Silent films at the Cheltenham Film Festival, 4-6 November 2011

Piccadilly (1929)
Piccadilly (1929)

The beautiful regency town of Cheltenham is home to a very impressive film festival and this year’s lineup is particularly exciting for lovers of silent cinema. Across the festival weekend in November there are no fewer than six silent events – all with live music, and incorporating fiction and non-fiction films. Some of these special events have already been seen in London – but by no means all of them. Let’s go straight into a list:

5 November 2011

  • Local History Event: Cheltenham & the Glorious Cotswolds – The Carlsbad of England (1922) with Steven Blake, Parabola Arts Centre – 11:30 am
    Join local historian Steven Blake for the first public screening, for some 25 years, of this rare, local footage; a charming insight into 1920s Cheltenham. The film was originally commissioned for the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce in 1922 to promote Cheltenham and the Cotswolds, capturing the life of local residents during this bygone era. The event will consist of a short introduction by Steven Blake, followed by a screening and discussion/Q & A.
  • Special Event: Piccadilly (1929) with live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne, The Daffodil – 12:15 pm
    The Daffodil restaurant and bar is one of the country’s finest surviving examples of original Art Deco cinema design and this will be its first screening since 1963. In the true spirit of early silent cinema, Stephen Horne, renowned silent film pianist, will perform live to the lavish 1920s British silent cinema classic Piccadilly, a sumptuous showbiz melodrama seething with sexual and racial tension.Included in the ticket price and in addition to the feature performance is a two-course lunch.
  • Local History Event: The Great White Silence (1924) with live performance by Simon Turner + post-screening panel discussion, Parabola Arts Centre – 3:15 pm

    The Great White Silence documents Captain Scott’s ill-fated British Antarctic expedition and race to the South pole (1910-1913). Alongside Scott were Captain Oates, Edgar Evans, Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers and Cheltenham resident Edward Wilson, as the expedition’s physician. We are proud to present this event as a local celebration of this notable local hero.

    To accompany the feature Simon Fisher Turner will perform live his new, BFI commissioned musical score. Explorer Benedict Allen will chair a guest panel discussion about Scott’s expedition; his guests include David Elder (author of “Cheltenham in Antarctica: The Life of Edward Wilson”), Anne Strathie (author of a forthcoming biography of Birdie Bowers), & Simon Fisher Turner (composer).

6 November 2011

  • Remembrance Month Event: The Battle of the Somme (1916), with live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne, Parabola Arts Centre – 2:00 pm
    The Battle of the Somme was the first British offensive of the First World War to which cameramen were given access, and this pioneering battlefield documentary is a provocative telling of one of the conflict’s most significant battles. Released in August 1916, it received widespread critical acclaim, providing civilian audiences, for the first time, with insight into the reality of fighting in the trenches of the Western Front. Toby Haggith, of the London Imperial War Museum, will introduce the event, and silent film pianist Stephen Horne will accompany the feature.
  • Special Event: Frocks, Frolics & Follies, with live piano accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulos, The Daffodil – 12:15pm
    Jenny Hammerton will present a rare opportunity to see excerpts of films which peek inside the glitzy and glamorous clubs and cabarets of the roaring 20s and flirty 30s. Show girls dressed as chocolate boxes, passionate apache dancing and Hank the Mule are just three of the entertainments on offer. Costas Fotopoulos will provide live accompaniment.The programme features 15 short Eve’s Reviews including: The Kit Cat Club (1926), The Evolution of a Showgirl (1926), The Flat Charleston Made Easy (1927), The Real Black Bottom Dance (1927), and The Dance of the Sea (1933). Included in the ticket price and in addition to the feature performance is a 2 course lunch.
  • Special Event: Beggars of Life vs The Dodge Brothers, with Neil Brand, Parabola Arts Centre – 9:00 pm
    The Dodge Brothers come to Cheltenham to perform their critically acclaimed accompaniment to the 1928 silent film Beggars of Life, starring Louise Brooks as a young runaway who dresses as a boy and falls in with criminals, “riding the rails”. The Dodge Brothers are renowned for playing the hell out of classic Americana – an exuberant hybrid of country blues, rockabilly, jugband and skiffle. They are Mike Hammond (lead guitar, lead vocals, banjo), Mark Kermode (bass, harmonica, vocals), Aly Hirji (rhythm guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Alex Hammond (washboard, snare drum, percussion).

The Daffodil restaurant in particular sounds like a wonderfully glamorous venue for watching silent films and I’m sure you’ll agree that this programme is rather fine. Tickets and more information about the festival are available on the website.

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