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March 2011

Metropolis at Riverside Studios, 23 March 2011

That glamorous robot lady gets about, doesn’t she? Frtiz Lang’s awe-inspiring sci-fi epic Metropolis (1927) is still popping up all over the city – even chic West London. On Wednesday 23 March, you’ll be able to see Metropolis at the Riverside Studios, an arts centre in Hammersith. It’s a great place, with lovely views from the balconies next to the cafe-bar. So why not make a date with the new, restored, extended Metropolis this month?

Metropolis screens at 8.15pm on Wednesday 23 March 2011. Tickets are £8.50 (£7.50 for concessions) and they are available here.

Sparrows at the BFI, 20 March 2011

Sparrows (1926)
Sparrows (1926)

Yes, yes, I know, Sparrows is playing at the BFI Southbank on Tuesday 15 March with a live score by Aristazabal Hawkes from the Guillemots. But you may not have noticed this note on the BFI web page for that screening:

Please note, this film will now be projected from high quality video on Tue 15 March as the specially written score has been locked at that speed. For customers who wish to see the film projected from the 35mm print with live improvised piano accompaniment, we have arranged a special screening on Sun 20 March 13:00 NFT2. Ticket-holders should contact the box office via phone or in person for an exchange or refund. We apologise for any inconvenience.

So, for the 35mm fans among you or perhaps those who just couldn’t get tickets for the first (sold-out) screening in NFT3, this is a godsend. It will definitely be a shame to miss out on Hawkes’s score, but it’s great to get the chance to see the film on film, as it were.

Sparrows (1926) is set in a creepy “baby farm” in the middle of a swamp. The collection of orphans who live there are terrorised by the owner, Mr Grimes (Gustav von Seyffertitz). Their only defence against this brute is the oldest among them, plucky Molly (Mary Pickford). But can she lead the youngsters to safety, in such perilous circumstances? Start growing your nails now, because you’ll be chewing on them for sure. Is that a bit gross? Sorry.

Sparrows screens at the BFI Southbank on 20 March 2011 at 1pm in NFT2. Tickets are £9.50 or less for members and concessions. They’re available here. There will be live improvised piano accompaniment at this screening.

Un Chien Andalou and Sunrise at the Ritzy, 24 March 2011

Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Well, this is a heck of a good way to say happy birthday. The Ritzy Cinema in Brixton is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a series of vintage screenings throughout the year. Kicking things off is this double-bill of one of the silent era’s most sophisticated and elegant films, coupled with one of its most violent, strange and difficult. Yes, Un Chien Andalou (1929) is the eye-slashing surreal short film made by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. It’s seriously odd and surely features on all right-thinking people’s must-see films lists. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), on the other hand, is a romance: a story of a young man from the country (George O’Brien) succumbing to the dangerous temptations of the big city, and a bona fide vamp. Which puts his lovely wife (Janet Gaynor) in a very precarious position. This is one of my favourite scenes from the film:

There will be live musical accompaniment for the double-bill, which begins at 8pm on Thursday 24 March. Tickets cost £16.60 or less for concessions and they are available here.

Körkarlen at the Mucky Pup, 7 March 2011

Körkarlen or The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Körkarlen or The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Fancy a drink? Cigarette Burns‘s monthly pub night is back on Monday, with a programme of occult horror. Top of the bill is Equinox, a 1970 American horror film that seems to be a sort of proto-Evil Dead, with a group of teenagers heading into a forest and stumbling across some very hostile demons.

However, we’re interested in the first course, which on this occasion is Körkarlen (1921), also known as The Phantom Carriage. This is a Victor Sjöström film, adapted from a novel based on a spooky legend that the last person to die in any one year, if they are suitably wicked, will have to spend a year driving the phantom carriage, picking up the souls of the dead. It’s a nasty business indeed, and should have you clutching your pint glass in terror.

This was Sjöstrom’s last Swedish film before he went to Hollywood, so if you’re going to see his The Wind at the BFI on Wednesday, you might like to watch this as a point of comparison. And to scare yourself silly, too.

The Cigarette Burns night is the Mucky Pup pub in Islington on the first Monday of every month. Körkarlen starts around 6.30pm, so get there nice and early. I hear there will be pizza.

