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Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema

Hippfest 2015: a barnstorming weekend in Bo’ness

Bye bye Bo'ness #hippfest

A photo posted by pam_hutch (@pam_hutch) on

“If a cinema could give you a hug, this is what it would feel like.” That’s how Bryony Dixon described the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Sight & Sound last year, and as usual, she’s not wrong.

This year I returned for my second trip to the festival, now in its fifth year, and the welcome was warm, the music was fabulous, the films magnificent and the crowds enthusiastic.

It’s a tribute to Ali Strauss, Shona Thomson and all the team behind Hippfest that this small town in Scotland draws silent movie fans from across the country (and the globe) as well as introducing the locals to the delights of EA Dupont, Mikhail Kalatazov and Buster Keaton. I had a stonking time in Bo’ness this year, and would recommend the festival to anyone who loves movies, music and merriment.

Here’s what I took home from Hippfest this year:

A tan. Well, a vitamin D topup at least. I made all the usual wry comments about “sunny Scotland” in the runup to my trip, but Bo’ness was truly bonny this weekend, and my, the Firth of Forth looks stunning in the sunshine.

Synthetic Sin (1929)
Synthetic Sin (1929)

More recruits for the Colleen Moore fanclub. It was an absolute honour for me to introduce the Friday night gala screening of Synthetic Sin – and I just knew that Ms Moore would charm the spats off the assembled audience. It was a fantastic screening, with raucous laughter threatening to drown out Neil Brand’s spirited accompaniment at times. All the gala shows were sold out – well almost all of the events were – which I think goes to show that people are prepared to take a chance on films, and stars, that they haven’t heard of before. I’m not sure the Hippodrome crowd will forget Colleen in a hurry though.

The fear of God. Well, flippancy aside, I was looking forward hugely to the Thursday night screening of William S Hart western Hell’s Hinges, not least because it would be scored by those groovy cats the Dodge Brothers. But as the band struck up and immediately began crooning “Satan is real” a shiver ran down my spine. The movie provided fire and brimstone, and the Brothers gave it space to breathe and fan those flames. A massively atmospheric screening, and a wonderful opener to my festival. So few people get a chance to see a pre-1920s film on the big screen at all – let alone with so much added cool.

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Book now for the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 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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Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2014: reporting back

Bo'ness #hippfest

A photo posted by pam_hutch (@pam_hutch) on

Silent London podcast: Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2014

I’ve just returned from the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Bo’ness, Falkirk. It’s a fantastic event – I really enjoyed myself and only wish I could stay longer. To give you a flavour of the weekend, if you missed out this time, here’s a mini-podcast and a selection of social media updates too. Surely there is no cooler hashtag for a #silentfilm event than #hippfest?

Hats off to Alison Strauss and her team and Falkirk Community Trust to – Hippfest is a triumph.

UPDATE: Here’s my Hippfest report for the Guardian film blog
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The 4th Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema – 12-16 March 2014

Lucky Star (1929)
Don’t go to Bo’ness without me, darling!

Scotland’s only silent film festival returns to the glorious Hippodrome cinema in Bo’ness with another impressively wide-ranging programme. There are some real treasures to be unearthed here: rare screenings of little-seen but highly valued films, and innovative ways to share the magic of silent cinema with younger audiences. Gala screenings include the Dodge Brothers‘ Scottish debut, accompanying the Hollywood classic Beggars of Life, starring Louise Brooks; Jacques Feyder’s heartstopping Visages d’Enfants closes the festival, with music from Stephen Horne; Frank Borzage’s wartime weepy Lucky Star plays on the Friday night, with Neil Brand on the piano; and Jane Gardner will perform a specially commissioned new score for Ozu’s gangster drama Dragnet Girl. German group The Aljoscha Zimmermann Ensemble will provide a score for Murnau’s timeless The Last Laugh; Jason Singh will create his magical vocal soundscapes for Grierson’s landmark documentary Drifters, live at the Hippodrome.

