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London Film Festival 2015: a silent preview

Shooting Stars (1928)
Shooting Stars (1928)

Surprises can be fun, but maybe, when you’re stumping up for film festival tickets say, it’s good to get what you really wanted. The silent movies on offer at this year’s London Film Festival may not contain any unexpected treasures, but they do comprise some of the year’s most anticipated restorations, so let’s fill our boots. Our only reservation is that a few of these silent screenings do clash, so choose your tickets carefully.

Variety (1925)
Variety (1925)

Variety (1925)

Well don’t I feel a little less sick about missing this new restoration of EA Dupont’s romantic drama at Bologna? Emil Jannings, Lya De Putti, that woozy unleashed camera … you know this is going to be a treat. Variety is a highlight of Weimar cinema, and deserves to be seen at its shimmering best. It’s screening just once at the festival, in NFT1, so make sure you’re there. The word from those who have seen the new 2k resto already is: the print is gorgeous, but there is less enthusiasm for the new score, from the Tiger Lillies. No such worries for us cockney sparrows, who will have the pleasure of Stephen Horne’s assured accompaniment.

The Battle of the Century (1927)
Stan and Ollie in The Battle of the Century (1927)

The Battle of the Century (1927)

You might have heard a whisper about this one. The rediscovered second reel of Laurel and Hardy’s The Battle of the Century makes the film almost entirely complete – and essential viewing for fans of Stan and Ollie. Enjoy it at the London Film Festival with three more L&H shorts for company and musical accompaniment from messrs John Sweeney or Stephen Horne, depending on which of the two screenings you attend. Bear in mind, if you’re not heading to Pordenone, that the first screening is a full 24 hours before it plays at the Giornate – could this be a world premiere of the restoration?

Sherlock Holmes (1918)
Sherlock Holmes (1918)

Sherlock Holmes (1918)

Benedict Cumberbatch is all very well (very well indeed if you ask me), but if any actor could lay claim to the “definitive” Holmes, it was William Gillette. And for many a long year, the film that committed his stage performance of the gentleman detective to celluloid was thought to have vanished in the night. An elementary mistake, Dr Watson – the film was rediscovered at the end of last year and has been prepped for a Blu-ray release and a handful of festival screenings, including this one, in NFT1 on Sunday 18 October. There’s live music from Neil Brand, Günter Bichwald and Jeff Davenport and an irresistible accompanying short, A Canine Sherlock Holmes (1912).

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My silent cinema shelfie

  
When I am not watching silent movies, I’m often reading about them. Or writing about them. Or dancing in my kitchen to Taylor Swift, but that’s another matter entirely.

The point is that there are a lot of great and not-so great silent cinema books out there. And I have a few of both. Recently the frequently hilarious Movies Silently blog posted a list of silent film books perfect for beginners, and on the BFI website, Geoff Andrew listed the cinema books he truly loves. Inspired by both those posts, here is my silent cinema “shelfie”. It’s not my full collection, but an edit – a representative selection of the silent film books I have loved, or leaned on. 

A couple of these are books I don’t entirely love (can you guess?), one infuriates me, and many of them I worship wholeheartedly. A few are highfalutin texts I used as a student – and still dip into now. Those are for theory, history and analysis – which are essential. Some satisfy my greed for gossip and glamour – ditto.

You’ll spot a classic picture book, and a new one too. There’s a novel in there, because silent cinema inspires fiction as well as fact, and a list book, although I claim to dislike lists. There’s an autobiography and two biographies, which are all more entertaining than any novel. 

There are two books here by Kevin Brownlow. And the other obvious bias is towards writing by and about women. I wouldn’t have it any other way

The Giornate catalogue stands in for all its erudite siblings, of course. And there’s a recent favourite in there too – which I am evangelical about.

