Silent London

A place for people who love silent film


June 2011

Win tickets for The Seashell and the Clergyman and silent shorts at the Prince Charles Cinema

Symphonie Diagonale (1924)
Symphonie Diagonale (1924)

If your tastes run to the outer fringes of silent cinema – to the surreal, the avant-garde and the experimental – no doubt you already have your eyes on the Prince Charles Cinema’s next silent film screening. The west end cinema has collaborated with the band Minima to put on a night of short films, The Seashell and the Clergyman, Symphonie Diagonale and H2O, on Thursday 30 June. Full details here. Here’s a little taster of what you can expect:

The really, really good news is that I have a pair of tickets for this show to give away to one of the readers of this blog. Just take a look at this simple question:

  • Who directed The Seashell and the Clergyman?

Email your answer to by Tuesday 28 June. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!

Metropolis and Metropolis Refound, Open City London, 17 June 2011

Metropolis (1927)

This is no ordinary screening of Metropolis.

The Open City London documentary festival is hosting a very special event on Friday night – it’s a double-bill, with live music, in a very unusual cinema. First on the agenda is Metropolis Refound, a documentary about the history of the film and the discovery of the missing reels that went into the new, complete version of the film. This is followed by a screening of the film itself, with a live orchestral score by Serum Electronique, composed by Paul Hines. You need only pay £1 to get in, but the website does suggest that you bring a bike. Why? Because the temporary cinema in Bloomsbury really is powered by bicycles. It seems to me that it would take quite a lot of leg work to get through both these movies, but it’s sure to be worth it, and you can fortify yourself at the attached cafe and barbecue before it gets too strenuous. Talk about blurring the distinction between men and machines, though!

Metropolis and Metropolis Refound screens at Open City London on Friday 17 June at 7.30pm. For more details and to buy a ticket, click here.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed and A Trip to the Moon, Folly for a Flyover, 25 June and 9 July 2011

A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A Trip to the Moon (1902)

It is shaping up to be a great summer for outdoor cinema screenings in London – and that includes silent films as well. For starters, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are camping out in Canary Wharf with Neil Brand and the Create London festival is putting on these two gems in an unusual location in Hackney. The Folly for a Flyover is a temporary arts space in Hackney Wick, situated right under the A12. It opens later this month and is hosting five weeks of events. You can read more about this exciting project here on their website.

First up, Sawchestra are back with another interactive silent film show. The group make beautiful music from musical saws, children’s toys and other outlandish instruments and you can join them in playing along to Lotte Reiniger’s classic animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed on 25 June. That same night you will also have the chance to watch a selection of short films from The show starts at 8.30pm on Saturday 25 June and tickets cost £4. More details here.

July brings more delights, as the Folly hosts a screening of George Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon and other early animations, with a live score from the musicians at the Guildhall Electronic Music Studios. This event might sound a little familiar – that’s because it’s a repeat of the Barbican show on 26 June, which I wrote about in more detail here.  This looks great, and I hope the atmospheric location adds to the strangeness of it all – in a good way, I mean! The show starts at 8.30pm on Saturday 9 July and tickets cost £4. More details here.

These screenings are of the Create London festival, a series of cultural events in London’s Olympic host boroughs. For more information on these and the other events in the festival, check out the website.

And thanks to @susan_carey on Twitter for the tip.

Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood on BBC 2

(l-r) Mary Pickford, DW Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, founders of United Artists
(l-r) Mary Pickford, DW Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, founders of United Artists

Paul Merton is probably the most high-profile silent film fan in the country, with a book, a stage show and a series of documentaries on comedy under his belt. And now he’s back, on BBC 2 no less, with a three-part series of programmes about the early days of the American films industry – Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood.

The first programme will focus on DW Griffith, the beginnings of the star system and the relationship between music and silent film. There’s a very jolly introduction to the series on Paul Merton’s official website here, and some musings about making the documentaries on the BBC site here. You’ll be pleased to know that Neil Brand is involved too – he’s written the title music

Merton clearly has a great passion for the subject, and I couldn’t be more pleased to see documentaries on early cinema airing on one of the major channels. What would be great, of course, would be a screening of a silent film or two after the programme, but it looks like that is not to be. Better luck next time, chums.

