It’s the spookiest night of the year – and if you take a look at the Silent London calendar you’ll see that there are screenings of scary silents popping up all over town at the moment. There’s a gothic magic lantern show at the Last Tuesday Society tonight and The Phantom of the Opera at the brand new Hackney Picturehouse tomorrow. If you want any more inspiration for Halloween viewing, you might like to take a look at my pick of five quirky silent horror films for the Spectator Arts Blog.
This nifty little video is advertising a BFI project that some of you may want to try out – Screen Heritage UK. The idea is that you can search for archive film from your area, and locate the relevant footage, some of which will be available to view online.
Thanks to over £22.8 million in funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), this major collaboration between the BFI and regional film archives across the UK represents a historic moment for film archives, encompassing digital innovation and pioneering new methods of film archiving.
SHUK will also ensure everyone in Britain will be able to find out about their film heritage for free via a new cataloguing and online access drive – Search Your Film Archives. The national and regional film archives have created this resource to give the public online access to information about film archives across the UK.
I had a very quick root around, and found this footage of the Ripon Highland Games in Yorkshire in 1916, featuring bagpipers, wrestling on horseback and a rather incongruous Charlie Chaplin lookalike. I was also quite taken with a phantom ride taken from a tram in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1912. Fascinating glimpses of a world that bears only small resemblances to modern Britain.
Have a look for yourself, here, at the Screen Heritage UK search portal.
Everyone loves Buster Keaton, but the readers of Silent London love him more than most. So today, on 4 October 2011, which would have been Buster Keaton’s 116th birthday, let’s pause to celebrate the Great Stone Face. After all, if it wasn’t for Buster Keaton, this blog wouldn’t exist. My first silent film and live music experience was a double-bill of Sherlock Jr and Steamboat Bill Jr accompanied by the Harmonie Band. What a treat. I was already smitten with early film before I went, but that evening turned me into an evangelist for the ‘live cinema’ experience.
I have Buster Keaton news to share, also. In the US, movie channel TCM is celebrating by showing Keaton’s films every Sunday throughout October. Sadly, that pleasure is not available on these shores, but Scottish film blogger Jon Melville isn’t going to let that stop him. He will be rewatching the same films on DVD, and writing them up for his Holyrood or Bust(er) project. Follow his progress on his blog here.
Over in LA, The Kitty Packard Pictorial blog is hosting a month-long Buster Keaton party – and everyone is invited:
Project Keaton will be a month long open forum in which writers, artists, everyday Joes and everyday Janes (like me) from all over the world are being invited to tip their pork pie to Buster. The goal is to foster a month of creative exchange, with Buster as muse, and to celebrate one of cinema’s few, true geniuses. There are no rules as to content: essays, reviews, art, critiques, tributes, prose, poetry, all are welcome. And, since this is a month long project, there are no pressing deadlines: participants may contribute as little or as much as they wish any time at all during the course of October.
Find out more, including how to contribute to Project Keaton, here.
If all this has reawakened your love of Buster Keaton, then you may want to join the Blinking Buzzards – the UK Buster Keaton society, who produce quarterly newsletters and hold regular meetings. They are even working on a clothing range and talking about a festival, too. There is not much information on their website at present, but their next meeting will be held at the Cinema Museum on 22 October. You can follow them on Twitter or Facebook, where they are far more talkative and a regular source of Buster Keaton clips and news.
The final titbit I’ve been keeping stashed under my pork-pie hat is a date for your diary. You may already know that The Slapstick Festival, an annual orgy of silent comedy in Bristol, will take place from 26-29 January next year. This festival is organised by the fabulous people at Bristol Silents and is always enormous fun, with an enchanting mix of silent film geekery and out-and-out hilarity. Although it’s too early for the full lineup to be revealed, the four galas, the flagship events of the weekend, have been announced.
May I draw your event to the event taking place on Friday 27 January? Comedian Griff Rhys Jones will introduce a screening of Buster Keaton’s masterpiece The General (1926), with a new score written by Günter Buchwald and performed by members of the European Silent Screen Virtuosi and Bristol Ensemble. There will also be a chance to see Laurel and Hardy in The Finishing Touch (1928) and Charlie Chaplin in The Adventurer (1916), as well as a performance by the Matinee Idles, featuring actor Paul McGann. The Gala takes place at Colston Hall in central Bristol, and tickets are available here.
Happy birthday Buster Keaton!
As regular readers will know, Scissor Sisters musical director John Garden is taking his new synth and guitar score for The Lost World (Harry Hoyt, 1925) on tour this month. I reviewed the show that kick-started the tour at the Barbican on Sunday, for the Spectator Arts Blog. The headline is lovely.
The London Film Festival‘s archive gala is rapidly becoming a highlight of London’s silent film calendar. This year continues the theme, presenting Miles Mander’s edgy melodrama The First Born in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank, with a new score by Stephen Horne. I spoke to Horne about his composition, and to Bryony Dixon of the BFI about the film, and wrote this short piece for the Guardian film blog.