Silent films at the Flatpack Festival, Birmingham, 23-27 March 2011

Sherlock Jr (1924)
Sherlock Jr (1924)

Another excuse for a trip outside the big smoke, Flatpack Festival is a quirky event, showing “cinematic wonders” of all kinds at venues across Birmingham at the end of March. And there is plenty on the schedule to entice a silent film fan.

First up is an evening at Birmingham Town Hall called Digging for Gold. This event is a tribute to film historian Iris Barry and features  a screening of Buster Keaton’s magnificent Sherlock Jr along with some European shorts. Music will be provided by Nigel Ogden and Alcyona Mick

Digging for Gold is at Brimingham Town Hall on 24 March at 7.30pm.

On the final day of the festival you can enjoy The Keystone Cut Ups at the Electric Cinema, which mixes early slapstick film with scenes from surrealist films of the same era.

People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz have been regular collaborators for some time, and when commissioned by Berwick Media Arts & Film Festival last year the result was The Keystone Cut Ups; a kaleidoscopic split-screen voyage through silent cinema which combines celluloid moments both familiar and uncanny with an original score performed live in the auditorium. Striding purposefully into its second century, the Electric Cinema should provide the perfect setting.

You can see a short video excerpt here. The Keystone Cut Ups screens at the Electric Cinema on 27 March at 7.30pm.

Depending on which way your interest in early cinema runs, you may also be interested in a couple more events. There’s a screening of the classic Mae West film She Done Him Wrong (1933) on Sunday 27 March and the spooky Shadow Shows opens the festival on Wednesday 23 March with its Lotte Reiniger inspired silhouettes:

The performance is built around a triple-screen film projection, incorporating techniques of early cinema and a variety of shadow effects. The original music score and sound effects are performed live by Pram as hidden conspirators behind a giant film screen, occasionally also glimpsed as silhouetted figures incorporated into its fractured scheme of images. The musicians employ an eclectic mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments, while the sound effects are created using hand-crafted devices from the theatre of a bygone age.

All this as well as screenings of new and classic films, a vintage mobile cinema, and some very special cakes. More details at the Flatpack Festival website here.

The Lodger at The Prince Charles Cinema, 24 March 2011

The Lodger (1927)
The Lodger (1927)

The Prince Charles Cinema has announced its next trio of silent screenings and they are all classics, kicking off with Hitchcock’s best known silent film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927). There’s very little Silent London likes more than a silent film set in London, by a London-born director – and The Lodger is a really fantastic film. This is how the PCC describes it:

Considered by Hitchcock as his first real film, The Lodger is a silent sexual psychodrama set in a foggy, gloomy London terrorised by a killer loosely modelled on Jack the Ripper. As blonde women are murdered around the city, a sinister gentleman takes up lodgings at the house of an elderly couple and is soon showing an interest in their pretty blonde daughter. A real sense of menace pervades the story and the visual inventiveness makes the film a real treat.

Yup, it’s pretty sinister, and Hitchcock is on fine form here – the beautifully designed intertitles are a particular delight, as is Ivor Novello’s wonderfully ambiguous performance in the lead role.

There is some bad news about Hitchcock’s silents though – these great films, including The Ring, The Manxman, Downhill and Blackmail, are in urgent need of restoration. To this end the BFI has launched a campaign called Rescue the Hitchcock 9 to raise funds for the restoration work. So if you go along to see The Lodger at the Prince Charles Cinema, and you enjoy it, perhaps you’d think about making a donation yourself. Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation recently contributed £275,o00, but you don’t have to give as much as that. For more details, look at the BFI website here.

The Lodger screens at the Prince Charles Cinema on 24 March 2011 at 8.45pm. Piano accompaniment will be provided by John Sweeney and tickets cost £10 or £6 for members. More details here.

Anna May Wong: Song and Frosted Yellow Willows at the Cinema Museum, 26 March 2011

Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong

You want glamour? We got it. on 26 March, the Cinema Museum will host an evening to celebrate the life and work of the beautiful actress Anna May Wong, star of Piccadilly and Shanghai Express.