 
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‘O brave new world!’: Silent Shakespeare streaming on the Globe Player

Re Lear (1910)
Re Lear (1910)

I love early cinema in all its wild and strange glory, but there is a special place in my heart for Shakespeare adaptations, especially those earliest examples from the 1900s and 1910s. The British Film Institute produced a video, many moons back, called Silent Shakespeare, featuring wonderful examples of films adapted from Shakespeare’s plays from around the world, dated between 1899 and 1911, with gorgeous scores by Laura Rossi. I loved it. The VHS tape was subsequently rereleased on DVD and is still available from the BFI shop, priced £19.99

Now there is another way to watch these truly gorgeous films – they are streaming on the Globe Player, an online service from the people who run Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank in London – just a few yards away from the venue formerly known as the National Film Theatre, but several centuries away in spirit. You can rent the bundle of seven films for £5.99 or buy it outright for £9.99. Here’s the link

The films in the Silent Shakespeare set are:

  • King John (GB 1899 2 min) the first Shakespeare film ever made, released both as a film in variety theatres and as a peepshow Mutoscope on the same day as Tree’s production of the play opened at the Her Majesty’s Theatre, London. 
  • The Tempest (GB 1908 12 min) 
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (USA 1909 12 min) 
  • King Lear/Re Lear (Italy 1910 16 min) 
  • Twelfth Night (USA 1910 12 min) 
  • The Merchant of Venice/Il Mercante di Venezia (Italy 1910 10 min) 
  • Richard III (GB 1911 23 min) a condensed version of one of the Stratford productions mounted by the F.R. Benson Company.
The Tempest (1908)
The Tempest (1908)

The glimpse of Herbert Beerbohm-Tree as King John is really something, and the hand-stencilled colours of Re Lear are sumptuous, but I must confess I do have a favourite: the charming, ingenious version of The Tempest, directed by Percy Stow for the Clarendon Company in 1908. It’s just sublime – and Michael Brooke calls it “comfortably the most visually imaginative and cinematically adventurous silent British Shakespeare film”, so I am in good company. Try another of my favourites, the 1911 Richard III on for size. 

Frank Benson had been playing Richard III for decades at this point, and his ease in the role really shows, especially during these haunting scenes from Bosworth field.

This just in from 1915

The Cheat (1915)
The Cheat (1915)

There’s nothing I enjoy more than updating my pals at the Guardian on the movie news of 100 years ago. So today, excitingly, sees the first instalment in a new regular series I will be writing for the Guardian on silent, early and just plain old movies.

The series goes by the jovial name of Silent but deadly! and will appear once a fortnight. The first episode is all about the pivotal cinematic year of 1915, including five recommendations of fantastic centenarian films to watch. You can read it here.

You can keep up to date with the non-Silent London pieces I write, should you care to do so, over here.

The Silent London Podcast: Festivals, firsts, a favourite and Flesh and the Devil

Flesh and the Devil (1926)
Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Back to the studio for a full-length edition of the Silent London Podcast. I’m joined by Pete Baran to talk about the festival scene, discuss the first silents we ever watched and catch up on the news. We’re joined by London Symphony director Alex Barrett, who tells us about his favourite silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and we preview the British Silent Film Festival as well as reviewing the great Hollywood silent Flesh and the Devil.

We also make inappropriate comments about Greta Garbo, and I get a little bit over-excited about Pordenone. Just another day in the office really.

 

Continue reading “The Silent London Podcast: Festivals, firsts, a favourite and Flesh and the Devil”

Shooting Stars announced as the 2015 London Film Festival Archive Gala

Shooting Stars (1928)
Shooting Stars (1928)

Did you guess this one? I must confess I had an inkling. After the BFI’s rightly acclaimed restorations of Anthony Asquith’s other silent features A Cottage on Dartmoor and Underground, his directorial debut Shooting Stars  (1928) is about to take its turn in the key light, at the London Film Festival Archive Gala. On 16 October 2015, in the Odeon Leicester Square, a sparkling new print of this important British silent will screen with a new jazzy score by John Altman. We’ve waited a long time to hear this good news, so now all we have to do is enjoy the anticipation, book some tickets, and cross our fingers that, following previous form, Shooting Stars will also make its way to a theatrical and Blu-ray release before long.

Shooting Stars (1928)
Shooting Stars (1928)

Shooting Stars, which Asquith wrote and officially co-directed with AV Bramble, is, much like his two other silents, a romantic drama in which a love triangle precipitates violence. But this is far more glamorous than the others: it’s a peek behind the scenes of the film biz. That’s a hint of how audacious young Asquith was – his first time in the director’s chair and he was already turning the camera around in the opposite direction. It’s also a clue to how experienced he already was – he had spent time in Hollywood, as a guest of the Pickford-Fairbanks household no less, and toured German film studios as well. He was a leading light of the London Film Society, and had been working at British Instructional Films since the early 1920s. When the infamous “quota” was brought in with the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927, BIF turned to fiction film-making – Asquith, and Shooting Stars, were up first.

