Picture the scene: a vast, gilded theatre in the West End, where the beautiful people of the silent film world are taking their seats, taking care that their rented diamonds, and their profiles, are displayed to their best advantage. The orchestra strikes up a tune, the lights are dimmed, and the audience is tipsy but expectant as I, your dear hostess, take to the stage in a floor-length pink satin gown, with a young Charles Farrell on my arm. After a few witty remarks, I turn my attention to a stack of golden envelopes on the lectern. Ladies and gentlemen, child stars and Rin Tin Tin, it’s time to announce the winners of the Silent London Poll of 2016, as voted for by the readers of this humble blog. Sorry you didn’t get an invite to the ceremony, or the bacchanalian after-party, but perhaps this roundup will do instead…
Best silent film DVD/Blu-ray release of 2016
If I were betting woman, I might have profited from this result. The winner of our first category is the BFI’s sumptuous release of Napoléon (1927), Abel Gance’s epic biopic. Honourable mention goes to the Kino/BFI Pioneers of African-American Cinema set, which many of you placed in the top spot.
Best silent film theatrical release of 2016
Quelle surprise! Napoléon romped home in this category too. A worthy winner, and I blow a kiss to those of you who gave up the best part of a day to experience this astonishing film – and to the friends and partners you coerced into joining you.
Best modern silent of 2016
Slim pickings for this category, but we have a winner, just about, in the form of The Red Turtle, Studio Ghibli’s desert island tale, which impressed a few of you on the festival circuit this year. It really is a very fine film, and the good news is that it will be released “proper” in UK cinemas in May 2017. You can read our London Film Festival review here.
Best orchestral silent film screening of 2016
Oooh, we’re on to the live categories, where you can share your favourite accompanied silent film screenings of the year. Overall winner in the orchestral category is … You guessed it, Napoléon at the Royal Festival Hall. Following close enough behind to win a Highly Commended medal is the Barbican screening of Robin Hood, with the BBC Concert Orchestra playing Neil Brand’s brilliant new score.
Best silent film screening with a small ensemble of 2016
So many great nominations in this category – I found it especially hard to choose this year. However, the winner is Stella Dallas, with the Hippfest-commissioned score by Stephen Horne, performed by Horne and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry. Whether you saw it at Bo’ness, Bologna or the Barbican, you loved this one, and rightly so. Two notable runners-up here: The Informer, accompanied at the LFF archive gala by Garth Knox and company, and yep, Stephen Horne’s accompaniment for The Guns of Loos.
Best silent film screening with a single accompanist of 2016
Always very difficult to come to a consensus on this one, and so it’s not a huge surprise that this year the laurels are shared between two musicians. Step forward Stephen Horne, who was nominated for several events but most of all for accompanying Prix de Beauté at the Cinema Museum (a Kennington Bioscope night) and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry, who also received multiple nominations but who sweeps to glory with her accompaniment of Peter Pan at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Bo’Ness last March.
Best silent film book of 2016
There is a great deal to read between all the films this year, and so plenty of interesting books were nominated in this category, but I am happy to announce that the overall winner was Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema, edited by Melody Bridges and Cheryl Robson. Our review is here.
Best festival for silent cinema of 2016
You lot get about don’t you? Nominations in this category circle the globe, but the out-and-out winner was Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. This year the festival was in the care of Jay Weissberg for the first time, and clearly you think it is in good hands. I am inclined to agree! Honourable mentions go to The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, one I have long wanted to visit myself.
Best silent film venue of 2016
This was a tightly fought contest as usual, and two leaders raced right down to the wire, but just edging past the Bo’ness Hippodrome this year is the Cinema Museum in south London, home of the Kennington Bioscope. Congratulations!
Silent hero of 2016
Some great, great names in the hat for this one, but in the year of Napoléon’s triumph it is no shock that most of you voted for the legendary Kevin Brownlow. He’s a gentleman, a scholar and a tireless advocate of silent cinema. Cheers to to you Mr Brownlow!
Silent discoveries of 2016
This is my favourite category, because you have free rein to niminate anything that ticked your fancy during the year, no matter how obscure, or whether it was released on DVD and written up in the broadsheets or not. There were a few points of consensus, however, with a few of you voting for Stella Dallas, The Informer and good ol’ Napoléon. But just as many of you voted for John Collins, an undersung director honoured with a short retrospective at Pordenone this year. And with one more vote for his captivating leading lady Viola Dana, I’m calling it for Collins. Well done, sir!
Thanks to everyone who voted, congratulations to the winners and let’s do this all again in a few months. Happy New Year!