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Gutterdämmerung: what is the ‘loudest silent movie on earth’ playing at?

Gutterdämmerung
Gutterdämmerung

The self-proclaimed “loudest silent movie on earth” may just sound like fingernails down a blackboard to more sensitive readers. Gutterdämmerung  (“It’s not like you know who fucking Wagner is, anyway”) is a heavy metal silent film of sorts, which has announced itself this week with an elaborate social media campaign. I say “of sorts”, because actually, don’t you know, this is  “a new rock ‘n’ roll / film / gig concept from the mind of Belgian-Swedish visual artist Bjorn Tagemose” rather than a boring old movie.

Gutterdämmerung, proud owner of a heävy mëtal ümlaut, has been featured mostly in rock magazines so far, but is already proving to be a bit of a tease, releasing the its cast list of rock icons one at a time, and even offering prizes for anyone who can guess the lineup in advance. There’s no trailer, just a launch video in which director Tagemose and two of his stars, Henry Rollins and Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal, chat about the film. They introduce some of the movie’s “icons” in this vid, Iggy Pop and Grace Jones, as well as rock bassist and adult film actress Tuesday Cross and the star  Olivia Vinall, whom the Independent recently called a “National Theatre darling”. But you’ll have to wait for the rest …

Continue reading “Gutterdämmerung: what is the ‘loudest silent movie on earth’ playing at?”

Ever wondered what it’s like to be in a silent movie?

Gloria Swanson in Manhandled (1924)
Gloria Swanson in Manhandled (1924)

Trust me, I have never been ready for my close-up. But when I backed the new silent film project London Symphony, I recklessly ticked the box to say that yes, I’d be in the movie. I envisaged the back of my head in a crowd, perhaps. Something nice and anonymous.

But cometh the hour, cometh the poseur, and today I spent an hour or so shooting a snippet of a scene for London Symphony. Or sitting mostly still and doing what I was told while trying not to get the giggles. Here’s what I learned from my experiences on a silent movie “set”:

  • There’s a reason those silent-era directors had megaphones. We were filming on the Victoria line (yes, we had permission) and while no doubt director Alex Barrett was talking me through my big scene, I could barely hear a word he said.
  • There are a lot of angles to cover – two cameras, shooting front-on, overhead, from a distance, crammed next to my cheek … The London Symphony crew were using handheld digital cameras, of course, I can’t imagine how this would play out with a wooden-boxed hand-cranked job.
  • I didn’t realise how much structure dialogue gives to a scene. I’m not an actor, so of course I was going to feel a little self-conscious being photographed by those moving picture contraptions. But without anything to say, I really felt a little untethered. Anything could happen! Luckily Adam Hickey, the actor I was working with, was actually an actor and very professional.
  • Londoners are not in the least bit fazed by seeing people filming and playacting on the tube. We caused not a ruffle. Though Alex did tell me that amateur photographers often approach him in the street to chat about the gear. Mmmm, lenses.

Continue reading “Ever wondered what it’s like to be in a silent movie?”

London Symphony: play your part

 

 

“In the early days of the cinema, there were several great City Symphonies – for Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam, but never for London. Alex Barrett is going to put that right, and his plans suggest a remarkable picture.” – Kevin Brownlow

A few months back, I promised you the chance to support the making of a new London City Symphony. Now the day has arrived, as the London Symphony team have launched their crowdfunding campaign. They need the help of Silent Londoners to turn their vision into a reality. They’re asking for your financial support, and offering you some chances to be involved in the making of the film too. If you can’t afford to help out yourself, they’d love you to spread the word about the project.

Alex Barrett, the film’s director (and Silent London contributor) explains why he wants to revive the City Symphony style for his new film: “We believe that by looking at the present through recourse to the past, we can learn something new about life today,” he says. “We won’t be parodying the style. We will be true to the spirit of the filmmakers that came before us, and we hope to capture the rhythm, the motion and the experimentation that made their films so wonderful, while simultaneously reimagining the City Symphony for the 21st Century”.

LONDON SYMPHONY is a poetic journey through the city of London, exploring its vast diversity of culture, religion and design via its various modes of transportation. It is both a cultural snapshot and a creative record of London as it stands today. The point is not only to immortalise the city, but also to celebrate its community and diversity.

Alongside making the film, the team will also be creating a new score – an original symphony – written by composer James McWilliam. Says James: “Music plays an important role in silent cinema, and our score will help take viewers on a journey through modern-day London”. The filmmakers plan to record the music with a live orchestra, but also have it performed live at special event screenings of the finished film. LONDON SYMPHONY reunites the team behind the short film HUNGERFORD: SYMPHONY OF A LONDON BRIDGE. A three-minute city symphony in its own right, the short film now serves as a pilot for the team’s intentions with the feature-length LONDON SYMPHONY.

