The Silent London Poll of 2020: And the winners are …

So, 2020 wasn’t a standard year by any stretch, but instead of giving up on the Poll I decided to go ahead with it, to celebrate all the people who kept silent film culture alive in the midst of a global pandemic. And you clearly agreed, because I had far more votes to count this year than last. Here are your winners!

  1. Best real-world silent film screening of 2020

None of us got to the pictures as much as we would have liked in 2020, but nevertheless there were some choice events nominated in this category. Your favourite? Filibus, presented by Hippfest at the The Barony Community Theatre in Bo’ness with accompaniment by Jane Gardner (piano) and Hazel Morrison (percussion).

Honourable mentions: The Big Parade with Neil Brand at BFI Southbank and Tatjana with John Sweeney at The Kennington Bioscope.

2. Best online SILENT FILM SCREENING OF 2020

Did we ever think we would get used to streaming silents so much? Or that the quality of presentation and music could be *this* good? This was a hotly contested category, but the winner is Penrod & Sam, with Stephen Horne, presented as part of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival online.

As I wrote at the time: “A delightful film, and beautifully accompanied, it left me with just one poignant thought – that this sort of caper is exactly, exactly the kind of film that comes alive when watched with a crowd. The laughter and tears might be heard ‘as deep down as China and as far back as the alley’.”

3. Best real-world silent film festival of 2020

A year ago, we were there, enjoying the silent and not imagining (most of us) what the rest of the year would bring. Your 2020 winner in this category is Bristol’s own Slapstick Festival. You can read my report from this fascinating event here. And the schedule for this year’s online version is online now.

Honourable mention: The intrepid travellers of August 2020 voted for Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato also.

4. Best online silent film festival of 2020

The Apaches of Athens

No one, not even a certain person whom we do not mention, could deny this result. The winner in this category was Pordenone Silent Film Festival – by a landslide. As I wrote at the time:

“The online version snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, you might say. Fewer films, of course, and none of the bonhomie that brews in the Verdi and the Posta, but something else. A celebration of the global silent film community… The Limited Edition has been a great advertisement for the real deal.”

5. Best silent film venue of 2020

The Cinema Museum in south London
The Cinema Museum in south London (formerly Lambeth Workhouse)

Some great suggestions in this category, but the winner once again is South London’s Cinema Museum, home to the Kennington Bioscope – whose shows so many of you treasured both in person and online throughout the year.

6. Best online silent film screening series of 2020

Kevin Brownlow introduces La Roue at the Kennington Bioscope in the Cinema Museum
Kevin Brownlow introduces La Roue at the Kennington Bioscope in the Cinema Museum

Well this one was close! I had to do a recount, and that’s not fake news. But the winner of this category is the aforementioned Kennington Bioscope, who gave us a reason to love Wednesdays all through a challenging year, and even teamed up with the London Film Festival in October.

Honourable mention: Did I say it was close? Kennington Bioscope’s transatlantic cousins were hot on their trail: Ben Model and Steve Massa’s irrepressible Sunday afternoon Silent Comedy Watch Party.

7. Best silent film streaming platform of 2020

Klovnen (A.W. Sandberg, DK, 1926)

I think we can credit the two series mentioned above with the fact that YouTube was a popular option in this category. But your overall winner was… the Danish Film Archive’s Stumfilm platform! I wonder if it’s the Asta effect?

Honourable mention: The Cinématheque Francaise’s online Henri screening room. I agree, this is an absolute treasure trove.

8. Best silent film Blu-ray/DVD of 2020

The Cameraman
Buster Keaton and Josephine on the set of The Cameraman.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie. Sharing first place in this category we have Criterion’s lavish edition of The Cameraman, and Kino Lorber’s The Golem (which was popular in a different edition last year also).

Honourable mention: Eureka’s Buster Keaton box sets really met with your approval also. It was a good year for Buster, eh?

9. Best silent film book of 2020

My my, you are a widely read bunch. So much so that there was little agreement here, but enough of you were fans of Steve Massa’s wonderful Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle to make it a worthy winner here.

