Pictures of Lili: The Golden Butterfly & the 4th Kennington Bioscope Silent Film Weekend

This is a guest post for Silent London by Michelle Facey, a member of the programming team at the Kennington Bioscope.

There are many treats coming up in the 4th Kennington Bioscope Silent Film Weekend 8 & 9 September 2018, held at our beloved Cinema Museum, the Jewel of Lambeth. From Canadian canine capers with wonder dog Rin Tin Tin, putting his best paw forward to start off the weekend in Where The North Begins (1923), to sparkling comedy with Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman in Her Night Of Romance (1924), through to marvellous Mary Pickford in our Saturday night feature Sparrows (1926) by way of other films from the USA with William C deMille’s naturalistic drama Miss Lulu Bett (1921) and Herbert Brenon’s Dancing Mothers (1926).


Mothers’ lead actress was Alice Joyce but with Clara Bow also featuring in what was her first picture for Paramount, she was left more than a little in the younger woman’s shade. Louise Brooks (quite popular around these parts, I’m led to believe) commented that: “Everybody forgot Alice Joyce because Clara was so marvellous; she just swept the country. She became a star overnight with nobody’s help.”

Speaking of heroines, we’re very lucky to be looking forward to a programme on the most famous silent serial queen of them all with Pearl White: A Cliffhanging Life presented by Glenn Mitchell and Michael Pointon, who have done extensive research on plucky Pearl.

Late silent film The Silent Enemy (1930) was shot on location in the Great Barren lands of Canada, with an all-native cast telling the story of their people before the white man came, with an epic reconstruction of life among the Ojibway tribe. Swamped by a torrent of talkies in 1930 the film was only rediscovered in its original form in the 1970s and we look forward to screening this “beautiful and exciting” film. This film and all of the American titles will be introduced by Kevin Brownlow, our generous colleague and co-collaborator in mounting these events. Most of the prints come courtesy of his 16mm collection.

Turksib, Stenberg Brothers, 1929 Image courtesy of GRAD and Antikbar
Turksib, Stenberg Brothers, 1929 Image courtesy of GRAD and Antikbar

The trials of our own crosstown train building exercise here in the metropolis may pale into insignificance when compared to that chronicled in Russian director Viktor Turin’s Soviet propaganda film about the heroic transformative building of the railway linking Turkestan to Siberia in Turksib (1929). Meanwhile, we can expect heroic musical accompaniment from a supremely talented team including John Sweeney, Neil Brand, Lillian Henley, Costas Fotopoulos, Cyrus Gabrysch and Meg Morley.

We also have the truly great pleasure of welcoming the British Silent Film Festival for two sessions in our weekend programme with films from the collection of the BFI, firstly on Saturday with The Garden of Resurrection (1919) starring Guy Newall and Ivy Duke, introduced by Dr Lawrence Napper, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at Kings College London. The second serving from the BSFF is delivered by none other than Bryony Dixon, Curator of Silent Film at the BFI, who kindly brings us Sunday’s British shorts programme, kicking off with the alluringly titled Lieutenant Lilly and the Splodge of Opium (1913) (remember now, kids – just say ‘yes’ to silent films!) and several more treats before giving us Sam’s Boy 1922, another popular comedic film adaptation from a W.W. Jacobs story.

The redoubtable and forever questing Tony Fletcher has unearthed yet another lost gem from the BFI archive, but surprisingly on this occasion, it’s not a British rarity but a German one from 1919 with Die Geliebte Tote (When The Dead Are Living Again) featuring acclaimed actor Paul Biensfeldt, a Deutschen Theatre stage regular of Max Reinhardt’s, seen fairly recently on the screen at Kennington Bioscope as the caring cab-driver and foster father to Lili Damita in Michael Curtiz’s Fiaker Nr.13 aka The Road To Happiness (1926).

The Golden Butterfly
The Golden Butterfly (1926)

Which brings us neatly to our final film of the weekend starring the picture-perfect Lili Damita in Der Goldene Schmetterling (The Golden Butterfly, 1926). This was lovely Lili’s last of three pictures made with her then lover, prolific Hungarian film director Michael Curtiz. Their first film together, The Doll of Paris aka Red Heels (1925) sadly does not reside in the BFI archive, but I found that the next two in their trifecta collaboration did, both on luminous 35mm prints. We screened Fiaker Nr.13 (1926) at the Kennington Bioscope back in June with special guest accompaniment from Stephen Horne. It was my great wish for The Golden Butterfly to end an evening in our 4th Silent Film Weekend, as I felt sure that an audience would enjoy it as much as I had.

I had invited our guest speaker for the film, author and Curtiz expert, Adam Feinstein, to come along with me to view the film at BFI HQ in Stephen Street earlier in the year and we were both amazed at what we saw on that Steenbeck. For as well as the film being Damita and Curtiz’s final film together, it was also remarkable as the director’s last film made in Europe before he left for Hollywood and a long career with Warner Bros (and that quite well-known talkie called Casablanca). Additionally it was his only film shot on location in Britain, with studio work completed in Berlin.

The film has a wonderfully varied cast of European actors: Swedish Nils Asther, French Lili Damita, German Curt (Kurt) Bois and fellow Berlin cabaret star Kurt Gerron. You can also spot Lambeth’s own Jack Trevor, among others, and locations in London’s West End, including spectacular interior set pieces filmed inside the London Coliseum and also various recognisable scenes from around the City of Cambridge. Lili Damita, having made films with several directors (including two films for G.W. Pabst) would herself leave Europe for Hollywood in 1928, initially as the replacement for Ronald Colman’s previous on-screen partner, Vilma Banky. Damita would meet and marry a young unknown actor, whom Michael Curtiz would go on to select for his films, making him a swashbuckling star of the first degree – that person being Errol Flynn. I do so love it when the dots join up!

Lili Damita and Errol Flynn
Lili Damita and Errol Flynn

Suffice to say that the vivacious Lili looks spectacular in our film in a stunning array of costumes which are worth the price of admission alone. And that is not to mention the charming PG Wodehouse story, wonderful camerawork by Gustav Ucicky, stunning set design by the brilliant Paul Leni and superb direction from Michael Curtiz.

As an added extra on the evening before The Golden Butterfly, I’ll be presenting a short programme I assembled on another star of the film, that talented chap who plays the ballet-master: German cabaret, stage and film star, Curt Bois, in Bois Keep Swinging, wherein I’ll talk about the remarkable career of this native Berliner (1901-1991) who still to this day holds the record as the longest-serving film actor the world has yet known, spanning some 80 years on screen. As part of that programme I will be showing another 35mm film from the BFI archive, a half reel German comedy Klebolin Klebt Alles (Patent Glue, 1909) starring Bois as a boy… Bois Will Be Bois?

Please join us over the weekend – it’ll be lovely to see you!

By Michelle Facey

  • For more information on The Kennington Bioscope Silent Film Weekend and to book tickets, visit the website.
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One thought on “Pictures of Lili: The Golden Butterfly & the 4th Kennington Bioscope Silent Film Weekend”

  1. From Australia. What a great collection of rare titles. I would love see them come out on DVD or, preferably, Blu Ray. I bought a Curt Bois LP in the 1970s from Germany with a collection of material but I lost it or it disappeared when I had a fire in my collection stored at the back of my shop in May 1997.

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