Silent London’s epic fifth birthday tweetalong

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)

It’s our birthday! Silent London is five years old today. Definitely school age and time to grow up, right? Thanks to all of you who have followed the blog, commented, contributed, pushed a like or retweet button or generally been fabulous over the years!

I wanted to find a suitably epic way to celebrate the fact that I haven’t give up or been shunted off the internet by blogger-hating meanies but until yesterday I was drawing a blank.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Then, the postman delivered a copy of the BFI’s latest Blu-ray to my door. It’s a biggie. It’s The Birth of a Nation. Love it, hate it, puzzle over it, misunderstand it, do what you will, you can’t ignore it. And yet sometimes it seems to be a film more talked about than, y’know, actually watched. So let’s watch it together, tonight, a hundred years after it was first seen, on the meaningless anniversary of a silent movie blog.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)

I’ll be playing the new Blu-ray from about 8.15pm GMT tonight, 26 November 2015. You can surely follow along with a another copy, such as the also excellent Masters of Cinema edition released two years ago. Or you can pick up a copy from the shops this lunchtime or stream the BFI copy on Amazon Instant Video for a few quid. It’s a three-hour film, so the streaming fee is better value than usual. And yes, if you must, it is on YouTube too. Or you can just drop by to see where we are up to.

In the grand scheme of things, I am no BOAN expert, so this won’t be the equivalent of an audio commentary, but together we should be able to make sense of the film, and find some new perspectives on it. Yes, some people disapprove of tweeting during a film but most of us have seen this one before, right? And it looks like so much fun when the TCM party guys do it in the States. Speaking of which, I am aware it is American Thanksgiving today, so perhaps our US friends will catch up with us tomorrow when their turkey buzz has worn off.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)

If you’re watching along with me tonight, you can follow my tweets on and the conversation on the hashtag #slboan. You can also comment on this post if you like. Please join in, even if you can’t stay for the whole movie. I’ll collect all the responses together so we can see how it all unfurled.

Twitter is great in many ways, but not so good for nuance, and there are issues in this film that aren’t easily resolvable in 140 characters. Please bear with me, and anyone else who joins in – think twice before posting, and understand that we’re all squeezing a pint into a thimble sometimes.

I’ll see you, and Lillian Gish, on the internet, tonight!

Further reading


  • You can order a copy of the new  Collector’s Edition two-disc BFI Blu-ray of The Birth of a Nation for £29.99 here. I’ll be reading the booklet that accompanies the discs on my lunchbreak today so I am up to speed – it features more essays by Ashley Clark, Patrick Stanbury and Kevin Brownlow. If I get home in time, I might squeeze in some of the shorts included on the disc also …



17 thoughts on “Silent London’s epic fifth birthday tweetalong”

  1. Has it really only been five years? Hard to imagine a world before Silent London: I would have missed out on so many good screenings! Happy Anniversary and here’s to the next five!

  2. Happy Anniversary Pamela! Time flies… I remember being at the Vintage Festival at RFH in 2011 & picking up a black & white calling card bearing the mysterious legend of ‘Silent London’ & thinking “What is THAT?! Sounds like it’s something for me…” And yes, indeed it was! Sterling work & more power to your cinema arm-rest elbow!

  3. Pamela, I wish that I could watch that film with you and (hubristically, I admit) explain to you what’s going on. You probably haven’t a copy of my STAGESTRUCK FILMMAKER: DW GRIFFITH AND THE AMERICAN THEATRE which does a pretty fair job of explaining, so watch the first half right up to the Lincoln assassination and, crucially, mark the interval and what would have been a necessary reel change. All that has gone before is the standard “Northern” drama, with the patterning and expectations generated by plays for Union/Northern audiences. What then follows is the “Southern” drama, THE CLANSMAN, reshaped for the stage from the 3 Dixon novels by William Thompson Price. Peace, reunion, healing become nightmarish.

    1. Hi David – I wish you could join in too. I’m sure we would all find your comments instructive. I’ll definitely bear in mind what you say about the structure when I am watching tonight, and more generally the theatrical origins of the adaptation too. Thank you!

  4. I couldn’t watch the film along with you tonight but thought I’d mention, as it came up in the tweetalong, is that the Union Guard who makes eyes at Lillian as Elsie (as seen in the background of the first still shown above) is played by Eugene Pallette.

      1. I have indeed just watched it – and it’s a particularly excellent score. What I heard above my sobs, that is

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