You can visit the London Symphony crowdfunding page here. Check out the range of rewards and watch the video, in which the film-makers set our their plans for the movie.

 

A modern city symphony for London – and how you could get involved

This beautiful short, Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge, is a mini city symphony directed by Alex Barrett in 2010. It has won several awards, appeared at many festivals, and here at Silent London we have long admired it. Barrett, a writer, film-maker and regular Silent London contributor, has a more ambitious project in the works, though: London Symphony, a feature-length silent film about our fair capital. Barrett is a huge admirer of European silent cinema, and the city symphonies of the 1920s avant-garde. He plans to start shooting London Symphony later this year. Here’s how he describes the project:

London Symphony is a poetic journey through the city of London, exploring its vast diversity of culture and religion via its various modes of transportation. It is both a cultural snapshot and a creative record of London as it stands today. The point is not only to immortalise the city, but also to celebrate its community and diversity.

He’ll be asking for your help though – Barrett and his team want to crowdfund their movie, and you’ll be hearing more about that in the summer on these very pages.

For now, the best way to follow the progress of London Symphony is to sign up to the mailing list here . You can also follow London Symphony on Twitter @LondonSymphFilm and Facebook too.

Crosswords: a modern silent set in London


Film-maker Steve Simmons sent me this short film, his second piece of work, and how could I resist sharing it with you? It was shot in south London, in Lambeth in fact, and any hard-working city-dweller will recognise this scene. As a crossword fan, I found Crosswords‘ wry comedy compelling: its premise initially seems simple but spirals into something a touch murkier and more dangerous as events unfold. The witty combination of text and image really caught my attention and I think it’s bound to raise a smile with the readers of this blog.

Steve tells me that he was influenced by the widest possible range of movies, silent or otherwise: “Films that haved inspired me are Metropolis, Once Upon a Time in The West, City Lights, Escape from Alcatraz and I loved The Artist.”

That’s a very diverse list and you’ll notice that although Crosswords is a modern silent, it’s far from an exercise in mimicry. For one thing, it has text, but not intertitles: “I initially considered traditional title cards to display the clues and the man’s thoughts,” says Steve, “but eventually I decided it would work best if the text was incorporated into the action. I think it helps the viewer concentrate on the clues and keeps the story flowing.”

Steve would love to make another silent, he tells me, and not just a short film: “At the moment I’m writing another silent film script but it’s more of a science-fiction based story. One day, if I had the funding I would love to make a feature-length silent – that’s the dream!”

Silent Hitchcock: whatever happened to The Mountain Eagle?

Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville filming The Mountain Eagle
Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville filming The Mountain Eagle

Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville are back in the cinemas this weekend, courtesy of Sacha Gervasi’s controversial Hitchcock, which imagines what may have gone into the making of the notorious Psycho.

Who leered at who during the filming of the shower scene is not the biggest mystery in Hitchcock’s career, however. For anyone who enjoyed this summer’s programme of silent Hitchcock films, the big question is: where is The Mountain Eagle (1926)?

Hitchcock’s second film is the only one of his to be lost –  and it may never even have been shown in Britain. It’s currently top of the BFI’s Most Wanted list, and despite the occasional hoax, we have no clues as to its location. The recent discovery of some stills from the film have renewed interest in the hunt for the lost film. Could those precious reels be lurking in the Austrian village where it was filmed?

Though The Mountain Eagle was only Hitch’s second film, the reviews were unenthusiastic and he described it himself as “a very bad movie”, he made it just before he directed The Lodger, so there really is a chance that it’s not half bad. It starred Malcolm Keen with American vamp Nita Naldi and the plot focused on a school teacher and a hermit in rural Kentucky:

Pettigrew, a shop-keeper in a mountain town of Kentucky, falls in love with the teacher, Beatrice. The girl doesn’t consider him as a lover, so he gets angry and accuses her of molesting his son Edward who has a mental illness. The girl marries the hermit, Fear O’God Fulton in order to calm the people’s anger and day by day she falls in love with her husband and a child is born. Pettigrew hides Edward and charges the hermit with his son’s murder. Fear O’God is imprisoned but he escapes and takes refuge in the mountain with his wife and son. (From Hitchcock Wiki)

Shades of The Birds maybe? Perhaps that’s just me.

By Hitch’s own account, he did not get along with Naldi at all well:

First we quarrelled about her nails. They came down from half an inch beyond the finger to a quarter. We had another discussion. They came down to an eighth. Another discussion and they were all right. The heels came down layer by layer. The makeup was altered shade by shade. The hair was changed curl by curl.