Shooting Stars (1928)
Brian Aherne in Shooting Stars (1928)

The film’s director isn’t the only name worth noting. Shooting Stars’ cast includes some notable talent from the British silent cinema: Brian Aherne (High Treason, Underground), Annette Benson (Downhill) and Donald Calthrop (Blackmail) for starters. And if you have never had a chance to see slinky Chili Bouchier do her thing, well aren’t you in for a treat?

Shooting Stars (1928)
Shooting Stars (1928)

Here’s what the BFI has to say about it:

Shooting Stars is a dazzling debut which boasts a boldly expressionist shooting style, dramatic lighting and great performances from its leads. Annette Benson (Mae Feather) and Brian Aherne (Julian Gordon) play two mis-matched, married stars and Donald Calthrop (Andy Wilkes) a Chaplin-esque star at the same studio, with whom Mae becomes romantically involved. Chili Bouchier, Britain’s first sex symbol of the silent era, plays a key role as an actress/bathing beauty, an attractive foil to the comic antics of the comedian. The film manages to operate as a sophisticated, modern morality tale, while it’s also both an affectionate critique of the film industry and a celebration of its possibilities. It teases the audience with its revelations of how the illusions of the world of film-making conceal ironic and hidden truths

Despite the director credit going to veteran director A.V. Bramble, this is demonstrably the original work of rising talent Anthony Asquith, exhibiting all the attention-grabbing bravado of a young filmmaker with everything to prove. His original story offers sardonic insight into the shallowness of film stardom and Hollywood formulas by use of ironic counterpoint. He flaunts his dynamic cinematographic style and upgrades design and lighting by bringing in professionals.

There’s a little information about the score too. John Altman says that his score is “inspired by dance band sounds and Duke Ellington in 1927”, taking its cue from a piece of music that features in the film itself – the popular song ‘Ain’t She Sweet’.

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Silent Laughter at the Kennington Bioscope (Plus talkies – yes really)

Girl Shy (1924)
Girl Shy (1924)

Our favourite south Londoners are at it again. Fresh from staging a triumphant weekend-long event in June, the Kennington Bioscope team promise a full day of chuckles with a comedy festival in October. Tell us all about it, Ken!

Programmes include shorts with Charley Chase, Lupino Lane, Laurel & Hardy and others; rare features with Raymond Griffith and Walter Forde  (Britain’s best silent comedian) concluding with Harold Lloyd’s classic GIRL SHY.

Plus special presentations – Kevin Brownlow on his Buster Keaton Thames TV series ‘A Hard Act to Follow’, David Robinson on Laurel & Hardy (whom he interviewed in 1954), including some new discoveries, guests Tony Slide (historian, author, founder of ‘The Silent Picture’) and Matthew Ross (editor of ‘Movie Night’, Britain’s only magazine devoted to silent & vintage comedy).

Sounds great. The perfect cure for the post-Pordenone blues, Silent Laughter is a one-day event taking place at the Cinema Museum on Saturday 24 October, from 10am-10pm. Tickets will be available from 1 September so bookmark this page now.

Wait a minute, wait a minute …

Yes, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. The Kennington Bioscope is branching out even further, into the realm of early sound cinema, with a little something they are calling Kennington Talkies. What?

Continue reading “Silent Laughter at the Kennington Bioscope (Plus talkies – yes really)”

The First Film (2015) review: in pursuit of a cinema pioneer

Louis Le Prince
Louis Le Prince

Would you like to discover the truth – messy, inconclusive and unflattering as it might be? Or would you rather be vindicated by discovering not only were right all along, but the answer lay close to home, a triumph you could take personal pride in? For any rigorous film historian, there’s clearly a right and a wrong answer to that question. But wouldn’t we all veer a little to the latter option? And might, perhaps, the second denouement make a better movie?

