Silent London

A place for people who love silent film


January 2011

Slapstick Festival, Bristol, January 2011: reporting back

Charlie Chaplin in One AM (1916)
Charlie Chaplin in One AM (1916)

“Plot – The Boy is in love with The Girl – the rest just happens”*

This is not a review of the Bristol Slapstick Festival, just a note to say what a Good Thing it is, and to give you a flavour of this celebratory yet educational event. I was only able to visit about a quarter of the festival this year – in 2012 hopefully I will get to see more.

To hear, and be part of, a theatre full of people guffawing at Charlie Chaplin pretending to fall down a staircase in 1916 is immense fun, and inspirational too. How many people, how many times in how many places have laughed at the same scene? Talk about a gift to the world. In my brief visit to Bristol, I saw Harold Lloyd, WC Fields, Clara Bow, Laurel and Hardy, Harry Langdon, Chaplin and Buster Keaton – all of whose films can still have audiences in stitches today, but sadly aren’t seen too often any more. Not only was it a treat to see these films, but it was a privilege to watch them with the benefit of introductions and lectures by experts and fans – Ian Lavender on Keaton and Graeme Garden on Langdon were particular delights as, of course, was Kevin Brownlow’s talk before Mantrap.

What can I say? My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer – the full programme looked very intriguing, Bristol is a great city and I met some lovely people on my trip. I’d recommend the Slapstick Festival wholeheartedly to silent film fans, but also to people who enjoy laughing, which should be all of you I reckon.

The Slapstick Festival website is here, you can follow related tweets via the hashtag #slapstickfest and read The 24th Frame’s day-by-day blog of the festival here.

*Taken from an intertitle on Harold Lloyd’s Get Out and Get Under, but this caption applied to 99% of the films at the Slapstick Festival, and it made me smile.

The Birth of a Nation, BFI Southbank, 24 January – postponed

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Due to technical difficulties, the screening of The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915) at the BFI Southbank on 24 January has been cancelled, but it will be rescheduled for later in the year. Hopefully, the rearranged screening will also benefit from an introduction from Kevin Brownlow as originally planned. Of course, we’ll pass on the details as soon we know more.

Hamlet (1920) at the BFI, 27 January – a change to the advertised programme

Asta Nielsen as Hamlet

Asta Nielsen as Hamlet, Lilly Jacobson as Ophelia in Hamlet (1920)

Look what I found tucked into my copy of Shakespeare on Silent Film: A Strange Eventful History by Robert Hamilton Ball. It’s not a “vintage” postcard, but was bought for me by relatives on holiday in Berlin when I was writing a dissertation on silent Shakespeare. Asta Nielsen as Hamlet also graces the cover of the book, and looking at these pictures again I am reminded why I am so excited about the BFI screening of Hamlet next week. I’ve not seen this 1920 film directed by Sven Gade before, as it was not available on DVD when I was at university, and it still isn’t.

The BFI screening will be a chance to see a restored print of the film, and this event was also to be the premiere of a new score by Claire van Kampen – but unfortunately, that is no longer the case. However, I’m sure that Neil Brand’s improvised piano accompaniment will be up to his usual high standards.

Hamilton Ball says of the film that: “by adaptation and acting appropriate to pictures in motion, the least Shakespearean Hamlet becomes the best Hamlet film in the silent era”. He also quotes from a contemporary review in the periodical Exceptional Photoplays:

Rare is it indeed to see so complete a suggestion of all physical means – appearance, gesture, even the movement of an eye-lid – to the sheer art of showing forth the soul of a character as that which Asta Nielsen accomplishes in her role of Hamlet … For here is a woman whose like we have not on our own screen. Asta Nielsen’s art is a mature art that makes the curly headed girlies and painted hussies and tear-drenched mothers of most of our native film dramas as fantastic for adult consumption as a reading diet restricted to the Elsie books and Mother Goose … It is well … to put Shakespeare resolutely out of mind in seeing this production and take it on its own merits, though that is a mental feat made harder than it need have been by the frequent use of Shakespeare’s words in subtitles … Taken all in all, Hamlet reaches a level not often seen in our motion pictures.

Hamlet (1920) screens at the BFI Southbank on 27 January at 6.45pm. There are still a few tickets available here.

Silent film on Radio 4: Hollywood – the Prequel, 18 January

Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone, 1914)
Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone, 1914)

In 2011, many people use Hollywood as a synonym for the film industry as a whole, but in the early days of cinema, California was a long distance from the heart of the action. Hollywood – the Prequel traces the geographical shifts of the silent film industry across Europe – at different times, Britain, France, Denmark and Italy could all claim to be the centre of the cinematographic world. This absorbing documentary is presented by Francine Stock and features contributions from film historians including Kevin Brownlow, Ian Christie, Kristin Thompson, Neil Brand (with his piano) and Frank Gray. The experts take a chronological approach to early cinema, but focus on different genres in turn:

If you think the stick-em-up, the rom-com and the sword-and-sandal epic began life in the United States, then think again. The French gave the world a kinetic form of film comedy, and not only did the Danes perfect the art of the thriller, they gave the world its first bona fide movie star, Asta Nielsen, who scandalised cinema-goers everywhere with her erotic dance in 1910’s The Abyss.