The makers of Hitchcock, and the recent TV film The Girl would undoubtedly regard that as par for the course. Though this snippet from the director’s 1937 article Life Among the Stars  is a real eyebrow-raiser:

A few weeks later, when Alma and I were married, we went to Paris for our honeymoon and spent the first day of it with Nita. But that is another story — and one I’m not going to tell.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that no, I have not stumbled across The Mountain Eagle, but I did discover this rather chilling but elegant silent short on Vimeo. It’s called The Projectionist, it was written and directed by film student Jamie Thraves last year and it features a piano score by Costas Fotopoulos – plus it is loosely inspired by the mystery of The Mountain Eagle.

Enjoy – and keep your eyes peeled.

  • Visit The Space for a collection of videos on Hitchock’s silent years, including featurettes on The Pleasure Garden and Matthew Sweet and Henry K Miller talking about “Hitchcock at the Picture Palace”

Blancanieves (2012): London film festival review

Macarena García in Blancanieves (2012)
Macarena García in Blancanieves (2012)

You may feel weary at the prospect of another love-letter to the silent era. You may feel fatigued by the thought of another Snow White movie. Wait, though – nothing should deter you from seeking out this intriguing, gorgeous film. Director Pablo Berger describes his Blancanieves as a “homage to European silent cinema”, but happily, it has the confidence to wear its influences lightly and transform them into something new, magical and utterly distinctive.

Blancanieves is a sharp, heady cocktail of fairytales, Spanish iconography and silent cinema: a black-and-white film with gorgeous musical accompaniment that tells the story of Carmen, whose matador father remarries after her flamenco dancer mother dies in childbirth. But if you’re expecting a straight 1920s-set adaptation of Snow White, you will be wrongfooted right to the bittersweet end. When we finally encounter the dwarves, we find they’re bullfighters, they’re not all sweet, and there aren’t quite seven of them. A celebrity magazine takes the place of a magic mirror, the wicked stepmother indulges in S&M with her chauffeur and the young heroine’s best friend is a neckerchief-wearing rooster called Pépé.

Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves (2012)
Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves (2012)

Carmen is no fairytale princess either, but in both her younger (Sofía Oria) and older (Macarena Garciá) incarnations, she is a serious, lonely young woman on a tragic path – both actresses share intense, dark eyes, which Berger makes the utmost of. Maribel Verdú turns in a wickedly funny pantomime performance as her scheming stepmother – although it often feels as if she is in a different, more histrionic, film to everyone else – and Daniel Giménez Cacho is heartbreaking as the destroyed father. Plaudits must also go to the rooster, or rather his handler. There may never have been a cuter cockerel in the cinema.

So why is Blancanieves a silent film? Perhaps it’s because in this version the girl’s parents are both wordless performers, in old-fashioned artforms. Her grandmother teaches her to dance, and her first encounter with bullfighting is via the flickering images of a praxinoscope. Berger also says he was inspired by a screening of Greed with Carl Davis’s orchestral score, and by silent film-makers including Sjöstrom, Herbier, Murnau and our own Anthony Asquith. Whatever the cause, it’s an artistic choice that pays dividends.

Sofía Oria in Blancanieves (2012)
Sofía Oria in Blancanieves (2012)

This is no pastiche, although I will admit I could have lived without the Instagram-style rough edge to the Academy frame, a bafflingly naff decision considering the film’s visual achivements: sumptuous photography, and impressionistic editing. There’s so much here that recalls the silent era – a clatter of flashcuts, the rustic faces in the crowd, superimpositions, irises and a restrained number of intertitles – but it feels modern too, with lovely soft light washing over the interiors and nimble, intimate handheld camerawork. There’s nothing in Blancanieves’ exquisite cinematography that could not have been achieved in the 1920s, but its strength is that it never feels anachronistic or nostalgic. And those sumptuous images tell the story too, as when Carmen’s first-communion dress is plunged into a tub of black dye, or she sees Pépé’s face hovering on her dinner plate.

With such riches at his disposal, I almost wish Berger had made a more serious film than this twisted fairytale, which occasionally veers into camp. Blancanieves is a strange piece of work, but a precious one, however, so even if it lacks ambition, its integrity and beauty are to be treasured.

Blancanieves screens as part of the London film festival at the ICA on 18 October. You can book tickets here

Blancanieves (2012): teaser trailer

I wrote about this silent Spanish adaptation of Snow White a few weeks ago, but now we have some footage to whet our appetites. Blancanieves is a new film by Pablo Berger (Torremolinos 73) and it’s a modern silent, set in the world of bullfighting in 1920s/30s Madrid.

Maribel Verdú plays the wicked stepmother, and Macarena García our heroine, the first Snow White I have ever seen face off with an angry bull. The dwarves are bullfighters too, as you’ll see in this Spanish teaser trailer.

According to this article from El Pais, Berger was inspired by watching Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed and the film contains some references to Carl Th Dreyer and Abel Gance also. The lush music you can hear, at least some of it is composed by Alfonso Vilallonga, and yes, they do plan some live orchestral screenings of the film before its theatrical release.

