Silent London

A place for people who love silent film


October 2011

Nosferatu with Minima and organ, Halloween 2011

Nosferatu (1922)
Nosferatu (1922)

Murnau’s acclaimed Dracula adaptation, Nosferatu (1922) is still one of the most chilling horror movies ever made – and probably the most influential. So if you’re looking for a cool halloween night out, you can’t beat watching Max Schreck’s shadow creeping up those stairs with Minima’s heavy rock soundtrack. Luckily, then, there will be a few chances for you to catch the Nosferatu-Minima show this witching season. They’re playing two gigs in London, at Stoke Newington International Airport on 29 October 2011 and at the Prince Charles Cinema on 24 November. Check out the venues’ website for times and ticket prices, and if you live outside London, have a look at Minima’s website for performances of Nosferatu in Devon, Hertfordshire and Somerset.

And if you prefer a more traditional silent film accompaniment, Nosferatu is also playing at the Brentford Musical Museum, with a live organ score by Donald Mackenzie on 19 November 2011. Tickets cost £10. For more information and to book, visit the museum website.

The Phantom of the Opera for Halloween 2011

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Call it a spooky coincidence, but there are three screenings of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) coming up in the London area this month. Could it be that Halloween is approaching?

From the novel by Gaston Leroux, Lon Chaney creates one of his most grotesque performances as the crazed man without a face, who lives in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, and falls in love with the voice of a young opera singer. Infatuated, he kidnaps her, dragging her to the depths below where she will sing only for him.

The Phantom of the Opera is a spectacularly grand horror film – from its Paris Opera House setting, to lead actor Lon Chaney’s gruesome makeup, and the early use of Technicolor in the Bal masqué sequence. You really can’t beat seeing this on the big screen – and with live musical accompaniment, of course. And this month, you have two chances to do.

On 19 October 2011, you can watch The Phantom of the Opera in a very unusual location: the medieval Croydon Minster in Surrey. The screening will be accompanied by David Griggs, who will improvise a score on the church organ. Tickets cost £10 and are available by emailing or calling 020 8688 8104. For more details, visit the Croydon Minster website.

The Phantom of the Opera is haunting the West End too. On 27 October 2011, the Prince Charles Cinema will be screening the film with piano accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulos. The PCC’s silent screenings always have a great atmosphere, so this should be a suitably spine-tingling way to kick off the the Halloween weekend. Tickets cost £11 or £7 for concessions and are available from the PCC website.

And the Phantom can also be found at London’s newest cinema. The box-fresh Hackney Picturehouse hosts a screening of the film, with a live soundtrack by Wirral band the Laze.

 This Halloween they bring Picturehouse their bespoke score for the classic silent horror Phantom of the Opera (1925).  Influenced by a history of horror soundtracks, from Bernard Hermann & Angelo Badalamenti to Goblin & John Carpenter, The Laze implement elements of Progressive Rock, Classical, Jazz, Doom and Electronica in their auteur musical accompaniment.

The band are also performing their score at cinemas in Liverpool, Newcastle and Aberystwyth. Find out more on their Facebook page and click here to book tickets for the Hackney show.

Pêcheur d’Islande at the Institut Français, 11 October 2011

Pêcheur d'Islande (1927)
Pêcheur d'Islande (1927)

Pierre Loti’s novel Pêcheur d’Islande combines realism and impressionism as it explores the hard life of Breton fishermen who risk their lives to catch cod in Icelandic waters. The tragic air extends as far as the novel’s love story, a romance between a sailor, Yann and a young girl, Gaud, who meet at a party. Gaud is in love with Yann, but he is also in love with the sea …

In 1927 the novel was adapted for the screen and directed by the Jacques de Baroncelli, a Frenchman who had made many films in the silent era. Pêcheur d’Islande was shot on location in Brittany, and the landscapes both on land and at sea are magnificent. It’s a rarely seen film, and so you’ll be very happy to know that its forthcoming London screening will be introduced by – Kevin Brownlow. Not only that, but Neil Brand will provide piano accompaniment.

Pêcheur d’Islande screens at the Ciné Lumière at the Institut Français on Tuesday 11 October at 6.30pm. Tickets cost £10 or less for concessions and are available on the Institut Français website here.