Merton appeared on Danny Baker’s radio show on Saturday to promote the show and their 10-minute chat is well worth a listen on iPlayer, if only for the infectious enthusiasm the pair have for the subject. Follow the link here, and fast-forward to an hour and five minutes into the programme.

Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood begins on BBC 2 at 9.30pm on Friday 27 May 2011.

A Trip to the Moon and silent animated shorts at the Barbican, 26 June 2011

A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A Trip to the Moon (1902)

The Barbican is devoting the summer to animation, with a multifaceted season called Watch Me Move. There’s an exhibition in the art gallery and screenings in the cinema of everything from anime to Jan Svankmajer. And there’s this, a presentation of early animated films, accompanied by the musicians of the Guildhall Electronic Music Studios.

Top billing goes to the earliest film here: Georges Méliès’s science-fiction spectacular A Trip to the Moon (1902): possibly the most influential 14 minutes of film ever recorded. It’s fair to say that your year of Méliès mania starts here. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the director’s birth and there are two big releases in the pipeline to celebrate. First, the painstaking full-colour restoration of A Trip to the Moon, which premiered at Cannes and should be coming to these shores soon. Second, Martin Scorsese’s 3D movie Hugo Cabret, based on a children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which features Méliès and his beautiful trick films. This snippet from Le Figaro suggests that we might just see both films together when the latter gets its theatrical release.

Back at the Barbican, and the other films on the bill include four of Winsor McCay’s whimsical hand-drawn animated films:

Silent films at the Prince Charles Cinema: The Seashell and the Clergyman with Minima, 30 June 2011

Prince Charles Cinema Silent Season
Prince Charles Cinema Silent Season

Yes, you can watch silent films outside the arthouse circuit – in a West End cinema, with a packet of popcorn and a cold beer. That’s just how cool London is. And I much as I love a good retrospective, it’s a top night out. Which is why I’m excited to announce this very exciting film screening on The Prince Charles Cinema‘s silent slate.

In June, the hugely popular and accomplished rock band Minima will accompany a selection of experimental shorts at the Prince Charles Cinema – this won’t be your common-or-garden night at the flicks. Topping the bill is The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), a pioneering surreal film directed by Germaine Dulac and written by Antonin Artaud. The writer apparently loathed the film and called the director a “cow”, when he saw it. The British censors were none-too-impressed either, saying famously: “The film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.”  You want to see it now, don’t you?

We can also expect to see Viking Eggeling’s 1924 avant-garde geometric film Symphonie Diagonale and Ralph Steiner’s H20, an experimental “tone poem” on the theme of water, from 1929. It’s great that this cinema is showing something a little out of the ordinary on its big screen – there’s far more to silent cinema than the Hollywood hits, and this is a fantastic way to celebrate that.

The Seashell and the Clergyman screens at 8.30m on 30 June 2011. Tickets cost £11 or £7 for members and they’re available here. Check out the Facebook page here. You can buy Minima’s Seashell soundtrack CD on their website, and no doubt it will be available on the night too.

Bristol Silents: The Lost World with new live score at the Arnolfini, 25 June 2011

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

If you live near Bristol then you’ll know all about Bristol Silents already – those marvellous people who put on silent film screenings all year round as well as the annual laughathon that is the Slapstick Festival. But those of us dwelling within the confines of the M25 needn’t be too despondent. Bristol isn’t far away, and when you hear that Bristol Silents are putting on a screening of a classic film, with a new score and an introduction from Aardman Animation’s Peter Lord, I wouldn’t blame you for whipping out your train timetable.

So the film in question is Harry O Hoyt’s special-effects extravaganza The Lost World (1925) and the new score has been written by John Garden, who plays keyboards with glam dance-poppers Scissor Sisters. Over to Bristol Silents:

The magical special-effects work is by Willis O’Brien – pioneer genius of three-dimensional animation and of the combination of animation and live action, whose subsequent masterwork was to be King Kong.

The story is familiar enough – careful, deliberate build up; journey to a sinister land where prehistoric monsters still thrive, cut off from the rest of the world for millennia; the capture of a dinosaur and the results of bringing in back to civilization (in this case London).

The marvel of the film is the extraordinary spectacle of seeing these pioneering stop-motion creatures eating, bathing and fighting. The sequences of a brontosaurus running amok in London still astonishes.