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The 11 best silent movie dance sequences

Silents by numbersThis is a guest post for Silent London by Alison Strauss, director of the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Bo’ness. The Silents by Numbers strand celebrates some very personal top 10s by silent film enthusiasts and experts.

Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Our Dancing Daughters (1928, Harry Beaumont)

The moment when fun-loving flapper Joan Crawford launches herself on to the dance floor and sets the party alight with a high-tempo Charleston, ripping her skirt to a more liberating length as she goes.

Danse Serpentine (1896, Auguste and Louis Lumiere)

The 45-second kaleidoscopic record of a vaudeville dance – created by pioneering dancer Loie Fuller – in which an anonymous performer elegantly whirls her arms in the long-flowing fabric of her costume to mesmerising effect, thanks to the immaculate hand-tinting work of the Lumiere Brothers’ army of finely skilled women behind the scenes.

Pandora’s Box (1929, Georg Wilhelm Pabst)

Trained dancer and former Ziegfeld Follies girl, Louise Brooks is electrifying as Lulu, especially when, with all eyes on her, she takes to the floor at her own wedding with yet another admirer – a female guest – and the pair dance in a sexually charged vertical embrace.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921, Rex Ingram)

Another raunchy tango, this time with Rudolph Valentino in a sequence that launched him as a legend.  The woman in Julio’s arms submits to his overpowering masculinity in this iconic routine that set the standard for all subsequent movie tangos.

(Watch from 14 mins, 50 seconds)

That’s My Wife (1929, Lloyd French)

Stan Laurel is persuaded by Oliver Hardy to masquerade as his wife in order to secure the bequest of a rich uncle.  In one of the funniest sequences Stan, looking lovely in an evening gown, dances the two-step with Ollie in an effort to shimmy a stolen necklace down through his undergarments!

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The 3rd Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema – 13-17 March 2013

A slide advertising Stage Struck (1925) From Starts-Thursday.com
A slide advertising Stage Struck (1925) From Starts-Thursday.com

Scotland’s only silent film festival seems to go from strength to strength. The newly released lineup for the third Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema looks more varied and ambitious than previous years – and well worth a journey north of the border for us southern softies. It’s bigger than before, too – running from Wednesday to Sunday.

Friday night’s gala screening is Allan Dwan’s part-Technicolor comedy Stage Struck (1925), starring Gloria Swanson – with Neil Brand on the piano. Other notable highlights include the Dodge Brothers’ spirited accompaniment to the rarely seen Soviet film The Ghost That Never Returns; Japanese favourite Crossways with a score by electronic rockers Minima; and Lubitsch’s irrepressible comedy The Oyster Princess, with music from Günter Buchwald.

Elsewhere in the week, you’ll find Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Baby Peggy, the rediscovered Hollywood film The Goose Woman, early Scottish cinema, the Film Explainer, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and an often-overlooked gem called The Artist

Watch a video of last year’s highlights here:

And read the full programme for the Falkirk festival here:

GALA EVENTS

Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)
Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)
  • Stage Struck – Neil Brand accompanies the glamorous Friday Night Gala starring Gloria Swanson, familiar to audiences today as bitter and forgotten silent movie queen Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. Includes ‘champagne’ reception.
  • The Ghost That Never ReturnsIn their Scottish debut, The Dodge Brothers make joyous music inspired by Woody Guthrie for this little-known Soviet gem.
  • Jujiro (Crossways) – Leading UK contemporary electronic ensemble Minima perform their new score for one of the first Japanese films ever shown in the West.
  • The Oyster PrincessVirtuoso Günter A. Buchwald makes his Hippodrome debut with a glorious comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch (The Shop Around the Corner).
The Goose Woman (1925)
The Goose Woman (1925)