Film producer and former actor David Nicholas Wilkinson would definitely choose the second result. His documentary The First Film records not a search for the origins of cinema, but his quest to prove that Louis Le Prince was its key progenitor. Wilkinson, a proud and dogged Yorkshireman, is on a mission to put Leeds on the early cinema map, by asserting that the Frenchman shot the first authentic moving images in that fair city. Step aside, Messrs Lumiére, Edison and Friese-Greene …

What follows is a meandering, engaging, often bizarre but definitely over-long tribute to two men and their obsessions: Le Prince and his determination to crack the problem of the moving image, and Wilkinson’s devotion to boosting Le Prince.

It’s a noble quest, and I applaud Wilkinson for taking it on. Inventor Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince was born in Metz, France in 1841 but moved to Leeds in 1869 to work in a factory there. After several camera experiments, including a model with 16 lenses, in 1888, he succeeded in creating a moving image. He shot two short scenes, using a single-lens camera on paper film: a view of Leeds Bridge and a gorgeous domestic snippet called Roundhay Garden Scene. As such, he may well have been the first movie-maker, the “Father of Film”, the chap who beat all the rest to the punch. And it happened right here in the UK. We should be proud, and also outraged that other people have taken the credit. Wilkinson already is, more than enough for the rest of us.

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Highlights of the British Silent Film Festival, 10-13 September 2015

PH:

I had to share this news as soon as it landed: booking is now open for the British Silent Film Festival, which takes place from 10-13 September this year at the Leicester Phoenix. See you there!

Originally posted on british silent film festival:

cropped-bfi-00n-sc3.jpg The Guns of Loos (1928)

The 18th British Silent Film Festival features some stunning highlights, re-discoveries and rareties gleaned from the BFI Archive and international collections. Highlights include the British premiere of Stephen Horne’s new musical score for The Guns of Loos (1928) and Laura Rossi performing her new score to British cinema’s first epic Jane Shore (1915) at Leicester Cathedral which recently saw the reinternment of Richard III who features in the film as a key protagonist.

A missing-believed-lost early Hitchcock collaboration, the comedic Three Live Ghosts (1922) will be featured after recently being re-discovered in the Russian film archive. We’ll also have the British premiere of a brilliant new score by Bronnt Industries Kapital for the Soviet classic Arsenal (1929)

51473-1 Michel Strogoff (1926)

Our theme of ‘heroes and villains’ will be explored in stunning masterpieces of European cinema including Michel Strogoff, (1926) featuring the charismatic Russian star,

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Poll: Which British silent film-maker is worth £20?

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The Bank of England doesn’t usually let the public have a say in its decisions, but there is a first time for everything. Having decided to boot Adam Smith’s profile off the £20 banknote, the Bank asked the public to help them choose a replacement – although the institution itself has the final say. Those of us who spend rather than print the money were invited to nominate a visual artist for the bank to select from. An astonishing 29,701 bids came in, resulting in a longlist of 592 British visual artists that someone out there deems worthy of having their face on folding money. The Bank will draw up a shortlist from these names for the Governor to examine, and they will announce the chosen face in early 2016, with the new £20 note finally coming into circulation in 2020.

This is the selection criteria for the new face of the score note:

Through its depiction of historic characters on its banknotes the Bank seeks to celebrate individuals that have shaped British thought, innovation, leadership, values and society.  We do this by representing a person or small groups of individuals whose accomplishments or contributions have been recognised widely at the time, or judged subsequently to have been of lasting benefit to the United Kingdom and, in some cases, beyond.

In choosing the character or characters to appear on a specific note, the Bank takes account of its past decisions.  This is because the Bank intends to celebrate achievement and contribution across a wide range of skills and fields and aims, through time, to depict characters with varied personal characteristics, such that our choices cumulatively reflect the diverse nature of British society.

Did you vote? I suspect some of you might have done, because the longlist is a fascinating read: so many esteemed, and not so highly esteemed, artists appear, including film-makers from Carol Reed to Stanley Kubrick. And there are definitely a few cinematic stars who fulfil that note about “a wide range of skills and fields”, as well as “characters with varied personal characteristics”, although not perhaps reflecting the “diverse nature of British society”. More specifically, I was heartened to see some key figures from the silent era there: from the expected nods to Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin, to more leftfield choices such as Maurice Elvey and Louis Le Prince.

Continue reading “Poll: Which British silent film-maker is worth £20?”

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