The Lost World screens at the Arnolfini Arts Centre at 7.30pm on Saturday 25 June. You can buy tickets here on the Arnolfini website and keep an eye on the Facebook event page, and this blog, for updates.

The Silent Western: The Covered Wagon at the Cinema Museum, 23 June 2011

The Covered Wagon (1923)
The Covered Wagon (1923)

“Horse operas” are almost as old as cinema itself. Edwin S Porter’s The Great Train Robbery is regularly claimed to be the first western – and that was made in 1903. So this special event at the Cinema Museum mines a rich seam. You’ll spend the evening in the company of BFI archivist John Oliver and pianist Cyrus Gabrysch, touring the history of westerns in the silent era, incorporating screenings of several rarely seen films:

The first part of the evening will be devoted to Western star Tom Mix, with the premiere of the MoMA’s 35mm restoration of some of his early films from the Selig Studio: The Foreman of Bar Z, comprising four 1915 shorts, and Ranch Life in the Great South West (1910), featuring Mix’s first screen appearance. The evening’s second half features the work of controversial Hollywood star J. Warren Kerrigan, with screenings of James Cruze’s celebrated epic Western The Covered Wagon (1923) and the short The Poisoned Flume (1911), directed by Allan Dwan.

Tom Mix was a hugely popular star, known as the “King of the Cowboys” who really defined our idea of a western hero. J Warren Kerrigan was another successful actor in the silent years – the controversy that surrounded him was less to do with his homosexuality than his outspoken refusal to enlist during the Great War.

The Silent Western is at The Cinema Museum on 23 June 2011 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £6.50 in advance from WeGotTickets or £8 on the door or £5 for concessions. For all the details, visit the Cinema Museum website.

The Great White Silence at the BFI and nationwide in 2011

• This post was updated on 9 May 2011

An eerie filmed record of Captain Scott’s tragic journey to the South Pole, The Great White Silence (Herbert Ponting, 1924) was rightly acclaimed as a highlight of last year’s London Film Festival. The print had been restored to great effect: allowing us to see the vivid tints of the original film, and the Archive Gala screening featured a performance of Simon Fisher Turner’s intriguing minimalist score, which incorporated the Elysian Quartet, “found sounds”, and a haunting vocal from Alexander L’Estrange.

His part-improvised score includes some pre-recorded elements and Simon Fisher Turner has gone to great lengths to include relevant ‘found sounds’. The first was a gift from a friend, Chris Watson, who made a recording of the ambient silence in Scott’s cabin in the Antarctic. Fisher Turner has also recorded the striking of the Terra Nova ship’s bell at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. He has even managed to track down the expedition’s original gramophone to play some of the records which were played by members of the expedition.

If you have satellite TV, you may have recently caught the documentary on the small screen, but if you missed it, never fear, you have plenty of chances to catch it on the big screen in May and June.

First off, there will a special screening of The Great White Silence, with a recorded version of the score, at BFI Southbank on 18 May 2011, followed by a panel discussion led by Francine Stock, which will take the scoring of silent films as its subject – participants include Fisher Turner, sound recordist Chris Watson, plus Bryony Dixon and Kieron Webb from the BFI. The following weekend, there will be screenings nationwide of the film.

You want more? The Great White Silence will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 20 June.

The Great White Silence screens at NFT1 on 18 May at 6.20pm. The panel discussion will follow at 8.30pm. Tickets cost £13, or £9.75 for concessions and £1.50 less for members. They will be available from the BFI website.

The Great White Silence screens in the Studio at BFI Southbank several times throughout May and June 2011. The film will also screen at the Curzon Mayfair, Curzon Richmond and HMV Curzon Wimbledon, and at cinemas across the country including Broadway Nottingham, Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, Phoenix Oxford and Chapter Cardiff.

On Friday 20 May at 11am Bryony Dixon, BFI silent film curator, will give a talk entitled Films of the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration – The Restoration of The Great White Silence in NFT3. Tickets are free for over-60s, and usual matinee prices for everyone else.

At the Curzon Mayfair on Saturday 21 May at 4pm, and Curzon Richmond on Sunday 22 May at 3.30pm, Ian Haydn Smith will host an illustrated talk called The Great White Silence and Cinema’s Exploration of the World. Tickets are £12.50 or £9.50 for members at the Mayfair cinema and £11.50 or £9.50 for members at the Richmond branch. You can buy tickets here, on the Curzon website.

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