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February 2011

Silent films at the Horatia Sunday Fayre, Holloway Road N7

The Horatia Sunday Fayre
The Horatia Sunday Fayre

Yet again this blog seems to be suggesting you go to the pub on a school night, but this is strictly an afternoon only event, and it’s in a good cause. The Horatia is a recently renovated pub on Holloway Road, Islington, which offers gigs, dancing, quizzes and film nights throughout the week, but is just about to launch its Sunday afternoon shenanigans.

Starting this Sunday 27th February, the pub will be offering roast dinners, DJs, stalls selling craft and vintage goods, board games, and yes, “Silent film classics” on the day of rest. According to the Facebook page created for the event, the films will be shown on a big screen, but there is no more information forthcoming at the moment.

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that a busy bar full of jewellery stalls and people eating roast lamb while someone else plays records is not an ideal screening environment. But I suspect that is not what they are trying to achieve. Enjoying a few scenes from a silent film in the background while having drinks with friends sounds like a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon – perhaps before hopping on a No 4 bus to the Barbican for one of their Silent Film and Live Music screenings. Why not?

I’ll be getting down to the Horatia as soon as possible to check it out for myself, but I’m thoroughly prepared to raise a Bloody Mary in celebration of their enthusiasm for silent film. I hope the roast potatoes are up to scratch, too.

The Horatia Sunday Fayre is at the Horatia pub, 98-102 Holloway Road N7 8JE every Sunday from 11.30am to 5pm.

Mat Collishaw’s Magic Lantern at the V&A

If you’ve been walking past the Victoria and Albert Museum late at night recently, and you weren’t too distracted by the roadworks, you’ll have seen that the cupola of the museum is lit up by a moving 3D animation of moths. “That looks like a zoetrope,” I thought when I saw it. And I was very pleased to find out, when I looked it up at home, that it is indeed a zoetrope of sorts. The artist Mat Collishaw was commissioned by the V&A to make a work for circular space right at the top of the museum – and he chose to produce a vast (10m wide) version of the animated 3D zoetropes he had made before on a smaller scale.

Mat Collishaw's Magic Lantern
Mat Collishaw's Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern is a beautiful spectacle – and I would advise you to pay a late-night visit to South Kensington before it is taken down on 27 March, if you haven’t done so already. For me, the way that it combines a Victorian invention and Victorian architecture to create something that looks so 21st-century brings an endearing whiff of pre-cinema magick. As Collishaw says: “I’d like to have created something that’s very beautiful and beguiling and brings people in to look at it but I’d also like to smuggle in a little bit of doubt in there about what it is they’re actually becoming engaged with when they’re looking at the work.”

For a closer look, you can visit the museum garden to see a smaller model of Magic Lantern between 10am and 5.45pm. Magic Lantern will be in situ at the V&A until 27 March 2011.

The Lost World at the Mucky Pup, 7 February 2011

The Lost World (1925)
The Lost World (1925)

A strange screening of a strange film. The monthly Cigarette Burns night at the Mucky Pup pub in Islington is fond of showing silent films to “warm up” the crowd before the night’s main attraction – a cult film, which as far as I can tell usually means zombies, trolls, gore, kung fu, spaceships and women in bikinis. I hear that Cigarette Burns always hosts a memorable night, whether at the pub or at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, and  I’m particularly impressed by the artwork they put together for their screenings. Something tells me they’re serious about putting on a good show.

This month’s silent is The Lost World (1925), a film notable for its pioneering stop-motion special effects, which allowed director Harry Hoyt to stage fights between dinosaurs and his actors. Another treat is the appearance of Arthur Conan Doyle, who of course wrote the novel on which it was based, in a prologue to the film.

Cigarette Burns: Star Crash
Cigarette Burns: Star Crash

Top billing on Monday night goes to Star Crash, a late-70s sci-fi film starring David Hasselhoff, a space station shaped like a fist, lots of robots and the aforementioned women in bikinis. I get the impression that The Lost World’s special effects might put it to shame, but you never know.

I’ve not been down to the Mucky Pup before, so I can’t promise you that this will be a screening to please the purists, or indeed, that it won’t. But there will be food, drink, a silent film to watch and David Hasselhoff  – all on a school night. You can’t really say fairer than that.

The Lost World will show at the Mucky Pup, 39 Queens Head Street, N1 8NQ. Entry is free, and the silent film will begin at around 6.30pm. For more details, log in to Facebook or go to the Cigarette Burns website.

Shiraz with the Sabri Ensemble at the Arts Depot, 5 February

Shiraz (1928)
Shiraz (1928)

The Arts Depot in North Finchley is a relatively new venue (it opened in 2004), but one with a packed schedule of performances and exhibitions. Their screening of Shiraz (1928) on Saturday night is a welcome addition to the silent film scene in London. Shiraz is an Indian silent film directed by Franz Osten and is the second part of a trilogy. The first film in the series, The Light of Asia, tells the story of the life of Buddha and the final part, A Throw of the Dice, dramatises episodes from the epic Mahabarata. Shiraz is a historical romance, based on the story behind the building of the Taj Mahal.

