Category Archives: Blog

Charlie’s London: music hall memories

A young Charlie Chaplin, photograph from the archives of Roy Export Company Establishment
A young Charlie Chaplin, photograph from the archives of Roy Export Company Establishment

This is a guest post for Silent London by Ayşe Behçet.

Thanks for returning for part three of Charlie’s London; this edition will look at the tradition of the English music hall, the same stages that would form the backdrop to Charlie’s early years. Unfortunately, these such wonderful places do not really exist any more, except for seasonal events or moments of fleeting fashionable curiosity. Happily, those of us who love silent cinema have a greater appreciation for them.

Last week, I looked at the Walworth Road, Charlie’s supposed birthplace. This week looks at the music hall tradition, where both of Chaplin’s parents worked. And I’ll be throwing some family stories into the mix that will hopefully make you all chuckle along the way.

Charles Spencer Chaplin Senior was a butcher’s son who found his niche on the music hall stage with a certain degree of success and credibility. His specialist skills were as a vocalist and actor, talents that no doubt his famous son would inherit. However, Charlie Junior appears to credit his mother Hannah Chaplin as a larger theatrical and musical influence over his life. Hannah Harriet Pedlingham Hill was a smaller star who went by the stage name Lilly Harley. In the late 19th century, the Lambeth and Kennington area was a hotbed for music hall entertainers, including fresh-faced talents looking for their first taste of the stage, just like Hannah and Charles.

Music hall was already a tradition rooted in the working class history of London. Initially established in back rooms of public houses they provided entertainment from songs and plays to recitals and dance troupes. In a future instalment I will be talking about the Coal Hole public house in the Strand as a future place of work for Sydney Chaplin – that pub too had a back room known as a song and supper room. Offering light entertainment and a meal for a set price, song and supper rooms offered a bargain night out for most.

Doing the Lambeth Walk ...
Doing the Lambeth Walk …

In fact, the very first musical hall was established in little old Lambeth. 143 Westminster Bridge road in fact! The theatre was called the Canterbury and designed and built by Charles Morton in 1852. Charlies seem to feature a lot in this little walk around don’t they? Other, large-scale theatres followed, including the South London Music Hall in 1860, and the London Pavilion, which appeared in 1859 and then gave its name to a grander west end establishment in 1885.

Chaplin’s parents separated when he was just three years old, yet throughout his young life he did occasionally have contact with his father who had turned to drink many years before. In his autobiography Charlie blames the music hall culture for his father’s aggressive alcoholism, which would cut his life short at the age of just 37. Drink and song were always hand-in-hand partners in the music halls. My great grandmother used to enjoy both, and the stories live on in family tales to this day.

My Nanny Harris as we called her was, as my grandmother would say, “a blinking nightmare”. She was born in a workhouse, and had two of her children in one, but she was without a doubt the comic of our family. My grandmother would die every Sunday at the sight of her climbing the steps to her Peabody flat in Southwark Street looking like a scene from Chaplin’s film One AM. My grandmother was an amazingly proud person who took care of her home and who looked after her two girls with all the love in the world and never drank. However, my Nanny Harris would sit at the dinner table slightly inebriated and slyly place her false teeth into the gravy boat, waiting for some poor unsuspecting Sunday guest to tip them innocently on to their food. These scenes almost sound like something out of one of Chaplin’s early Keystone comedies, with a poor woman who is really a man in drag unfortunately being the brunt of all the jokes.

Anyone who has seen the Richard Attenborough film Chaplin or more importantly read David Robinson’s definitive biography will know the sad yet almost heroic story of his mother’s ill-fated performance on an Aldershot stage. She lost her nerve and her voice, and her small son Charlie took fearlessly to the stage in an attempt to calm the crowd. After much cheering and coins being thrown in support (Charlie paused and apologised to the crowd while he picked up the coins, leading to further cheers) he felt the rush of performing, admitting he felt completely at home on stage.

Music seems to be a very big part of the working-class community, it definitely can be found in my mother, grandmother’s and my childhood. Four generations of my family play the piano by ear, me included. I remember sitting with my nan, her on the piano and me sat next to her singing The Band Played On. The conversation would turn to Chaplin more times than not as she sat there, her fingers hitting away at the keys. We’d usually end up singing Champagne Charlie in his honour. Looking back on it now it’s hard to believe it was such a long time ago, life always seemed simpler sat on her knee on a cold winter’s afternoon. We’d watch a Chaplin film, usually followed by a bit of Laurel and Hardy, but we always returned to our favourite, good old Charlie! As Nanny would say: “The London boy done good”.

Thanks for reading, everyone! See you all next time, on 16 April.

Ayşe Behçet

The silent Snow White: Blancanieves (2012)

Blancanieves
Blancanieves

You may have read somewhere or other that 2012 is the year of silent cinema. Well, wouldn’t that be nice? Far more certain to be an influence on your multiplex visits this year are a beautiful princess, a wicked stepmother and a poisoned apple. But silent cinema should still get a look-in.

The first of 2012’s adaptations of Snow White, with Julia Roberts as the vain queen and Lily Collins as her red-lipped, fair-skinned stepdaughter will be released in time for the Easter holidays on 2 April. Mirror Mirror is a family film, but it’s a modern twist on the fairytale, which gives Miss White a few more exciting tasks than whistling while she works. Judging by the trailer, she spends most of her time swordfighting with her bandit-dwarf chums and giving Prince Charming a spot of sass.

