Digging for gold: The 5th 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.

Silent films never sleep… They may seem kind of ‘quiet’ (LOL), but then, all of a sudden, they can muster and mass and come at you pretty fast and furious … And here we are, in the midst of experiencing somewhat of a feast period of silent film exhibition, certainly in London, let alone everywhere else where plenty of our favourite film medium can also be found. All boom and no bust. We’ve had wickedly brilliant Weimar silents and glorious Victorian films from the BFI, with more of the former yet to come, and 700 of the latter just recently becoming free to view on the BFI Player (free, I say!! FREE!!! Go view them NOW!! Well, maybe after you’ve finished reading this…).

Even more servings of these cinematic deep dishes are being brought to the table by us lot, down Kennington way, hot on the heels of our Silent Comedy Weekend at the end of April, which we were pleased to hear brought so much delight to so many of you. Well, good warning all, we’ve had our celluloid spades out again and have dug up some more treasures, emerging for light and air next weekend at the Cinema Museum in our 5th Silent Film Weekend in association with Kevin Brownlow. The combined efforts of the Bioscope crew’s fevered programming hivemind mean that the films on offer over the weekend of June 1st and 2nd consist mostly of titles of such rarity that many of you will never have heard of them. But they’re creating some buzz, so please, trust in us, and be not afraid. We’ll see you right.

Oh, and did I mention that we have Rudolph Valentino? Sorry, I’ll run through that again for those at the back… We have RUDOLPH VALENTINO!! The biggest heartthrob of the Silent Film Era makes a long-awaited return to the Bioscope screen, closing out our 5th weekender in romantic style with Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) directed by Sidney Olcott, showing from a special print organised for your viewing pleasure by Mr Brownlow, and oh, what a plaisir ‘twill be, Monsieurs et Mesdames…

The Stone Rider (1923)

But before all of that (draws breath), to commence the weekend we have Rod La Rocque starring in a comedic swashbuckler, The Cruise of the Jasper B (1926), followed by a dose of expertly executed  Weimar Gothic cinema coming from the pen of Thea von Harbou, with a moody Rudolf Klein-Rogge (he of Metropolis and Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler fame) in Der Steiner Reiter (The Stone Rider) (1923).

Marion Davies Beauty's Worth (1922)

Universal-Jewel drama The Price of Pleasure (1925) features Virginia Valli, Norman Kerry and Louise Fazenda in the lead roles. Marion Davies makes a welcome return soon after our screening of Show People topped off the KB Silent Comedy Weekend so perfectly, and on this occasion we’ll be seeing her in one of her Cosmopolitan Pictures, Beauty’s Worth (1922), a quasi-Cinderella tale.

Laila (1929)
Laila (1929)

The big Saturday night film is the beautifully shot Norwegian/Danish Laila (1929) in which Swedish actress Mona Mortenson (who played in Mauritz Stiller’s The Saga of Gosta Berling alongside Greta Garbo) portrays a woman adopted by some native Sami people.

Souls for Sale (1923)

Sunday’s programme starts with Souls For Sale (1923), an irresistible Hollywo0d-based comedy drama starring Eleanor Boardman, her character escaping her new husband into a career as a film actress, and encountering cameos from Charlie Chaplin and Erich von Stroheim along the way.

The Old Swimmin’ Hole (1921) is an unusual rarity in that it uses no intertitles, and pre-dates Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924). Directed by Joe De Grasse and based on the poem by James Whitcomb Riley, it stars Charles Ray and Bioscope favourite Laura La Plante.

In William C. de Mille’s Common Ground (1916) a judge is compromised by his daughter’s fiancé. The daughter is played by the ethereal Marie Doro, who had played on stage with Charlie Chaplin when he was a boy, in London alongside William Gillette in Sherlock Holmes. Thomas Meighan (seen at the Bioscope in The Canadian) co-stars.

Marie Prevost

Marie Prevost’s sister, Marjorie, appears in The Old Swimmin’ Hole, but now it is Marie’s time to shine in the lead role of On To Reno (1928) a pre-Code style divorce caper directed by the celebrated James Cruze, with some risqué comedy enacted between Marie and Ned Sparks. Plus, there are wild scenes in ‘The Alimony Club’ (outside of which the sign reads “No Men Allowed”) as liberated ladies let their hair down. This is the title I’ve found and will happily be presenting and which you will not be able to see on any other platform. It’s now or maybe never for you to be wowed by Marie and surprised by On To Reno in this excellent 35mm BFI print.

And speaking of 35mm, we have two special programmes of shorts showing from film, one session per day this weekend, coming by kind courtesy of The David Eve Collection. These will be a real treat and I know that I for one, am certainly looking forward to their mix of comedy and action and the surprises to be found therein.

Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino

Oh, and one more reminder in case it’s slipped your mind…  R.U.D.O.L.P.H  V.A.L.E.N.T.I.N.O.

I know it must seem right now as if there’ll be a silent film weekend from us every month or so for the rest of the year, but really, that’s it for Bioscope weekenders until 2020! So, look lively, keep your wits about you, and do catch them while you can… We’d love to see you!

As always, the films will be projected in the main from 16mm and 35mm film, or the best copies available to us on the day. We are also lucky as always to welcome a top roster of silent film accompanists to provide the musical light and shade to our flickers and we welcome John Sweeney, Costas Fotopoulos, Lillian Henley, Cyrus Gabrysch, Meg Morley and Colin Sell back to the Cinema Museum.

By Michelle Facey

  • The Kennington Bioscope Silent Film Weekend takes place 1-2 June 2019 at the Cinema Museum. More details here.


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