Win tickets for The First Born at the London Film Festival

Miles Mander’s edgy, sophisticated silent drama The First Born is one of the most exciting recent rediscoveries of British silent cinema – and it will be presented in style at this year’s London Film Festival.

A philandering politician, the double standards of the upper classes, jealousy, miscegenation and a generation torn between centuries of tradition and a more modern morality… the plot of The First Born feels not unlike a lost episode of Downton Abbey. Sir Hugo Boycott (Miles Mander) and his young bride (a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate relationship, but it founders when she fails to produce an heir. This is a surprisingly ‘adult’ film and made with both elegance and invention. Particularly surprising among Mander’s sometimes Hitchcockian box of visual tricks is a handheld camera sequence that allows the audience to become voyeur as Boycott stalks the marital bedroom to find his wife in the bath. The story is oddly reflected in reality: the ‘first born’ is played by Mander’s own son and it was well known that the leads were involved romantically – well enough known to bring Mander’s wife to the set to demand an explanation. This major new restoration by the BFI National Archive includes reinstated missing footage and the reintroduction of a beautiful range of tints.

This very special film will be screened at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank, with a new score by Stephen Horne, performed by three musicians. You can find out more about the film, and the score, here. The music you can hear on the extract above is not an extract from the new score, but a piece that Horne wrote especially for the clip. I think you’ll agree it sounds marvellous.

So, do you fancy a free pair of tickets to this special Archive Gala performance? To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to see The First Born at the London Film Festival, just answer this simple question:

  • The First Born was co-written by Alma Reville. Which famous film director was she married to?

Email your answer to by noon on Monday 10 October. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!

To find out more, and to book tickets, visit the London Film Festival website.

Terms and Conditions

  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative available.
  • Recipients must be 16 or over and able to attend the screening at 19:30 on 20 October at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The Wheels of Chance at the Barbican, 9 October 2011

One of the many things that Silent London loves about the Barbican’s Silent Film and Live Music strand is the way it crosses over other with film festivals taking place at the venue. There are silent screenings coming up that are part of the Portuguese and Czech Film Festivals, for example. The Portuguese silent, The Wolves (1923), looks particularly interesting – but more of that in a future post.

The film festival we’re concerned with today is the Bicycle Film Festival, now in its 11th year and packed full of cool documentaries about urban bikers and BMX stunts. The Wheels of Chance (1922) is rather more genteel, though: an adaptation of an HG Wells novel by American director Harold Shaw. The hero of this caper is an awkward draper’s assistant, who falls for a cycling beauty while on holiday in the home counties. We’re told that the story is a “metaphor for the revolutionary effect of the bicycle on Edwardian society”, but it also sounds like a good deal of fun. This is how the Bioscope reported a screening of the film at Pordenone two years ago:

Filmed, as is seemingly usual with Shaw, largely on location with strong emphasis on pictorialism. Wheels of Chance is a comedy with a plot borrowed from a melodrama, with George K. Arthur, back from Shaw’s Kipps, as a draper’s assistant on a cycling tour foiling the machinations of a foreign-named cad – Bechamel – trying to elope, also by bicycle, with a naive suburban girl thereby trapping her into compromising situations in Home Counties pub/hotels, while her mother and her entourage set off in pursuit. Charming but never cloying, the happy ending here is not the unlikely riding off into the sunset – socially impossible in those times – but a recognition by all parties of the lessons learned; she is less naive, and she and her elders have learned respect for their ‘social inferior’; he gains self-respect, and has had his horizons broadened just a little bit … it’s a well-made film, with its heart in the right place, and those evocative shots of 1920s Surrey and Hampshire …

Music for the screening will be provided by Robin Harris on piano and the feature will be accompanied by two early shorts: Thomas Edison’s Bicycle Tricks (1899) and the hypnotic Ladies on Bicycles (1899), shown above.

The Wheels of Chance screens at the Barbican Cinema at 4pm on 9 October 2011. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Barbican website.

Neil Brand’s score for Underground: a preview

Underground (1928)
Underground (1928)

After months of work on his score for Undergound (1928), Neil Brand is still, happily, a big fan of the film. In fact he’s enthusiastic, and generous, enough to offer Silent London a preview of the music ahead of the world premiere next Wednesday and to chat about the film, and the process of scoring it too. Anthony Asquith’s film is set in London, but borrows its visual style from the European and Soviet art cinema that he loved so much: expect dark shadows, quickfire editing and geometric compositions. “Asquith was never again so bold as he was with Underground,” Brand says, and this score represents Brand’s attempt “to make music as bold as the film is”.