The night begins with a screening of the biographical documentary Anna May Wong – Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend, and a Q&A session with the film’s director Elaine Mae Woo. Frosted Yellow Willows is the literal translation of Wong’s real name: Wong Liu Tsong. The documentary incorporates interviews with those who knew Wong, and was made with the support of such luminaries as Kevin Brownlow and Leonard Maltin.

From humble beginnings in a Chinese laundry, she went on to star in pictures such as Technicolor’s Toll of the Sea (1922), E.A. Dupont’s Piccadilly (1929) and Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. Never one to rest on her laurels, Anna would utilize her fame to aid her country and the country of her ancestors during times of war. Her body of work establishes her as a true pioneer of early cinema.

For more information about the documentary, visit the official website here. The Q&A will be followed by a screening of the melodrama Song (1928):

After the interval we will be screening a BFI archival 35mm print of the rarely-seen 1928 film Song (Richard Eichberg), an Anglo-German production in which Anna May Wong received top billing. In this her first European film, Anna plays a dancer drawn into a tragic romantic triangle when she meets a cabaret knife thrower (Heinrich George) and his capricious sweetheart. Song is notable both for Anna’s dancing and for the dramatic power of her performance. There will be a live piano accompaniment.

Most British silent film fans will know Wong primarily for her role in Piccadilly, but this will be a welcome chance to see one of her lesser known films, and the whole evening will be an opportunity to learn more about Hollywood’s first Chinese American leading lady.

Tickets in advance are £6.50 available from www.wegottickets.com or 0207 840 2200, and they will also be for sale on the door at £8. Doors will open at 6.30pm and refreshments will be available. The event is due to start at 7.30pm and finish at 10.30. For more information, visit the Cinema Museum website or the event’s Facebook page.

• UPDATE: This event will also be held at Liverpool John Moores University on 22 March 2011. More details here.

Carmen at the Musical Museum, Brentford, 26 March 2011

Carmen (1915)
Carmen (1915)

This is one of London’s more unusual venues for a silent film screening: the Musical Museum in Brentford, Middlesex, which is just down the road from Chiswick. The museum boasts a magnificent Wurlitzer and regularly shows films with organ accompaniment – every so often we get a silent film in the mix, too. The silent film they are showing next is Carmen (1915), and although the online programme sports a very sultry picture of Theda Bara in the role, I have it on very good authority that they are showing the version directed by Cecil B DeMille, featuring opera star Geraldine Farrar.

Carmen, which was based on the novel by Prosper Mérimée rather than the opera, was a huge hit at the time, first prompting a rival studio to produce the version starring Bara and then inspiring Chaplin to make A Burlesque on Carmen (1916). Was that one of the first spoof movies?

Farrar plays Carmen, a beautiful Gypsy who seduces a soldier in order to distract him from his post and allow her fellow smugglers to sneak contraband into the city of Seville. Well, it all ends rather messily as you probably know, but it’s a classic tale – and the bullring sequence is fantastic. Also, I’m very pleased to see the Musical Museum showing such an early film, rather than the more familiar 1920s fare.

The Wurlitzer, which was originally installed in the Regal cinema in Kingston Upon Thames, will be played by Donald Mackenzie. Carmen (1915) will screen at the Musical Museum, Brentford, on 26 March 2011, at 7.30pm. Tickets, which are £10, are available here, along with all the information you need.

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.

Metropolis at the Rio Cinema, 19 March 2011

It’s back! You may have thought that Metropolis (1927) was dead and buried for 2011, but no – you still have the opportunity to catch the restored, longer “complete” Metropolis on the big screen. The independent Rio Cinema in London’s groovy Dalston is screening Metropolis on a Saturday afternoon in March. So if spring has still failed to spring by that point and you fancy hiding away from it all, let Fritz Lang’s vertiginous sets and glamorous robot lady ease your seasonal pain.

You may have seen the neon blue lights of the Rio before. It really is a very elegant cinema, and although the current curved facade dates back to the 1930s, there has been a cinema on that spot since 1909. So it’s a fine vintage.

And if you need any persuading that Metropolis is a must-see film, try this slideshow from Salon magazine that attempts to chart how far its influence has spread.

The Complete Metropolis screens at 1.30pm on 19 March. Tickets are available here.

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