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September 2011

Battleship Potemkin on Film4 – and on the big screen

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)

It’s always cause for celebration when there is a silent film shown on UK TV, and, to accompany Mark Cousins’s epic documentary series The Story of Film, Film 4 has treated us to two in quick succession. We saw Orphans of the Storm (1921) a couple of weeks ago and now we can look forward to Battleship Potemkin (1925).

If we tune into The Story of Film for episode Three on More4 tonight, we are promised some glimpses of German expressionism, Soviet montage, French impressionism and surrealism, plus “the glories of Chinese and Japanese films and the moving story of one of the great, now largely forgotten, movie stars, Ruan Lingyu“. How could you pick one film out of that lot? Well, you couldn’t. But clearly Cousins is clearly a huge Eisenstein fan, and you can’t argue with Potemkin’s stature as a landmark in film history.

I really hope the version of Potemkin they’re showing is the recent restored re-release with the original orchestral score, but you can find out for yourself when it is shown just after midnight on Monday 19 September and at 11am on Thursday 22 September.

However, if you really want to see Battleship Potemkin at its best, head down to the Prince Charles Cinema or the Peckham Free Film Festival on Sunday to see this masterpiece on the big screen. You can always watch it on TV as well, after all. The Odessa Steps never get old.  Enjoy, comrades!

The Lost World with John Garden – on tour

The Lost World with live score by John Garden
The Lost World with live score by John Garden

As previously reported with breathless excitement on this very site, composer and Scissor Sister John Garden has written an electronic score for The Lost World (1925). This is marvellously enjoyable silent film pioneered the use of stop-motion special effects, and brought us the unforgettable images of a brontosaurus running riot around the streets of London.

Now, Garden is taking The Lost World on tour. He’s going to Brighton, Manchester, Southampton, Exeter and performing two dates in London: one at the Barbican Centre, and one, among the real-life dinosaur (skeletons) at the Natural History Museum.

Here are the dates in full – check with the venues for exact times and ticket prices:

September
Saturday 24th – Duke of York’s, Brighton – CANCELLED
Sunday 25th – Barbican Cinema, London

October
Thurs 13th – Phoenix Cinema, Exeter
Friday 14th – Turner Sims, University of Southampton
Sunday 16th – Cornerhouse, Manchester
Friday 21st – Natural History Museum, London

If you want a sample of the film, and Garden’s score, check this out:

The Lost World tour is brought to us by the excellent people at Bristol Silents. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark their shiny new blog right now.

Laurel and Hardy at the Brentford Musical Museum, 25 September 2011

Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy

Wurlitzer organs were once a familiar sight in British cinemas but that was a very long time ago. Happily, there are some places, such as the Musical Museum in Brentford, which maintain these fantastic instruments and put on concerts and film screenings to show them to their best advantage.

The next event on the Musical Museum’s “silent” schedule is a Sunday afternoon compilation of Laurel and Hardy films. There will be two silent shorts before the interval: Flying Elephants (1928) and Putting Pants on Philip (1927). Donald Mackenzie will accompany both films on the museum’s Regal Wurlitzer, and after the break he will give a short performance before a screening of the sound film The Music Box (1932).

The Laurel and Hardy screening takes place on Sunday 25 September at 3pm, at the Brentford Musical Museum, near Kew Bridge Station. Tickets cost £10 and you can find out more details on the museum’s website here.

The Son of the Sheik at the Prince Charles Cinema, 29 September 2011

The Son of the Sheik at the Prince Charles Cinema
The Son of the Sheik at the Prince Charles Cinema

There are film stars and then there is Rudolph Valentino. Nicknamed the “Latin Lover”, few screen actors have ever inspired so much devotion – and lust – in their audience. When he died, aged just 31, there was a national outcry from his distraught female fans. Now here’s your chance to see what all the fuss is about.

The Son of the Sheik (1926) is an unashamed star vehicle for Valentino, more or less a remake of his earlier film The Sheik, but with more comedy and action scenes. Ostensibly a sequel, The Son of the Sheik stars Valentino as Ahmed, the adult son of the first film’s hero. As before, Ahmed falls for a beautiful dancing girl, Yasmin (Vilma Bánky), but is convinced by a love rival that she has been unfaithful to him. What happens next is rather difficult to explain, and certainly controversial. If you don’t mind a few spoilers, and want to read all about it, I recommend this very thorough and lively review on the Silent Volume blog.

The Son of the Sheik screens at the Prince Charles Cinema in the West End on 29 September at 8.50pm. Live piano accompaniment will be provided by John Sweeney. Click here for tickets.

