L’Histoire du ‘Look’: German silents at BFI Southbank, May 2011

Queen Kelly (1929)
Queen Kelly (1929)

It’s not all about Russia at the BFI in May. This L’Histoire du “Look” strand is dedicated to the development of visual style in the cinema, as part of the educational Passport to Cinema programme. Quite frankly, all six titles in this first part are worth a gawp, but we’ll restrict ourselves to the silents here – three gems, each shown three times, which should keep the BFI pianists busy.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) is here representing the angular, dreamlike world of German Expressionism. The shifting perspectives of the scenery mirror the shifting narrative, where nothing is ever quite what it seems for long.

1 May 3.50pm/2 May 6.10pm (with introduction)/4 May 8.30pm

The Last Laugh (1924), directed by FW Murnau, is remarkable for being (almost) intertitle-free, allowing Karl Freund’s mobile camera and Emil Jannings’s powerful lead performance to to tell the story of a doorman who loses first his job and then his social standing.

4 May 6.10pm (with introduction)/5 May 8.40pm/13 May 6pm

Queen Kelly (1929) is known as a lost film, as star/producer Gloria Swanson walked off set one day, disappointed by director Erich von Stroheim’s less than wholesome interpretation of the Hays-approved script. Von Stroheim was sacked and sections of the film removed; it was later re-edited and completed as Swanson wished. However, the luxurious sets and glamorous costumes we expect from Von Stroheim are all present and correct – as is the melodramatic plot.

  • Update: The restored 1985 version of Queen Kelly will be screened, which has an orchestral score already, so there will be no live accompaniment.

2 May 3.50pm/9 May 6.10pm (with introduction and short animated film from NFTS)/21 May 8.45pm

All screenings except Queen Kelly have live piano accompaniment. Tickets cost £9.50 or £6.75 for concessions, and less for BFI members. They will be available on 4 April for BFI members and from 11 April for everyone else. More details on the website here.

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