Continue reading “Silent film on Radio 4: Hollywood – the Prequel, 18 January”

Exotic Europe, The Cinema Museum, 14 January

Exotic Europe
There are several interesting events lined up in the first half of the year at the Cinema Museum in Kennington. The first one to catch our eye is a screening of archive films and London Film School students’ responses called Exotic Europe. There will be a chance to see restored travelogue films from the Exotic Europe project, dating from between 1909 and 1921, and then to watch the students’ filmed responses, which they will introduce themselves. After the screenings, there will be a Q&A.


Exotic Europe is at the Cinema Museum on 14 January at 7pm. For more details, check out the Cinema Museum website.

Branchage Proposes Marriage, Shoreditch Church, 12 January

His Wooden Wedding (1925) starring Charley Chase
His Wooden Wedding (1925) starring Charley Chase

Going to the chapel and we’re, gonna get mar-ar-arried … Silent London loves a good wedding, and the Branchage Proposes Marriage night in Shoreditch on Wednesday is definitely an event worthy of a new hat. This is a festival-crossover, hosted by the Branchage (pronouned Bron-carge) Film Festival as part of the London Short Film Festival. The night promises everything you would expect at a wedding: cake, a string quartet, a DJ, even Uncle Dennis (AKA comedy writer Freddy Syborn) telling jokes.

From Kusturica-esque gypsy weddings to lavish Royal Affairs; dazzling Bollywood affairs to a quickie in Las Vegas; all wedding ceremonies have their own theatricality. Branchage will be exploring the spectacular traditions and superstitious customs of weddings in an evening of silent film, performance, found footage, music and surreal wedding treats. Pull up a pew to hear something old and something new, all brought together with live-scoring from classical and contemporary folk musicians, as well as some found footage.

So, what will the film screenings be? Well, Branchage obviously doesn’t want to let the groom see the wedding dress before the big day, so they are keeping their cards close to their chest. However, they have revealed that they will be showing comedy short His Wooden Wedding (1925) directed by Leo McCarey and starring Charley Chase, accompanied by James Keay on the piano. Duo Plaster of Paris are also slated to appear “scoring a wedding vignette”, which might be found footage … or it might not.

Full details are available on the Branchage website here. Branchage Proposes Marriage is at 7pm on 12 January, at Shoreditch Church. As far I know there’s no wedding list, but tickets are £10 and they’re available from See Tickets.

News from Bristol: The Extra Girl, slapstick and beer

The Extra Girl (1923)
The Extra Girl (1923)

As Bristol gears up for its annual Slapstick Festival (reported on these pages elsewhere), I thought I would share with you a couple of interesting events they’ve got lined up before the main attraction, which kicks off on 28 January. First off, the Bristol Silents club is screening The Extra Girl (1923) starring Mabel Normand, on 12 January, 7.30pm at the Old Picture House. The screening is totally free and will be introduced by film historian David Robinson. Full details are available on the Bristol Silents Facebook page.

Continue reading “News from Bristol: The Extra Girl, slapstick and beer”

The Navigator at the Barbican, 9 January

Buster Keaton in The Navigator
Buster Keaton in The Navigator

The Fashion in Film festival may have departed the Barbican for another year, but the Silent Film and Live Music series is still active. That said, there’s just one screening lined up for January, but it looks like a treat. It’s a Buster Keaton double-bill of sorts, comprising The Navigator (1924), and one of his earlier, short films, Cops (1922).
Continue reading “The Navigator at the Barbican, 9 January”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Prince Charles Cinema

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Prince Charles Cinema in the West End shows a silent film on the last Thursday of each month – except for December, it seems. So their next silent screening is in January, and it’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring “Man of a Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney. Hunchback was Universal’s most successful silent production, and it was the definitive film adaptation of Hugo’s novel – until a certain Disney version came along.

Trivia: English actress Kate Lester, who plays Madame de Gondelaurier, died on the Universal lot a year after making this film, following an explosion in her dressing room.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is screened at 8.45pm on Thursday 27th January. John Sweeney provides piano accompaniment.

SCHEDULE CLASH: Just like London buses, etc etc, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is showing at exactly the same time as Hamlet starring Asta Nielsen screens at the BFI. Just so you know.

Beyond the M25: Slapstick Fest in Bristol

Bristol is only three hours away on the train, so we couldn’t resist bringing this weekend of silent slapstick to your attention. The Slapstick Festival runs from 27-30 January across several venues in the city.

There’s a Gala Event on the Friday night featuring Barry Cryer, Ian Lavender, Neil Innes and Bill Oddie. Other highlights in the festival, as far as Silent London is concerned, include Kevin Brownlow introducing some unseen Chaplin footage on the Thursday, Mantrap starring Clara Bow on Friday, and Rediscoveries and Revelations!, a bonanza of lost films on Sunday morning.

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