Win tickets to see A Cottage on Dartmoor at the Barbican

A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)
A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

“Will you come with me to a talkie to-night?” From the moment we first see that intertitle in A Cottage on Dartmoor – we know we’re in for a fright or two. Anthony Asquith’s classic silent film is the story of a violent love triangle told in a sinister flashback by an escaped convict. The menacing tone is interspersed with some adventurous visual flourishes, a very English sense of humour and an unforgettable glimpse of an audience’s reaction to an early sound film. Bryony Dixon has said in her recent book 100 Silent Films that: “of all the British silent films now resurfacing A Cottage on Dartmoor is the most significant rediscovery”. You really don’t want to miss this one.

A Cottage on Dartmoor screens at the Barbican Cinema at 4pm on Sunday, with live musical accompaniment from Stephen Horne. To win a pair of tickets to this screening, just answer this simple question:

  • What is the name of the first film that Anthony Asquith directed?

Send your answer to silentlondontickets@gmail.com by noon on Friday 9 September. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!

Silent film season at the West London Trade Union Club

Strike (1925)
Strike (1925)

The West London Trade Union Club on Acton high street may be a small venue, but it has won a commendation from Camra for its real ale and it has a dedicated film club too, recently hosting seasons devoted to Joseph Losey and Paul Robeson. What more could you want? Well, the W3 cineastes who meet once a month to watch movies on a 6ft screen and discuss them over a ale or two have now chosen to put together a silent film season.

The club has selected four great silent films, which will be shown at 4pm on Saturday afternoons and followed by a group discussion. I will be around too, to stir the conversation, stick up for my favourite era of cinema history and sample the beer. The four films, and dates are:

  • 17 September: Strike (Eisenstein, 1925)
  • 8 October: Faust (Murnau, 1926)
  • 12 November: Piccadilly (Dupont, 1929)
  • 10 December: Storm Over Asia (Pudovkin, 1928)

So there’s plenty to get stuck into there. A British favourite set in our own fair city, a couple of Soviet classics and even something scary for an early Halloween.

You don’t have to be a member of the club, or even of a trade union, to turn up and receive a warm welcome – and you will find the venue at 33 Acton High Street, London W3 6ND. It’s about five minutes walk from Acton Central train station, and on plenty of bus routes.

The Story of Film – and Orphans of the Storm, September 2011

Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Mark Cousins’s epic 15-part documentary The Story of Film: an Odyssey begins this Saturday, at 9.15pm on More4. This promises to be an excellent series, with Cousins roaming far and wide to put together a history of cinematic innovations and achievements. The early episodes obviously hold the most interest for us, and people who have seen the first instalment tell me it’s a must-see. Episode one explores the birth of the medium, from the development of techniques such as close-ups to the first movie stars and the early picture palaces. Episode two takes us into 1920s Hollywood and the golden era of comedy, with Keaton and Chaplin.

Filmed in the buildings where the first movies were made, it shows that ideas and passion have always driven film, more than money and marketing.

The series’s scope is wider than just American films, though, and if you had any doubt as to whether Cousins’s heart is in the right place, check out his new tattoo:

I know what you’re thinking – it would be great if Channel 4 could schedule some silent films to accompany these early episodes. What’s the point of telling people about Chaplin, Griffith, Dreyer and Eisenstein if we can’t watch the movies themselves? Well, there is a glimmer of hope. In the week following the first episode, Film4 will be showing Griffith’s French Revolution epic Orphans of the Storm (1921), starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish. The film will be screened at 00.50am on Tuesday 6 September (set your video) and again at 11am on Thursday 8 September.

A little update, courtesy of a helpful commenter below – Film4 will also be showing Battleship Potemkin later in the month – 19th and 22nd September to be precise. More of this please, Film4!

Meanwhile, if you’re enjoying what Mark Cousins has to say about silent cinema, and you live in or near London, watch this space for news of screenings with live music in the capital.

The Story of Film: an Odyssey screens on Saturday nights on More4 and is repeated throughout the week.

I tip my hat to @LondonMovieLoon on Twitter for alerting me to the screening of Orphans of the Storm. Much appreciated.


From the Archives: Made in Barnet at the Phoenix Cinema, 18 September 2011

The Phoenix Cinema
The Phoenix as it used to look

It’s always a pleasure to visit one of Britain’s oldest and most beautiful cinemas – and what a treat also to see some early films on the big screen. As part of the Phoenix Cinema’s ongoing Century of Cinema celebrations, film historian Gerry Turvey will present a selection of films from the BFI’s archives celebrating Barnet’s pioneering film-makers. There will be work from Birt Acres and RW Paul among others – and what’s more, it’s all free.

 

From the Archives: Made in Barnet screens at the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley at 2pm on 18 September 2011. Tickets are free but booking is essential, so call the box office on 020 8444 6789. For more information, visit the website.

