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.
Look what I found tucked into my copy of Shakespeare on Silent Film: A Strange Eventful History by Robert Hamilton Ball. It’s not a “vintage” postcard, but was bought for me by relatives on holiday in Berlin when I was writing a dissertation on silent Shakespeare. Asta Nielsen as Hamlet also graces the cover of the book, and looking at these pictures again I am reminded why I am so excited about the BFI screening of Hamlet next week. I’ve not seen this 1920 film directed by Sven Gade before, as it was not available on DVD when I was at university, and it still isn’t.
The BFI screening will be a chance to see a restored print of the film, and this event was also to be the premiere of a new score by Claire van Kampen – but unfortunately, that is no longer the case. However, I’m sure that Neil Brand’s improvised piano accompaniment will be up to his usual high standards.
Hamilton Ball says of the film that: “by adaptation and acting appropriate to pictures in motion, the least Shakespearean Hamlet becomes the best Hamlet film in the silent era”. He also quotes from a contemporary review in the periodical Exceptional Photoplays:
Rare is it indeed to see so complete a suggestion of all physical means – appearance, gesture, even the movement of an eye-lid – to the sheer art of showing forth the soul of a character as that which Asta Nielsen accomplishes in her role of Hamlet … For here is a woman whose like we have not on our own screen. Asta Nielsen’s art is a mature art that makes the curly headed girlies and painted hussies and tear-drenched mothers of most of our native film dramas as fantastic for adult consumption as a reading diet restricted to the Elsie books and Mother Goose … It is well … to put Shakespeare resolutely out of mind in seeing this production and take it on its own merits, though that is a mental feat made harder than it need have been by the frequent use of Shakespeare’s words in subtitles … Taken all in all, Hamlet reaches a level not often seen in our motion pictures.
Hamlet (1920) screens at the BFI Southbank on 27 January at 6.45pm. There are still a few tickets available here.
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.
They say pantomime’s a lost art. It’s never been a lost art and never will be, because it’s too natural to do.
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’.
I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.
“I think that exhibition is an important part of film preservation and the audience participation is part of that as well. If you bring somebody whether it’s a date or kids, you’re helping to build the audience for these great films.”
Ben Model, silent film pianist, interviewed in Huntington Patch
Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo.
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 quick mention for this event at the Women’s Libary on Saturday, which comprises a screening of several feminist films, followed by a discussion led by a panel including Professor June Purvis and Christine Gledhill.
The screening kicks off with some silents of course: four militant suffrage comedies from 1910. Sounds great.
Tickets are £8 or £6 for concessions.
The afternoon screenings illustrate women’s relationship with the cinema through a wide range of films, moving from early suffragette films which demonstrate cinema’s role – not always complimentary – in making visible women’s political activity in the public sphere, to women’s later use of film to examine what it means to be a woman in the workplace, and finally to the flowering of women’s alternative practices using animation.
This is a real one-off. Josef Von Sternberg’s The Docks of New York, starring George Bancroft and Betty Compson, screens at the National Gallery at 2.30pm tomorrow, that’s Saturday 4 December. Bancroft plays a sailor on shore leave in the Big Apple, who falls for Compson’s jaded dancer.
Fog-enshrouded cinematography by Harold Rosson (The Wizard of Oz), expressionist set design by Hans Dreier (Sunset Boulevard), and sensual performances by Bancroft and Compson make this one of the legendary director’s finest works, and one of the most exquisitely crafted films of its era.
This looks like something very special, on a weekend already jam-packed with silent screenings in London.
Tickets are £6 or £4 for concessions, but online booking has now closed – so you’ll have to get down to the gallery to get your seat.
The silent film was not only a vigorous popular art; it was a universal language – Esperanto for the eyes.
Bristol is only three hours away on the train, so we couldn’t resist bringing this weekend of silent slapstick to your attention. The Slapstick Festival runs from 27-30 January across several venues in the city.
There’s a Gala Event on the Friday night featuring Barry Cryer, Ian Lavender, Neil Innes and Bill Oddie. Other highlights in the festival, as far as Silent London is concerned, include Kevin Brownlow introducing some unseen Chaplin footage on the Thursday, Mantrap starring Clara Bow on Friday, and Rediscoveries and Revelations!, a bonanza of lost films on Sunday morning.
There is lots to look forward to in the BFI’s January schedule.
First up, we are very excited about Hamlet (1920) starring Asta Nielsen. This is the first UK screening of a new print of the film, with a new score by Claire van Kampen. Silent Shakespeare has a special place in Silent London’s heart and this is a classic. Some people can get a bit agitated about the fact that Asta Nielsen, who plays Hamlet, is a woman. But she’s Danish too, which is more than you can say for Laurence Olivier. Plus, the film puts a little twist on the plot of the play, which explains everything.
Hamlet is on Thursday 27 January at 8.45pm.
Second, is The Birth of a Nation (1915). It’s horribly racist and terribly long, but DW Griffith’s epic is a game-changer in the history of feature films. Plus, it is shown here with an introduction by Oscar-winner Kevin Brownlow – so this is a good time to catch it, if you haven’t seen it already.
The Birth of a Nation is on Monday 24 January at 6.10pm.
The Howard Hawks retrospective was always going to be a treat, but we’re really pleased to see five silent features (and one incomplete film, Trent’s Last Case, as well) in there.
Fig Leaves (1926) is on 1 January at 6.30pm and 5 January at 8.40pm.
The Cradle Snatchers (1927) with Trent’s Last Case (1929) is on 1 January at 8.40pm and 7 January 6.20pm.
Paid to Love (1927) is on 2 January at 4.10pm and 10 January at 8.30pm.
A Girl in Every Port (1928), which stars Louise Brooks, is on 2 January at 6.30pm and 7 January at 8.45pm.
Fazil (1928) screens on 2 January 8.40pm and 10 January at 6.30pm.
All of the Hawks films are shown in NFT2 and have live piano accompaniment.
Honourable mention also to a short, London After Dark (1926), shown as a companion piece to Say it With Flowers (1934) on Wednesday 12 January 6.30pm.
Priority booking for BFI members is open on 7 December.
A visit to a cinema is a little outing in itself. It breaks the monotony of an afternoon or evening; it gives a change from the surroundings of home, however pleasant.
Well, pre-cinema really.
Tonight, on BBC1 at 10.35pm, The Weird Adventures of Eadweard Muybridge looks at the “Victorian enigma” who took those famous photographs of running horses, gymnasts and elephants and then started projecting his animations of said photographs on a big screen, thanks to his amazing zoopraxiscope. The documentary is presented by Alan Yentob as part of the Imagine… strand.
Need another reason to watch? Andy Serkis plays Muybridge himself.
This is a good month for silent film at BFI Southbank. You can still catch the “new” Metropolis, just about, and the BFI has a full programme as part of the Fashion in Film festival, but there’s plenty more besides:
There are a couple of cartoons from the silent era in Cartoon Classics and Animated Oddities 2, 15 December.
The 1910 Show, curated by Bryony Dixon and accompanied on piano by Stephen Horne, is on Monday 13 December.
One of Fashion in Film’s six kinoscopes will be installed in the foyer until 14 December. Also during the first half of the month, you can watch, deep breath, The Red Lantern (1919), Male and Female (1919), The Affairs of Anatol (1921), Salome (1923), La Revue des Revues (1927), The Island of Love (1928), Moulin Rouge (1928) and Secrets of the East – all of which feature fabulous costumes and most of which are screened on two separate dates.