Music for this screening will be provided by the Sabri Ensemble, a world music group combining influences from South Asian, Latin American, jazz and western classical music,  centred on Sarvar Sabri’s tabla playing. The Shiraz score, written by Sarvar Sabri, was first commissioned by the Lichfield Festival and has been performed at venues across the country over the past year.

Shiraz will be screened at 7.30pm on Saturday 5 February at the Pentland Theatre in the Arts Depot, North Finchley. Tickets are £16 or £14 for concessions, and they’re available here.

Silent films at the Glasgow Film Festival

Faust (Murnau, 1926)
Faust (Murnau, 1926)

The schedule for the Glasgow Film Festival has just been released and as expected there are plenty of great films old and new being screened as part of the event next month. Of special interest to this blog is the Music and Film Festival strand, which comprises documentaries about music and musicians as well as films shown with live scores. Not all of the films with live musical accompaniment are silents, but of course some are – and they look very exciting.

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Aelita: Queen of Mars and Minima at the Prince Charles Cinema

Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924)
Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924)

The February silent film at the Prince Charles Cinema in London is well worth a watch. The group Minima, who have written and performed scores for several silent films, will accompany Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) at the PCC on 24 February. You might have seen this show at the BFI last year, but if you missed it then, this is a great opportunity.

The film is a piece of Soviet science-fiction, with fantastic constructivist sets and costumes. The hero of the film, Los, travels to Mars, where he will lead a popular revolution against the planet’s ruling class, with the help of queen Aelita, who has fallen in love with him. But all is not quite as it seems …

Minima have soundtracked Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and The Lodger, among others. If you’re a fan of their scores, you might enjoy this interview with Alex Hogg from the band, in which he talks about how they set about scoring a silent film:

Films from the 1920s have a different pace, and for the uninitiated it can be hard work, so a contemporary interpretation by musicians can really help. You can make people laugh, cry and jump out of their seats but we only do this in the name of accompanying the film and helping people to watch the film.

Aelita: Queen of Mars is screened on 24 February at 8.45pm. Tickets are £10 or £6 for members and you can buy them here.

BFI Silents: February roundup

Lord Richard in the Pantry
Walter Forde is on the right, directing Richard Cooper in Lord Richard in the Pantry (1930)

It’s all about the archives this February at BFI Southbank. The stand-out feature for us is What Next? (1928) directed by and starring Londoner Walter Forde. Encouragingly, this film was recently discovered as a result of the BFI’s Most Wanted project, which searches for lost films. Forde, born in Lambeth in 1898, started out in musical halls before becoming a popular film comedian, then gradually moved into directing. What Next? is described as a”cheerful farce” and features a “deranged archaeologist” chasing our hapless hero around a museum at night in pursuit of a valuable Egyptian candlestick. As a bonus feature there’s a short film, Walter the Sleuth (1927). Both films are, of course, accompanied by live piano.

What Next? is screened in NFT2 on Wednesday 2 February at 6.10pm and will be introduced by a curator of the BFI archive.

There are also archival treasures to be found in the Tales From the Shipyard season, which opens with a compilation launch event on 7 February. At that event, and on 17 February as part of the A Ship is Born in Belfast programme, you can see footage from 1910 of the SS Olympic, which was the Titanic’s sister ship.

The Tales from the Shipyard launch event is on Monday 7 February in NFT1 at 6.20pm

A Ship is Born in Belfast is on Thursday 17 February in NFT2 at 8.30pm.

The most intriguing item is a talk on 19 February called The Tragic Launch of HMS Albion. Film-maker Patrick Keillor will be joined by the BFI’s Bryony Dixon, John Graves from the National Maritime Museum and London historian Chris Ellmers to discuss the terrible events of 21 June 1898. On that day, the battleship HMS Albion was christened, but as it entered the Thames, a wave caused a platform bearing spectators to collapse, and 34 people were drowned. The ship’s launch and the subsequent disaster were being filmed – so the debate will cover the ethics of documentary film-making, as well as providing historical context.

The Tragic Launch of HMS Albion is on 19 February from 11am to 4pm in NFT3 and tickets are £5

The BFI’s Tales From the Shipyard DVD will be released on 14 February.

Berlin, Symphony of a City and Manhatta at the Barbican, 6 February

Berlin, Symphony of a City
Berlin, Symphony of a City (1927)

This tale of two cities is a very cool way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The classic Berlin: Symphony of a City (1927) montage documentary directed by Walter Ruttmann is paired with a film that partly inspired it: Manhatta (1921), based on Walt Whitman’s poem Mannahatta. Both films create portraits of cities rather than character-driven narratives. It’s an idea that’s radical even now, and both of these films are beautiful works of modernism. What better to watch in the sleek 60s architecture of an arts centre in the east end of London?

Accompaniment for the films comes from the saxophone and keyboards of German group Reflektor2. The duo, Jan Kopinski and Steve Iliffe, toured the UK last year with a live score for Der Golem (1920) and have written scores for many other silent films.

Berlin, Symphony of a City and Manhatta screen at 4pm on 6 February 2011. Tickets are £10.50 full price but £8.50 online and less for concessions. They’re available here.

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