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.
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)
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)
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).
Make More Noise! Suffragettes on Film (2015)
Scheduled to chime with the release of Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, which opens the London Film Festival, this archive compilation reel is in the vein of the BFI’s A Night at the Cinema in 1914. This time, however, it’s all about the women and their battle for the vote, for which we are truly thankful. We are promised a combination of: “contemporary newsreels with anarchic early comedies that reveal as much about young women’s aspirations as does the reportage. Some offer grotesque parodies of female militants (often played by men in drag), but others feature unruly girl children, like the Tilly girls, who wreak havoc and still have the last laugh.” I adore the Tilly girls, and you can probably guess that I love the sound of this – and especially because the whole package will be scored by the fabulously talented Lillian Henley, who will play live for both screenings at the festival.
Shooting Stars (1928)
This is the big one – Anthony Asquith’s sharp-eyed studio thriller is this year’s London Film Festival Archive Gala. The film has been all gussied up, there’s a new score by John Altman, and a 12-piece ensemble from the Live Film Orchestra ready to play it. If you don’t get a kick out of the thought of this film showing at the Odeon Leicester Square on a Friday, then frankly, I’m not sure we can be friends
And one for luck …
Guy Maddin’s latest, The Forbidden Room, is screening as the Sight and Sound Gala at the Imax, no less. Maddin’s films always take inspiration form the silent era, but apparently, this film “evolved from the interactive Seances project, with Maddin as the director/medium channeling the spirits of silent films, lost to the archives, through improvised live ‘happenings’.” I remember those “seances” well, I went to see them in Paris. I’m desperately intrigued to know what this one will be like, although I will be otherwise engaged that evening.
Booking for the London Film Festival opens on 17 September. Find out more at bfi.org.uk/lff