Honourable mention: Ian Christie’s excellent Robert Paul and the Origins of British Cinema, which is a satisfyingly Silent London choice.

10. Best modern silent of 2020

Away (Gints Zilbalodis, 2020)
Away (Gints Zilbalodis, 2020)

Slim pickings this year as is often the case, but I stick by this category as it throws up some really interesting work. Still, I am super-pleased that the 2020 winner is Away (Gints Zilbalodis), which I reviewed here, saying “beneath Away’s bright, almost cute surface there’s something deeper at work”.

11. Silent film hero of 2020

Jay Weissberg

The winner by some margin this year was Jay Weissberg, creative director (and charming online host) of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. But reflecting the tussle in category No 6, he was followed by streaming superheroes Ben Model and Michelle Facey. I’d like to share some of the fabulous comments you appended to your votes:

• “Jay Weissberg and everyone in Pordenone & beyond who made the 39th Limited festival a real thing. Special hats off to the musicians who played for the films.”

• “BEN MODEL! He is a hero. I have sent more people than I can count to his Sunday Watch Party, and then all come away impressed by his generosity, talent, and sweetness.”

• “Ben Model and Steve Massa for their tireless and cheerful broadcasts every week. All the other streamers and film museums putting stuff up are heroes too.”

• “Ben Model and team at the Silent Watch Party – amazing dedication and positivity.”

• “Michelle Facey, with her passion for the art form, her sense of humour, her friendly face and her bangers of introductions, keeping a sense of community in very dark times.”

• “MC Michelle Facey, the Kennington Bomb-chelle!”

• “Basically everyone who strived to keep the show on the road from their bedrooms.”

12. Silent film discovery of 2020

Doubtless because we were al watching very different things this year, the votes here are even more diverse than usual. Penrod and Sam leads the way, followed by Filibus and Hudson river portrait Tam na Horách. But here are some of your comments, reflecting how wide the range of responses really was:

“Rita Sacchetto in BALLETTENS DATTER. I thought she had so much presence and was utterly delightful. I also loved the film, very stylish comedy from 1913.”

• “Discovering Jay and the wonder of the Pordenone festival!”

• “Sessue Hayakawa In evening dress”

• “Ivan Mosjoukine. Star and filmmaker – so adept and imaginative and charismatic and … lush”

• “The actress who played FILIBUS wasn’t credited until very recently! She was Valeria Creti and she was magic.”

13. Best silent film restoration of 2020

Brigitte Helm in Abwege (GW Pabst)
Brigitte Helm in Abwege (GW Pabst)

This is another of my favourite categories and it was especially tight this year. In the end, the laurels go to Abwege, as restored by Filmmuseum München and showcased at the online Pordenone Silent Film Festival, with accompaniment from Mauro Colombis.

Honourable mention: Hot on Abwege’s heels was the marvellous Waxworks, as seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato in a new restoration by Deutsche Kinemathek and Cineteca di Bologna.

14. Intertitles of the year.

No need for consensus here, it’s just for fun. But we did have a winner. It was this deathless line from a beautiful Chinese drama:

“Down with luxury and romance!” – Guofeng (National Customs)

Followed by two classic lines from an Italian comedy:

• “The enthusiasm of freedom gave his thoughts the pace of his legs.” – La Tempesta in un Cranio

“Excuse me please, can you tell me if I’m alive?” – La Tempesta in un Cranio

Though here are some more of the treats we enjoyed in 2020:

• “I got eighty-six cents – couldn’t y’ sell me – just where his grave is?” – Penrod and Sam

• “Music and macaroni, not a pleasing combination for a headache.” The Serenade

• “I have nothing to wear, I never see anybody, I never go anywhere” – Waxworks

• “I don’t care if you’re the Grand Geezer of Garbage Hollow, you can’t hit a horse of mine more than once without starting a funeral.”

• “This is a decent jail. You can’t act here like you do at home” – Chicago

• “You’re obsessed with playing the piano!” – Gontran and the Unknown Neighbour

• “On the Honeymoon, Dick and Phyllis go through a weird experience”

Thanks to everyone who voted, and congratulations to all the fabulous winners!

• Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page.

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