NEW COMMISSIONS

  • The Goose Woman After 2012 Festival success with The Black Pirate, Jane Gardner returns to perform her new score for this film based on a still unsolved real-life murder, with Hazel Morrison and Su-a Lee on percussion, cello, musical saw.
  • The Film Explainer ReturnsAndy Cannon, Frank McLaughlin and Stewart Hardy bring archive films to life with their blend of storytelling and trad folk music.
  • New Found SoundThe third year of hugely talented Falkirk Council secondary school pupils composing and performing their own scores under the mentorship of Tom Butler of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
  • Scottish Screen Archive Shorts – Continuing the relationship with the national film archive, Mike Nolan and Forrester Pyke accompany shorts before selected features.
The Artist (2011)
The Artist (2011)

BIG NOISES in the SILENT ERA

  • Baby Peggy, the Elephant in the RoomUK premiere of this fascinating new documentary telling the moving and inspiring story of the oldest surviving silent film star whose acting career started at 18 months and stopped abruptly at age 4.
  • The ArtistOscar-winning performances in the modern silent movie sensation.
  • Bright, Steady and Free from Flickr’: Early Cinema in Bo’ness and Beyond Prof John Caughie of the University of Glasgow uncovers new research into this fast-changing chapter in the history of Scotland’s early cinema
  • A Chance to DanceLearn the Charleston and other early jazz steps from the Roaring Twenties in this public dance workshop for everyone aged 16 and over.
Buster Keaton's One Week (1920)
Buster Keaton’s One Week (1920)

SILENT OVERTURES FOR FAMILIES, CHILDREN & YOUNG PEOPLE

  • Chaplin & Keaton Double BillBring a clean jam jar to get 2-for1 tickets to see Neil Brand accompanying Chapin’s The Immigrant and Keaton’s One Week.
  • Another Fine Mess with Laurel & HardyThe boys’ triple bill of Putting Pants on Philip, Their Purple Moment and Double Whoopee with Günter A. Buchwald.
  • Make Movie Music!The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra return with a fun-filled session for primary schools using the classic Berlin, Symphony of a City.
  • #HippFest @ FusionUsing his incredible vocal talent, human beatboxer Jason Singh creates soundtracks with Fusion, a popular night for Bo’ness young people.

Watch a trailer for the 2013 festival here:

The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema runs from 13-17 March. Tickets go on sale at 10am today. Call 01324 506850, or visit the Steeple Box Office, High Street, Falkirk FK1 1NW.To read more and to book online, visit www.hippfest.co.uk. If you book before 25 February – you’ll get a 10% discount on your tickets!

The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Bo’ness Hippodrome, 18-20 March 2011

Clara Bow in It (1927)
Clara Bow in It (1927)

The Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness, Falkirk, beautifully restored to match its 1920 heyday, will host Scotland’s first silent film festival – and it promises to be an event with a real ‘vintage’ feel. The programme incorporates some enduringly popular silents, from a rare chance to see It (1927), starring Clara Bow, to FW Murnau’s influential vampire film Nosferatu (1922) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), plus a handful of comedies from Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and Harold Lloyd.

Neil Brand will provide musical accompaniment to several of the films, and he will also perform his acclaimed one-man show The Silent Pianist Speaks. David Allison of The Island Tapes will reprise his score for Nosferatu at the festival’s closing night gala, and another of the films will benefit from a specially commissioned soundtrack performed by local schoolchildren.

There will be a Slapstick Workshop for over-12s by Scottish theatre company Plutôt La Vie, and a new, specially commissioned soundtrack for one of the films performed by local schoolchildren. Another retro treat for younger viewers is the “jeely jar special” – a revival of a 1920s practice whereby film fans can get a two-for-one deal on tickets for The Kid if they bring along a clean jam jar (with lid). Bargain.

And for a touch more glamour, the Opening Gala screening of It has a 1920s dress code. Dropped waists, long strings of beads and cloches – it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge your inner flapper and give Clara Bow a run for her money. Perhaps you can find some sartorial inspiration here. Festival director Allison Strauss says:

The whole event is designed to celebrate the magic, glamour and pure entertainment of films from the silent era.  Our programme and the supporting events include something for all ages and we’ve made sure that the wide appeal will involve a broad range of tastes, from cinephiles to anyone discovering early film for the first time.

For full details and to download a brochure, visit the website here.

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