“If a cinema could give you a hug, this is what it would feel like.” That’s how Bryony Dixon described the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Sight & Sound last year, and as usual, she’s not wrong.
This year I returned for my second trip to the festival, now in its fifth year, and the welcome was warm, the music was fabulous, the films magnificent and the crowds enthusiastic.
It’s a tribute to Ali Strauss, Shona Thomson and all the team behind Hippfest that this small town in Scotland draws silent movie fans from across the country (and the globe) as well as introducing the locals to the delights of EA Dupont, Mikhail Kalatazov and Buster Keaton. I had a stonking time in Bo’ness this year, and would recommend the festival to anyone who loves movies, music and merriment.
Here’s what I took home from Hippfest this year:
A tan. Well, a vitamin D topup at least. I made all the usual wry comments about “sunny Scotland” in the runup to my trip, but Bo’ness was truly bonny this weekend, and my, the Firth of Forth looks stunning in the sunshine.
More recruits for the Colleen Moore fanclub. It was an absolute honour for me to introduce the Friday night gala screening of Synthetic Sin – and I just knew that Ms Moore would charm the spats off the assembled audience. It was a fantastic screening, with raucous laughter threatening to drown out Neil Brand’s spirited accompaniment at times. All the gala shows were sold out – well almost all of the events were – which I think goes to show that people are prepared to take a chance on films, and stars, that they haven’t heard of before. I’m not sure the Hippodrome crowd will forget Colleen in a hurry though.
The fear of God. Well, flippancy aside, I was looking forward hugely to the Thursday night screening of William S Hart western Hell’s Hinges, not least because it would be scored by those groovy cats the Dodge Brothers. But as the band struck up and immediately began crooning “Satan is real” a shiver ran down my spine. The movie provided fire and brimstone, and the Brothers gave it space to breathe and fan those flames. A massively atmospheric screening, and a wonderful opener to my festival. So few people get a chance to see a pre-1920s film on the big screen at all – let alone with so much added cool.
Strong thigh muscles. No getting around it, in Bo’ness the hotel is up and the Hippodrome is down and the slope between is steep. Last year I took a long and looping route between the two, but this year, led by a fearless Bryony on Thursday night, we discovered the benefits of the short, sharp shock. Tackle the gradient head-on and one can detour via the park that surrounds the Town Hall, complete with wrought iron bandstand and seriously delicious views.
A newfound love for Piccadilly. Yes, I’ve seen it many times before, but seeing it on the big screen once again, with Stephen Horne’s nuanced accompaniment, Dupont’s camerawork and Anna May Wong’s face looked their very, very best. Even when you think you know a film backwards it can still take you by surprise – if it’s such an elegantly written and fluidly shot gem as this one.
Bahookie. This is an excellent new addition to my vocabulary – it’s Scots for yer ’Arry ’Arris. I may drop it into conversation every day.
Emotional distress. No, it wasn’t all fun. I can blame the cold medication I was mainlining (apologies to any festivalgoers who had to endure my hacking cough) but between Gerhard Lamprecht’s heartbreaking Children of No Importance and Kalatazov’s intensely physical Salt for Svanetia I was a wreck for most of Saturday. You can blame the musicians if you’d like to: we were treated to a very subtle piano accompaniment from German musician Richard Siedhoff for the Lamprecht, and rousing new score for the Soviet film by Scottish band Moishe’s Bagel – ranging from the lyrical to the thunderous as that strange and stronghearted work requires. Thank god for The Navigator allowing me to start the day with a giggle.
A new resolution. Following Toby Haggith’s fascinating, and often harrowing, presentation of archive film material from the Imperial War Museum related to the first world war, I am inspired to show “pluck” at all times, and to remember that “loafing about in drawing rooms” is no use to anyone. Joking apart, this was a moving and very interesting presentation. Long after it had finished, the faces of the young soldiers from the “Roll of honour” film he showed were burned into my retinas.
A warm, romantic glow. Every festival must have its superfans and Hippfest is no exception. I must shamelessly exploit this blogpost to wish a hearty congratulations to the lovely Holly and Paul – festival veterans who are always among the best-dressed attendees – who are getting married THIS WEEK, but still refused to miss out on their Bo’ness fix. Silent London wishes you a very happy marriage and one hell of a party!
Roll on next year – and many happy returns of this fabulous festival.