian railway in Novosibirsk, Russia. If you enjoyed Salt for Svanetia during the BFI’s recent Soviet silents season, this screening has your name all over it. The August screening will feature a live musical score by Guy Bartell of the electronica band Bronnt Industries Kapital, which previously soundtracked the silent witchcraft documentary Häxan. Their most recent album was described by a German magazine this way: “As if Joy Division, Can and The Human League were locked in a room together.” I think that means we can expect something pretty dark and moody but with a disco beat. Works for me.

Here’s a video clip of Turksib, showing how the railways changes the landscape, as a taster.

Turksib is a BFI Members Exclusive event. So, if you’re a member, log on the BFI Members page and you can enter a ballot for tickets. If you’re successful, your first ticket is free and the second is member guest price, ie £8. The ballot is open now, and closes at 8.30pm on 8 July. Turksib screens at 6.30pm on Thursday 4 August at NFT1, but please note that there will be reduced seating due to to refurbishment work.

A few days later, the new, improved NFT1 will host a screening of Franz Osten’s Light of Asia (1925). This event is in partnership with the South Asian Cinema Foundation and is part of a celebration of the film’s screenwriter Niranjan Pal. Screenings of the other two films he made with Osten, Shiraz and A Throw of Dice, as well as A Gentleman of Paris, will be held at the Watermans Arts Centre in July. Light of Asia is the first of the trilogy, and tells the story of the life of the Buddha and how he renounced his worldly wealth in favour of enlightenment. It’s an epic film, shot on location in Rajasthan with hordes of extras. Live musical accompaniment come in the form of “an original score composed by Pandit Vishwa Prakash and performed by tabla maestro Sri Sanju Sahai, sitarist/vocalist Debipriya Sircar, flautist Jonathan Lawrence and many others.” The SACF will provide an illustrated introduction before the film.

This short video explains more about the South Asian Cinema Foundation’s Niranjan Pal project, and the film itself:

Light of Asia is a BFI Members Ballot event. So, if you’re a member, log on the BFI Members page and you can enter a ballot for tickets. Each member can enter the ballot for two full-price tickets. The ballot is open now, and closes at 8.30pm on 8 July. Any remaining tickets will then go on general sale. Light of Asia screens at 2pm on Saturday 6 August at NFT1.

The Navigator and The General at the Prince Charles Cinema, July and August 2011

The Navigator at the Prince Charles Cinema
The Navigator at the Prince Charles Cinema

The Navigator

Buster Keaton’s popularity is booming, and rightly so. The stone-faced comic is seen as cooler, more elegant and less sentimental than Chaplin – but just as funny. And that’s why the Prince Charles Cinema in the West End has got two Keaton classics lined up for summer, to continue its silent season. Something really magical happens when you watch silent comedy with live music, and most importantly, a big crowd. You’ll laugh until your sides ache, just see if you don’t.

The Navigator, playing in July, sees Keaton play a toff stranded on a massive boat drifting across the ocean. He’s not alone though, his sweetheart (Kathryn McGuire) has stowed along as well. The visual gags are as inventive as ever – watch out for the underwater diving sequence, in particular. And the scene in which the lovers attempt to make breakfast. And the chase around the empty boat. And…

The Navigator screens on 28 July at 8.30pm, with piano accompaniment by John Sweeney. Tickets cost £11 or £7 for members and they’re available here. Check out the Facebook page here.

The General (1926)
The General (1926)

The General

Keaton’s The General is one of those notorious cinematic beasts – a film that was panned on its initial release and now sits securely in the top ranks of those Greatest Films of All Time lists. Set in the American Civil War, The General is crammed with stunts that are equal parts hilarious and precarious, as Keaton races across the US in pursuit of his beloved locomotive, his girlfriend and some dastardly Union spies. But you don’t have to take my word for it: here’s New York Times critic AO Scott, and some choice clips from the film.

The General screens on 25 August at 8.30pm, with piano accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulos. Tickets cost £11 or £7 for members and they’re available here. Check out the Facebook page here.

Barbican Silent Cinema at Canary Wharf, August 2011

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last (1923)
Harold Lloyd in Safety Last (1923)

What’s better than a silent film screening eh? A free silent film screening of course. The Barbican is camping out at Canary Wharf this August to stage three outdoor screenings of feature-length silent comedy classics and you won’t have to pay a penny to attend.

Neil Brand will be accompanying on the piano while the assembled crowds enjoy Monday night screenings of Buster Keaton’s The Navigator and The General and Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last. There’s nothing like watching silent comedy with a large, lively audience and Neil Brand is always on top form, so these shows should be inked in your diary already.

Monday 8 August
6.30pm – The General
(U) (US 1926 Dir. Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman 89 min)
Set during the Civil War and based on a true incident, The General is considered to be the one of the greatest comedies of all time. Buster Keaton plays Johnnie Gray who loves his steam train The General. When Union soldiers penetrate Confederate lines and steal his locomotive, Johnnie sets off in hot pursuit – and seven of the film’s eight reels are devoted to the nail-biting chase.
Monday 15 August
6.30pm – Safety Last!
(U) (US 1923 Dir. Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor 73 min)
In Safety Last!, Harold Lloyd’s most famous comedy, he plays a sales clerk in a department store who finds himself hanging off the hands of a collapsing clock on the side of a skyscraper high above the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Harold’s legendary building climb is breathtaking and hilariously funny at the same time. A sequence achieved without any special effects.
Monday 22 August
6.30pm – The Navigator
(U) (US 1924 Dir. Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton 60 min)
Keaton’s biggest box-office success tells the story of inept millionaire Rollo Treadway and Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire), his rich, pampered girlfriend, who find themselves on a huge deserted liner adrift in the ocean. The Navigator is one of Buster Keaton’s finest films.
Hopefully some of the financiers of Canary Wharf will be tempted to leave their offices and join in the fun – it’s got to be more of a laugh than banking.

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