It hasn’t been an easy task. At first, he says, he was intimidated by the task ahead: the difficulty about writing for Underground, as opposed to Blackmail, which Brand scored for the BBC Symphony Orchestra last year, was that Asquith’s film requires snatches of lighter music. Blackmail is like an “icicle to the heart”, but Underground has wry, comic moments, at least towards the beginning of the film, before the characters make some disastrous decisions, and the film’s romantic triangle becomes an “Expressionist nightmare”. “Those first 20 minutes were horrendous to write,” he says. But four months later he has a complete score, which will be played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Brock, at the Barbican Concert Hall next month.

Brand is of course known for his piano scores, often improvised, for silent films, and here he has incorporated a piano into an orchestra score for the first time. He tells me this is partly because he wanted to use the love theme he had written for the film when he accompanied it at the London Film Festival with the Prima Vista Social Club two years ago. He also wanted to use the piano’s percussive bass sound and he enjoys the sound of a solo piano, at moments, over a quiet orchestra. “It’s almost a Morricone effect.”

Other than that though, Brand tackled the score as he always does, from the beginning to the end. This means that every morning, before starting work on the next segment of the film he would play through the existing score from the start. So he has heard the opening of the score, on his home computer setup, many, many times.

Continue reading “Neil Brand’s score for Underground: a preview”

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans at Screen 17, 20 October 2011

Sunrise (1927)
Sunrise (1927)

Walthamstow wants a cinema. In fact, Walthamstow has a cinema, but it is in a terrible state of disrepair at the moment, and its owners want to use it as a church. So the campaign fights on, but meanwhile the cinephiles of E17 are starved for local entertainment. Which is where Screen 17, a local ‘microplex’ cinema comes in.

Based in a Regency villa in the heart of Walthamstow Village, Screen 17 is a new, but very welcome, addition to the local arts scene. They’ve been showing children’s films on Saturday mornings and movies for grownups on Thursday evenings for a few weeks now, but they wanted to offer something a little different – to give people a chance to try another flavour of cinema. So Screen 17 is showing a silent movie with live music in October, and the film they have chosen is the beautiful Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927).

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Sunrise, directed by FW Murnau, is one of the greatest films of all time, and a masterpiece of late silent cinema. The story concerns a pair of newlyweds from the country, and a vamp from the city who tries to come between them. It’s beautifully photographed, with stunning fluid camerawork, and touching lead performances from Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien. It’s by turns comic, romantic and as in this scene, thrillingly melodramatic:

I’m really excited about this. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m a proud Walthamstow resident, and it’s wonderful to see a silent film shown in my local area. The guys who run Screen 17 are also behind the popular Vintage Cabaraoke evening, so they know how to put on a great night’s entertainment too. There will be a live improvised piano accompaniment for the film, just like in the good old days, and DJ Roxy ‘Moonshine’ Robinson will be spinning some 78s as well. If you want to dress up in your best 20s gear for the occasion – go ahead!

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans screens at Screen 17 on 20 October 2011. Doors open at 7.30pm and the film begins at 8.30pm. There will be a licensed bar, hotdogs and popcorn. Over 18s only. Tickets cost £8 and are available on the door or on We Got Tickets. For more details, visit the Screen 17 website.

Not So Silent Movies at Kings Place

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last (1923)
Harold Lloyd in Safety Last (1923)

This is a silent film screening, a concert, an experiment and lunch, all rolled into one. Not So Silent Movies will happen on the first Sunday of every month at the Kings Place arts centre in Kings Cross. It’s the brainchild of composer and cellist Philip Sheppard and puts a range of leading musicians to the ultimate test of their improvisational skills – accompanying silent films. The films will be a complete surprise to the musicians, who will have had no opportunity to watch the movies in advance, or heaven forfend, rehearse. This is what Sheppard says about the project:

‘I love throwing caution to the wind and creating a spontaneous composition, and I have absolute confidence that these musicians can pull it off. There’ll be as much slap-stick on stage as on screen; we get such a buzz from taking the risk with no safety net – it’s the adrenalin that makes it work, and when it’s over you can’t repeat it – it’s a one off!’

