thepatsy

Back in Bo’ness: the 2017 Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema

Thwack! Did you hear that? It’s the sound of the latest Hippfest programme landing on the digital doormat. I’m a big fan of Hippfest, a welcoming event, with an ambitious, highly entertaining, lineup of screenings and a frankly beautiful venue. If I could, I’d turn the Scottish thermostat up a couple of notches next month, because this southern softie will be back in Bo’ness for the festival, which runs from 22-26 March 2017, and takes place mostly in the town’s gorgeous vintage cinema, the Hippodrome.

As the schedule is announced today, that means the tickets are on sale already, and if something here catches your eye, book as soon as you can – Hippfest screenings can, and very often do, sell out.

nell-shipman

So what’s on offer this year? The first day is devoted to female film pioneers, a subject close to my own heart: with a talk from film expert Ellen Cheshire, and an evening screening of Nell Shipman’s The Grub Stake (1923), with a brand new score from Jane Gardner and an introduction by yours truly. Read more about the amazing Nell Shipman here.

The Goddess (1934)
The Goddess (1934)

Thursday afternoon brings a Chinese double-bill – a lecture on the women of Chinese silent cinema by Professor Paul Pickowicz, and a screening of the BFI’s revelatory archive compilation Around China with a Movie Camera, introduced by composer Ruth Chan. On that subject, watch out for the Saturday afternoon screening of an unmissable Chinese silent, The Goddess (1934) starring Ruan Lingyu as a mother in a terrible predicament, with music by John Sweeney.

Together (1956)
Together (1956)

Thursday evening brings a screening of one of my favourite, and most unusual, modern silents: Together (1956) directed by Lorenza Mazzetti. It stars artist Eduardo Paolozzi (of TCR tiles fame) and Michael Andrews as deaf-without-speech dockers in London’s East End (the location-spotting alone is a treat for readers of this site). This brilliant film will be accompanied by a new score from Raymond MacDonald and Christian Ferlaino, which promises to be “a dynamic alternative reinterpretation of Mazzetti’s ground-breaking work”. There will be an introduction and a Q&A and the event will be supported by BSL interpretation and electronic note-taking.

Anny Ondra in Blackmail (1929)
Anny Ondra in Blackmail (1929)

On Friday afternoon, don’t miss Geoff Brown’s talk The Last Silent Picture Show, about the coming of sound to Britain, which will be illustrated by clips and is bound to be wonderful.

But Friday night belongs to Marion Davies, at her comic best along with Marie Dressler in The Patsy (1928), the sublimely funny film that is this year’s Hippfest gala. The Patsy famously features Davies’s brilliant impersonation of her fellow silent stars, a gag that is sure to play well among the Hippfest cognoscenti. Dressing up is encouraged (of course) and music will be provided by The Sprockets, playing an excellent (I heard it at Pordenone) score by the wonderful Maud Nelissen.

The Hands of Orlac (1924)
The Hands of Orlac (1924)

Saturday brings The Goddess and more: a “jeely jar” double-bill of What’s the World Coming To? and The High Sign with Neil Brand on the keys; and eerie Expressionism courtesy of The Hands of Orlac (1924), starring Conrad Veidt and accompanied by Günter Buchwald and Frank Bockius. Over at the town’s steam railway station (told you this place was fab) Neil Brand presents an evening train-themed double-bill comprising a thrill-packed episode of The Hazards of Helen and the wonderful Teddy at the Throttle starring Gloria Swanson.

By the Law (1926)
By the Law (1926)

Back in the Hippodrome, the Saturday night gala is Lev Kuleshov’s Soviet Western (yes, really) By the Law (1926), with a brand-new Hippfest-commissioned score by RM Hubbert, AKA Hubby. I haven’t seen this one before but it sounds outstanding, an adaptation of a Jack London novel about three gold prospectors facing danger, and difficult moral choices. If that has you all shook up, it must be time to let your hair down with The Sprockets at the Hippfest Speakeasy …

The Informer (1929)
The Informer (1929)

Sunday, the final day of the festival, dawns with a chance for local high-school students to drown out your Speakeasy hangover with their New Found Sound score to a programme of Scottish silents. After lunch, a chance to see the BFI’s latest flagship silent restoration, Arthur Robison’s stylish Irish underworld thriller The Informer (1929), accompanied here by Stephen Horne and Günter Buchwald. You also have a late afternoon appointment with Messrs Laurel and Hardy as John Sweeney accompanies three of the boys’ best films, including, yes, the restored The Battle of the Century.

Chicago (1927)
Chicago (1927)

Then, for its closing-night trick, Hippfest will whisk you away to Chicago, for Cecil B DeMille’s brilliant, frequently hilarious Jazz-Age crime movie of the same name. I can’t recommend this film enough – for the courtroom scene alone, which is a classic of the genre. It’s bound to send you dancing like Roxie Hart out into the streets of Bo’ness afterwards, especially as Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius will be providing the music.

Another great lineup, I think you’ll agree. I’ll leave you with a few words from the festival’s director Alison Strauss:

“At HippFest we are all about making cinema special – engaging the best musicians to accompany rarely screened titles, presenting those films in beautiful and atmospheric settings, seeking out the best restorations from the world’s archives, and generating an atmosphere of inclusion and fun with our audience.”

 

 

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