Silent film in 2011 – a new vintage trend?

Battleship Potemkin
Battleship Potemkin

If we have our way, silent film is only going to get bigger in 2011. There are lots of great screenings coming up in London and elsewhere and it feels like there is a lot of enthusiasm out there for this fantastic art form.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that Battleship Potemkin, in its new restored 35mm print, courtesy of Kino International, will be the big silent film hit of the year. I have watched this great film more times than I care to remember but I will inevitably be back in the cinema to watch it this year. If I’m honest, I prefer to go to one-off events with live music rather than to listen to a recorded soundtrack, but if this re-release gets more people watching Battleship Potemkin, and stimulates their interest in silent cinema, it’s all good with me.

I expect to see more people making silent films, and going to see the classics too, this year. There is a renewed interest in the aesthetics of silent film. Just look at the viral video hit Man in a Blizzard/Idiot With a Tripod , let alone the iPhone app Silent Film Maker,  pop videos from Yolanda B Cool v D Cup and She & Him, and yes, even the Go Compare advert. Vintage festivals, clothes, records, bars and handbags are popular, so perhaps it’s time for vintage films?

We already have a few real, and thriving, vintage 1910s and 20s cinemas, such as London’s Electric Cinema and Phoenix, the Electric Palace in Harwich, the Kinema in the Woods in Lincolnshire or the Bo’ness Hippodrome in Scotland. The word is that some of these beautiful cinemas will be screening silent films in 2011. In fact, the Hippodrome is staging an entire silent film festival in March, which we’re very excited about. There is plenty of inspiration there for the campaigns to restore cinemas in Clapton, Crystal Palace and Walthamstow.

Ben Kingsley as Hugo Cabret in Hugo Cabret
Ben Kingsley in Hugo Cabret

If you don’t believe me when I say that silent film will be the new retro craze in 2011, ask Martin Scorsese, who will do more than most to popularise silent film this year. His prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire (on Sky in the UK early this year), which features a character going to see a Fatty Arbuckle film, is just the start. More excitingly, Scorsese’s new 3D film Hugo Cabret, currently in post-production, is all about George Méliès – it’s an adaptation of the children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scorsese is also credited as executive producer on a film called Flicker Box, due for release in 2011, about a vaudeville troupe in 1909 trying to make a silent film version of The Wizard of Oz. Maybe this year, the much-talked about Marlene Dietrich biopic, slated to star Gwyneth Paltrow and written by Andrew Davies, will get off the ground. This time, the rumour is that Luc Besson is involved.

I’m hoping for more, and more exciting silent film screenings in the UK this year. The British Silent Film Festival returns to London this year, the Barbican’s Silent Film and Live Music series shows no sign of slowing down, and the BFI continues to find new, old treats in its archive. More than this, we are blessed with so many independent cinemas, film clubs, pop-ups and open-air festivals in this city that there are bound to be a few exciting events that I can’t predict. I look forward to watching them – and telling you all about them here. For starters, look what 2011 is already promising.

4 thoughts on “Silent film in 2011 – a new vintage trend?”

  1. Seeing this article warmed my heart, even if I am thousands of miles away from London and unavailable for any of those screenings. There’s also a reference in Boardwalk Empire to both “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.

    Also, Guy Maddin’s next release- “Keyhole”- is slated for a 2011 release. It might not be full-on silent cinema but every time he makes a film, it’s a victory for the silent medium.

  2. Ah, such an uplifting article – maybe there is still hope for me to become a silent movie actress! Anyone looking for the next Swanson, I’m ready for my close up, Mr De Mille 😉

    It’s so encouraging to see so many people are in the silent business; fantastic work! And pure bliss that so far this year I have managed to attend some epic screenings of silent films. Looking forward to the rest of 2011; the line up so far is astounding.

    In the meantime, if any of you are interested in submitting your silent movies to a unique silent movie film festival, have a look at It’s based in LA, but it’s extremely keen on UK entries. The main purpose of it is to encourage student and amateur film makers to make silent movies. If your film is shortlisted it means a screening in Hollywood. If you can afford an LA holiday when it’s on, then even better!

    It’s generating a lot of interest so far so check out the website for details on how to submit etc.

    And if you need a girl to be tied to any train tracks…

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