The choice of films will be a surprise for the audience too, of course. But a little bird tells me we can expect plenty of Buster Keaton (from the shorts to the features), some Harold Lloyd, maybe even some Chaplins in the future. Sheppard is huge fan of silent comedy and keen to show a broad range of films. He has something very special planned for Christmas, too, hopefully involving a special guest. But he’s keen to hear suggestions from Silent London readers. So if you want to nominate some silent comedies that you would like to see with a spontaneous score, comment below.

The roster of musicians involved is very impressive, and changes from month to month. Here are the line-ups for the first three Sundays.

Sunday 2 October:
Special guests
Guy Pratt bass (Pink Floyd & Roxy Music)
Geoff Dugmore drums

House band
Philip Sheppard cello
Elspeth Hanson violin (Bond)
Pip Eastop horn (London Sinfonietta)
Mark Neary pedal steel guitar

Sunday 6 November:
Special guest
Dame Evelyn Glennie OBE percussion

Sunday 4 December:
Roger Eno piano
Robin Millar CBE
 guitarist/star producer
Steve Mackey bass player, Pulp

Not So Silent Movies takes place on the first Sunday of every month in Hall Two of Kings Place. Tickets cost £9.50-£12.50, or £29.50 with Sunday lunch and a bloody mary at the Rotunda restaurant included. Find out more here.

Which silent comedies would you like to see shown at Not So Silent Movies? Please leave your comments below.

Win tickets for Underground with the BBC Symphony Orchestra

There’s nothing like seeing a film with a live orchestra – it’s far more exciting than surround sound. That’s why at Silent London we’re so excited about the world premiere of Neil Brand’s score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground (1928), which will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 5 October.

Undergound is set in London, among what Asquith called “everyday” people, but that doesn’t mean that this is an unsophisticated film. Far from it. The director’s appreciation of European and Russian cinema (he was a co-founder of the London Film Society) is betrayed by his use of Expressionist shadows, subjective camerawork and montage editing. This is 1920s London, but not like you may have seen before.

Underground tells the story of four young working people making their way in 1920s London. The parallels with life in the metropolis today are poignant and it is fascinating to see location footage of the Underground network, old London pubs, department stores and of course the climactic chase through the Lots Road Power Station in Chelsea … Asquith had a remarkable ability to portray the lighter and darker aspects of life through staging and cinematography. He was aided by the superb and unusually good-looking cast of Brian Aherne and Elissa Landi as the nice young couple, with Norah Baring and Cyril McLaglen as the unluckier, troubled duo.

The print of Underground that will be shown at the Barbican is the product of many hours of restoration work by the BFI, using new, cutting-edge techniques. The BBC Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Timothy Brock.

To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to watch Underground at the Barbican Concert Hall, just answer this simple question:

  • Cyril McLaglen, who plays Bert in Underground, had an older brother who was also a film actor. What was his name?

Email your answer to by noon on Monday 26 September. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!

To find out more, and to book tickets, visit the Barbican website.

Sherlock Jr and Sing for Joy, Exmouth Market, 13 October 2011

Sherlock Jr (1924)
Sherlock Jr (1924)

There are few things more joyous than watching a Buster Keaton classic with live music, but this event might be one of them. It’s a fundraiser for the Sing for Joy Bloomsbury choir, incorporating a concert by the group themselves and a screening of Sherlock Jr, with piano accompaniment by the marvellous John Sweeney.

Sing for Joy is made up of singers who have Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions, and their friends and carers. Singing as a group isn’t just fun, it boosts confidence and helps with the speaking and breathing exercises that people with Parkinson’s do to keep tremors under control. You can find out more about the choir, and their director Carol Grimes, here.

If you’re not familiar with Sherlock Jr, it’s one of Keaton’s most inventive and charming films. Keaton plays a projectionist who fantasises about being a detective hero in a movie. When he falls asleep in the projectionist’s booth one night, he dreams that he walks through the cinema screen and into the heart of the action. You may have seen some clips of it if you watched The Story of Film on Saturday night.

The Sing for Joy Sherlock Jr event will take place in the hall of The Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer (full disabled access) 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE (nearest tube Farringdon) on 13 October 2011. Tickets cost £18, which includes a buffet dinner. They are availale from Mike Blackstaffe on 07584 471 104  or Doors open at 7pm, which is when dinner will be served. The programme begins at 7.45pm and there will be a licensed bar.

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