The Chess Player at the Cinema Museum, 18 September 2011

The Chess Player (1927)
The Chess Player (1927)

There has been a lot of talk about Napoléon (1927) recently – Abel Gance’s extravagant film, painstakingly restored by Kevin Brownlow, scored by Carl Davis and scheduled for some long-overdue screenings in San Francisco next year. But Napoléon is not the only lavish French epic to have benefited from a Photoplay restoration. Raymond Bernard’s The Chess Player (1927) is a wildly ambitious film, and if you are interested in the far reaches, excesses and extraordinary achievements of late-period silent cinema, you won’t want to miss it.

The Chess Player is based on a novel that takes the true story of the Turk, a seemingly ingenious 18th-century chess computer, subsequently revealed to be a devastatingly simple hoax, and introduces it to Catherine the Great’s Russian empire. The inventor of the device is an eccentric man who lives in Polish Lithuania and is friendly with some leading local revolutionaries. After a peasant uprising is violently quashed (the film is celebrated for these battle scenes, and associated fantasy sequences), he attempts to smuggle one of his friends across Europe using the device as a cover…

The Chess Player is screening at the Cinema Museum on Sunday 18 September at 2pm as part of the first in a series of lectures on French cinema by Jon Davies. This lecture deals with the silent era, specifically “Méliès, Lumière, Gance and their contemporaries”. Tickets are £10 or £7 for concessions and they are available from WeGotTickets here. There is no mention of musical accompaniment for this screening, but the Milestone DVD of The Chess Player includes a performance of the original orchestral score by Henri Rabaud.  Find out more here on the Cinema Museum website.

Silent films with live music – festival special

The Great White Silence (1924)
The Great White Silence (1924)

No festival worth its salt is without a silent film screening these days – which is a great way to introduce people to this world. Rock festivals increasingly offer cinema tents and film festivals are often involved in commissioning new scores for films, or simply offering musicians an opportunity to perform their soundtracks in front of a large audience. It’s well worth keeping an eye on what’s going at festivals, even if you’re not planning to attend: what debuts at a festival one year, may turn up in your city the next. Here’s a selection of interesting festival events coming up in the next month or so alone.

  • At the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons (19-21 August), the rock band Minima are performing an improvised set to a selection of early science films in the Einstein Tent. Over in the Cinema Tent, Blue Roses will perform her piano score to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920). You may remember that this score first appeared as part of the Birds Eye View Festival’s Sound & Silents strand back in March. Watch out for news of a forthcoming UK Sound & Silents tour on their website.
  • The following week, at the Edinburgh Fringe, Minima will perform their score to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari six nights in a row – kicking off at midnight.
  • Also in Edinburgh and courtesy of the Birds Eye View Film Festival Sounds & Silents strand, there will be a screening of Lotte Reiniger’s Hansel & Gretel with a live score by Micachu  – that’s at the Edinburgh Art Festival.
  • The Cambridge Film Festival runs from 15-25 September and although it hasn’t announced its full lineup yet, I am pretty certain we’ll see some silent movies in the lineup. And before the festival even begins they are hosting a special screening of Douglas Fairbanks’s Robin Hood in Rendlesham Forest with a new score by Neil Brand – that’s on 29 August, bank holiday Monday.
In the Nursery perform their soundtrack to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
In the Nursery perform their soundtrack to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
  • Also on the bank holiday Monday, Bath Film Festival is hosting a screening of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr and the short film One Week, with live music from James Harpham.
  • At the beginning of September, the Little White Lies cinedrome at the End of the Road festival in Dorset will be showing all kinds of good things, including The Great White Silence.
  • Back in London, on 17 September, gothic electronic duo In the Nursery will soundtrack The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in a pop-up cinema as part of the Portobello Film Festival. And as reported elsewhere, the Peckham Free Film Festival is screening Safety Last and Battleship Potemkin, on 16 and 18 September respectively. And entrance to all of those screenings can be had for the very reasonable price of zero pence exactly.
  • The New Forest Film Festival has a very exciting event planned for 18 September. The Dodge Brothers (featuring Mark Kermode) and Neil Brand are teaming up to score another movie. The Ghost That Never Returns is a Soviet film directed by Abram Room (Bed and Sofa) about a fugitive from jail being chased by an assassin in South America. What makes the screening even more exciting is that the cinema will be powered by bicycle – it’s a movie, a gig and a workout, all in one. The Dodge Brothers’ performances have been a highlight of recent British Silent Film Festivals, so let’s hope we see this one in London soon.
  • The Branchage Film Festival in Jersey commissions and hosts all sorts of fascination film/music combinations, and holds events in London throughout the year too. Its festival closer this year is a very beautiful thing. On Sunday 25 September, Simon Fisher Turner and the Elysian Quartet will play their intensely emotional score for The Great White Silence live at Jersey Opera House. Not to be missed.

In October, of course, it will be time for the 55th London Film Festival. Watch this space to find out silent film events await us there.

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