This is a guest post for Silent London by Michelle Facey, a member of the programming team at the Kennington Bioscope.
Feeling a post-Easter ennui? Well, you could do no better than to ready your laughing gear and get yourselves down anywhichway to the Cinema Museum for all or part of a weekend of silent comedy fun 27-28th April, curated by us, especially for you, at the Kennington Bioscope.
This last week saw the 130th anniversary of the birth of Lambeth’s most famous son, the Little Fellow himself, Charlie Chaplin, and as many of you may know, the Cinema Museum is of some significance in his origin story. The Master’s House, home of the Museum in Kennington, was at one time, part of the Lambeth Workhouse where Chaplin was sent as a child, and we will be marking his birthday anniversary with several programmes. Respected Chaplin biographer David Robinson will introduce Charlie’s stone-cold classic silent film, The Gold Rush (1925), showing with its recorded score. Filmmaker, collector and editor, Christopher Bird, brings us his original 16mm amber prints of The Immigrant (1917) and The Vagabond (1918). And (tweet tweet) that little Bird has told me his copy of the former “looks gorgeous.”
David Glass will give us a dose of ‘Chaplinitis’ with a programme looking at Charlie’s huge influence and many imitators, like the Chinese Chaplin, Chai Hong, and Phil Dunham’s very funny revamp of Chaplin’s One A.M. (1916) as Cut Loose (1924). And what could be better than Chaplin? Why, TWO Chaplins, of course! Elder brother Syd Chaplin also puts in an appearance during our proceedings with his starring role in what would be his very last film performance, a BIP production made at Elstree, A Little Bit Of Fluff (1928), also starring the queen of British silent film comedy, Betty Balfour (be still our beating hearts!). Syd and Charlie’s other younger half-brother, Wheeler Dryden also had a hand in this comic affair, sharing directorial duties with Jess Robbins, a trusted Chaplin comrade from the Essanay days. Syd’s Keystone comedy Caught In The Park (1925) is also part of this package featuring the older Chaplin brother, illuminated again by David Robinson’s introduction.
Another notable birthday boy is Harold Lloyd with a recent 126th anniversary and we will be celebrating in style by screening his first full length feature Grandma’s Boy (1922) which is being shown 97 years to the very day of its release! Brilliant programming or what?! Cake will obviously be in order. Further gifts are being brought by that nice Mr. Bird with two of Lloyd’s rarest shorts, both co-starring the brilliant Bebe Daniels, Over The Fence (1917) which is the first time we see Harold wearing his trademark glasses, and That’s Him (1918), a recent discovery from Chris.
W. C. Fields is another giant of 20th-century comedy and we will be seeing one of his few surviving, and most successful silent features, Running Wild (1927), co-starring Mary Brian, with Fields playing his trademark downtrodden, henpecked anti-hero – that is until the worm turns… into a lion. A small surprise accompanies this first film of the weekend, as I have been in recent correspondence with Fields’ granddaughter (as you do), the amazing Dr Harriet Fields, who has kindly provided us with a message to share with the audience for this screening.
Double trouble comes in no finer forms than those belonging to Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy and we will see the full version of the restored Battle Of The Century (1927) with its pie fight to end them all, plus We Faw Down (1928), a late silent featuring its original Vitaphone soundtrack. We’re also showing two rare solo outings of Laurel and Hardy, before they were, well, Laurel AND Hardy. Hal Roach stablemate and great pal and co-star of the Boys, Charley Chase, that absolute doll of silent comedy, makes a comeback to the Kennington Bioscope by popular demand, with another programme of short films presented by Matthew Ross of The Lost Laugh. He’ll have us rolling in the aisles for sure with a triple bill of His Wooden Wedding (1925), Dog Shy (1926) and Snappy Sneezer (1929). That Charley, he’s the geezer…
‘Recent Discoveries’ is an assortment of shorts that fulfil exactly what’s on the (film) tin. Includes the intriguing-sounding Maud’s Bachelors starring the forgotten Amedee Compton from Brighton, a long-lost British Hepworth comedy (hooray!) and another (double hooray for) Harold Lloyd comedy from 1919, uncovered at the Museum itself plus a previously missing Mack Sennett classic.
Start and end your Sunday with Gloria Swanson in Stage Struck (1925) and Marion Davies in Show People (1928) (this is the only London Marathon you need!), a duo of films so perfectly paired that the star of the first directly inspired the story of the second. Star Struck, the seventh and last film made by Gloria with director Allan Dwan, features a spectacular Technicolor opening sequence where La Swanson parodies herself in ravishing style, before going on to yet again prove her comedic chops in a boxing match! And Marion Davies, in the final silent film for both herself and director King Vidor, conjured up in Show People, says Kevin Brownlow, “the most authentic surviving film about silent-era Hollywood.” Whether it’s your first or 15th time seeing this film, it is a treasure trove of a comedy which just keeps on giving. The Film Spectator magazine said about Marion Davies in January 1929 “In light comedy roles I don’t know of anybody who can surpass her. Certainly, in Show People she is delightful.” Her co-star, William Haines, is not too shabby either and I look forward to introducing both of these feature-length corkers with relish.
My pet project(ion) of the weekend though, is the ultra-rare screening of an American silent film from the master of the sex comedy, Herr Ernst Lubitsch, with So This Is Paris (1926), his final film for Warner Bros. Its story derives from the same source as that which inspired both Strauss’s operetta Die Fledermaus and Lubitsch’s own 1917 German comedy The Merry Jail, and this comedy of errors concerning two couples, is full of surprises, not least a show-stopping scene featuring a mass Charleston, at an Arts’ Ball, gorgeously and kaleidoscopically shot and enacted amidst fantastic sets designed by Harold Grieve. I can’t overstate how downright gleeful I am at the prospect of introducing this film to our audience, and make no mistake, this screening is a three-line whip ‘must not miss’, for it is NOT available on DVD, Blu-Ray or even (gasp) on YouTube. This film is so rare that Lubitsch’s own daughter, Nicola Lubitsch, had not even seen this film until July of last year in the great season of her father’s films at UCLA… consider yourselves warned!
The films will be shown from a mixture of 35mm and 16mm prints as well as digital transfers from 9.5mm, 16mm and 35mm. All efforts will be made to show the best copies available to us. As always, we are supremely lucky to look forward to world-class accompaniment from a great roster of pianists over the weekend: John Sweeney, Costas Fotopoulos, Meg Morley, Cyrus Gabrysch, Vincent Byrne and Colin Sell of Radio 4 fame.
We do hope you can spare some time to share some laughs with us this Saturday and Sunday during our event, which has been programmed by the Kennington Bioscope team in conjunction with Kevin Brownlow.
By Michelle Facey
- The Kennington Bioscope Silent Laughter Weekend takes place 27-18 April at the Cinema Museum.
- Read the full Saturday programme and book tickets here.
- Read the full Sunday programme and book tickets here.