The best thing about writing Silent London is not the international prestige or the six-figure salary*, it’s the opportunity to evangelise for silent cinema, to spread the word about the films that I love and the experience of watching them with live music. So many people have seen a few scratchy clips of Chaplin films, a glimpse of Nosferatu or a Paul Merton documentary and they’re intrigued to find out more about these films that seem both like and utterly unlike the movies they’re familiar with. So when the Culture Critic website asked me to provide a very short introduction to silent cinema I jumped at the chance.
You may well disagree with some of the things that I say, and I’ll admit that choosing five “essential” silent films was a near-impossible task, but it’s online for all to see now. There’s a brief intro to my blog, with a list of five first films for newbies and a short interview too. Click here for the Guest Guide, and here for the interview.
*I always forget that irony doesn’t work on the internet
The 14th British Silent Film Festival was held at the weekend, in the Barbican, the Cinema Museum and the BFI Southbank. A full report of the films, the lectures, the music and the gossip* will be forthcoming on this blog shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a piece I wrote for the Guardian Film Blog. It’s not quite a roundup of the festival, but it brings together some of the things we learned about silent film and music over the weekend – and I hope you enjoy it. If you were at the festival, let me know what you made of it, too.
I reviewed the latest City Symphonies programme at the Barbican for the Cine-Vue blog. They showed À Propos de Nice, Rien Que Les Heures and Paris Qui Dort, which was new to me and has become a favourite already. Neil Brand accompanied on the piano. You can read all about it here.
I reviewed the Berlin, Symphony of a City and Manhatta screening at the Barbican for The Playground. Get it while it’s hot, folks.
You undoubtedly know The Bisocope, an exhaustive, eloquent blog about everything related to silent film, and much more besides. If by some chance you aren’t already familiar with the site, you can expect to lose the next few hours to exploring its scholarly articles. Enjoy. However, I wanted to draw your attention to one particular post, which will definitely be of interest, and may also have the power to change your holiday plans. The Bioscope has compiled a calendar of the 2011’s silent film festivals – from Kansas to Finland. The list includes some very exciting events and all of them are worthy of your support. You can find the post here – but if you find yourself buying plane tickets, don’t blame me, blame The Bisocope.
You may be interested in a piece I wrote for the Spectator’s Touching From a Distance arts blog last week. It’s a general introduction to where you can see silent films in London, and a few highlights of the forthcoming year. Here it is.
There is an interesting article by the composer Carl Davis about Charlie Chaplin in the Guardian Review today. In the piece, he talks about how he came to piece together the original score for The Gold Rush, which he will conduct at the Royal Festival Hall on 3 January.
I was allowed into the vaults under the Alps near Geneva where all the materials of Chaplin’s working life are kept. There I examined the boxes containing the sketches and materials used for the 1942 revision. I found the sources of the pieces I could only guess at, as well as sketches for sequences that were in the 1925 version but cut in 1942.
Tickets for The Gold Rush are available here. Plus, for a limited time only, you can get a 20% discount if you call the box office (0844 847 9910) and quote ‘London Film Museum’.
Early Cinema Myth No 1 is surely that all silent films were black and white. It’s not true in the slightest, which is why we’re so keen to see this new exhibition in Brighton, which explores early attempts to achieve colour – from magic lanterns onwards.
We take the moving image in colour for granted, but the search for a way to capture the world in colour is a story of ingenious inventions, personal obsession, magic and illusion, scientific discovery, glamour, hard work and determination.
The Capturing Colour exhibition is at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 20 March 2011 and admission is free.
Silent London is planning a field trip to take a look at the show later in the week – we’ll report back here.
A tantalising announcement from the Birds Eye View film festival – the dates for 2011 are 8-17 March and we are promised: “archive silent films with specially commissioned live scores”. These will include, in the “Bloody Women: From Gothic To Horror” strand, The Wind, starring Lillian Gish.
You can’t get a better bargain than this: a free programme of early British shorts at the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley at 2pm today.
This is from the Phoenix website: “A premier screening fusing work by Barnet’s first filmmakers, Robert Paul and Birt Acres, with brand new soundtracks composed by members of Barnet Council’s Rithmik Youth Music Studio and live musical accompaniment from world-renowned pianist Stephen Horne.”
Call the box office on 020 8444 6789.
The Barbican’s amazing silent film and live music schedule continues with the 3rd Fashion in Film festival. They say:
Exploring costume as a form of cinematic spectacle, these sumptuous and rarely screened European films of the silent era comprise a captivating conclusion to our autumn/winter silent series
The weekend features La Princesse Mandane, accompanied by Stephen Horne, Red Heels, accompanied by Jane Gardner and The Golden Butterfly, with John Sweeney, plus a programme of early shorts on Saturday afternoon.