Speaking of which, we only have a Spanish release date for the film so far: 28 September 2012, bang on schedule for a debut at the San Sebastian film festival.

So what do you think? I reckon this could be quite special…

Silent Birmingham – Street Act

A few weeks ago, I posted about a competition held by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The task set was to create a short animation, featuring a city landmark, to be accompanied by one of the pieces of silent film music recently unearthed in the archives of Birmingham Library. Now the winner, whose film will be screened at a gala event on 20 April, alongside some Charlie Chaplin classics and accompany by the CBSO, has been announced.

Gareth Hirst’s short film Street Act explores the dark and violent side of slapstick comedy, and the action takes on Birmingham’s Corporation Street. The movie uses the Indian War Dance music from the archive, to great effect – you can listen to eight more extracts here. If you want to find out more about Hirst, his animation work and his prize-winning film, you can read more on his blog. You’ll see that he put an awful lot of work into the film, including a heck of a lot of research. I understand he is a keen silent movie fan and a regular visitor to the Slapstick Festival in Bristol. Congratulations, Gareth!

Tickets for the Charlie Chaplin gala at the Symphony Hall Birmingham on 20 April 2012 are available here.

The silent Snow White: Blancanieves (2012)

Blancanieves
Blancanieves

You may have read somewhere or other that 2012 is the year of silent cinema. Well, wouldn’t that be nice? Far more certain to be an influence on your multiplex visits this year are a beautiful princess, a wicked stepmother and a poisoned apple. But silent cinema should still get a look-in.

The first of 2012’s adaptations of Snow White, with Julia Roberts as the vain queen and Lily Collins as her red-lipped, fair-skinned stepdaughter will be released in time for the Easter holidays on 2 April. Mirror Mirror is a family film, but it’s a modern twist on the fairytale, which gives Miss White a few more exciting tasks than whistling while she works. Judging by the trailer, she spends most of her time swordfighting with her bandit-dwarf chums and giving Prince Charming a spot of sass.

Released later in the summer, on 1 June, Snow White and the Huntsman is a darker, more violent version of the fairy tale, with Kristen Stewart as the heroine and Charlize Theron as the queen. There are buckets of CG effects in this one and the whole thing has a gritty Twilight-meets-Lord of the Rings vibe, although some of Theron’s scenes look uncannily like a certain perfume ad. This film tweaks the plot even further than Mirror Mirror, with Snow White as a chainmail-clad warrior on a mission to kill the queen. Chris “Thor” Hemsworth plays the hunky huntsman.

There’s even a TV Snow White in the States. Once Upon a Time is made by American broadcaster ABC and stars Ginnifer Goodwin as the long-lost daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, trying to rescue a town of fairy-tale characters from a curse.

Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves
Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves

But enough of the talkies. The Snow White movie I’m really excited about this year hasn’t had a fraction of the publicity of those other flicks. In fact, it hasn’t got a UK release date yet, but it will debut on 28 September 2012 in its home country. Blancanieves is a Spanish film, directed by Pablo Berger, and it’s a Gothic horror-cum-melodrama, which retells the Snow White story in 1930s Madrid. From what I can gather, young Carmen has been tormented from childhood by her vile stepmother, so she escapes to the woods where she joins a troupe of dwarf bullfighters. Maribel Verdú plays the older woman, and Macarena García the younger. Did I forget to mention that it is a silent film? And black-and-white to boot. Splendid.

Berger’s previous feature film, which appeared nine years ago, Torremolinos 73, was a very different beast: a comedy about a man who wants to make arty films but gets into pornography instead. That at least proves he’s no stranger to taking a commercial risk. I really like the suitably Gothic approach he is taking to one of the Brothers Grimm’s nastiest tales, and this gallery of production stills on Facebook suggests that Blancanieves will be a truly gorgeous film. If you need another reason to get your hopes up, back in 2009 the Blancanieves script won a special award at Sundance to help fund the finished film.

There’s something else a little special about Blancanieves, though. The score for the movie is by Oscar-winning composer Alberto Iglesias, who has written for films including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener, as well as several of Almodóvar’s works. The wonderful news is that, according to the stories I have read, Blancanieves will complete a tour of cinemas with live orchestral accompaniment before its theatrical release. We’re still waiting for The Artist to do the same, though such a jaunt is in the works, we hear.

It’s facetious to draw comparisons at this stage with that other European monochrome silent, but I’m tickled pink to see this outsider muscling into what has been pitched as a battle between two blockbusters. There is always room for a silent film or two to cleanse our palates of all that too-familiar fare.

So which is the fairest of them all? Only time will tell, but I clearly already have a favourite – and a fairytale ending in mind. The other question is, how will Blancanieves compare to the whimsical 1916 Snow White, starring Marguerite Clark:


Read more about Blancanieves here. Thanks to the wonderful Nobody Knows Anybody blog for first alerting me to the film.

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