Released later in the summer, on 1 June, Snow White and the Huntsman is a darker, more violent version of the fairy tale, with Kristen Stewart as the heroine and Charlize Theron as the queen. There are buckets of CG effects in this one and the whole thing has a gritty Twilight-meets-Lord of the Rings vibe, although some of Theron’s scenes look uncannily like a certain perfume ad. This film tweaks the plot even further than Mirror Mirror, with Snow White as a chainmail-clad warrior on a mission to kill the queen. Chris “Thor” Hemsworth plays the hunky huntsman.

There’s even a TV Snow White in the States. Once Upon a Time is made by American broadcaster ABC and stars Ginnifer Goodwin as the long-lost daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, trying to rescue a town of fairy-tale characters from a curse.

Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves
Maribel Verdú in Blancanieves

But enough of the talkies. The Snow White movie I’m really excited about this year hasn’t had a fraction of the publicity of those other flicks. In fact, it hasn’t got a UK release date yet, but it will debut on 28 September 2012 in its home country. Blancanieves is a Spanish film, directed by Pablo Berger, and it’s a Gothic horror-cum-melodrama, which retells the Snow White story in 1930s Madrid. From what I can gather, young Carmen has been tormented from childhood by her vile stepmother, so she escapes to the woods where she joins a troupe of dwarf bullfighters. Maribel Verdú plays the older woman, and Macarena García the younger. Did I forget to mention that it is a silent film? And black-and-white to boot. Splendid.

Berger’s previous feature film, which appeared nine years ago, Torremolinos 73, was a very different beast: a comedy about a man who wants to make arty films but gets into pornography instead. That at least proves he’s no stranger to taking a commercial risk. I really like the suitably Gothic approach he is taking to one of the Brothers Grimm’s nastiest tales, and this gallery of production stills on Facebook suggests that Blancanieves will be a truly gorgeous film. If you need another reason to get your hopes up, back in 2009 the Blancanieves script won a special award at Sundance to help fund the finished film.

There’s something else a little special about Blancanieves, though. The score for the movie is by Oscar-winning composer Alberto Iglesias, who has written for films including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener, as well as several of Almodóvar’s works. The wonderful news is that, according to the stories I have read, Blancanieves will complete a tour of cinemas with live orchestral accompaniment before its theatrical release. We’re still waiting for The Artist to do the same, though such a jaunt is in the works, we hear.

It’s facetious to draw comparisons at this stage with that other European monochrome silent, but I’m tickled pink to see this outsider muscling into what has been pitched as a battle between two blockbusters. There is always room for a silent film or two to cleanse our palates of all that too-familiar fare.

So which is the fairest of them all? Only time will tell, but I clearly already have a favourite – and a fairytale ending in mind. The other question is, how will Blancanieves compare to the whimsical 1916 Snow White, starring Marguerite Clark:


Read more about Blancanieves here. Thanks to the wonderful Nobody Knows Anybody blog for first alerting me to the film.

The New Empress silent special

New Empress issue 5
New Empress issue 5

Just a quick note to let you gorgeous people know that this month’s issue of the esteemed New Empress magazine is a silent special. If you don’t already know New Empress, it’s a small magazine with big ideas, appearing quarterly and covering everything from new releases to the furthest recesses of film history. There’s a website too, which has lots to explore, but no New Empress magazine content is reproduced online. You can read the site’s early cinema features content here and also regular reviews of silent film screenings among the In Review pages.

Over to New Empress to reveal more about this extra-special silent issue:

After the ruckus The Artist caused during the awards season we thought it only fitting to deliver a tantalizing array of features and flashbacks on the silent era, consequently our next issue is a Silent Film Special.

Inside this issue you will find articles on Who Invented Cinema, Reservoir Dogs in Phenakistoscope, The Bluffer’s Guide to Silent Film, Silent Hitchcock: The Voiceless Origins of a Visual Master, The Silent Stories of a host of early film icons and a special column from silent film expert Matthew Sweet.

Just like the early world of cinema, however, we’re all about variety and thus on our “Talkie Takeover” pages you’ll find a smattering of articles on talking pictures. Check out our piece on Hollywood Versus Videogames, educate yourself with our unique history of film studio logos and rediscover the B-Movie master with horror speicalist Nigel Floyd’s review of Corman’s World: Exploit’s of a Hollywood Rebel.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that the author of that Hitchcock feature is yours truly. It should also go without saying that I’m very keen to read Matthew Sweet’s column, and intrigued to the point of pain by the thought of the Reservoir Dogs Phenakistoscope.

You can order New Empress online or subscribe here. The mag is also stocked in the BFI Filmstore, the Prince Charles Cinema and the Cornerhouse in Manchester. The silent special is out now – enjoy!

How to beat the Napoléon blues

Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927)
Albert Dieudonné in Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927)

This weekend, something momentous is happing in California. Kevin Brownlow’s mammoth restoration of Abel Gance’s legendary epic film Napoléon is screening at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, accompanied by the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra playing the US premiere of Carl Davis’s wonderful score. Wow. That’s five-and-a-half hours of majestic, groundbreaking silent cinema with fantastic live music, and it’s not an opportunity that comes along very often. If you want to be there, you need to know that there will be two screenings this weekend, and two the next: tickets are available here, starting from around $50 and going up to $550 for a premium seat including a gourmet dinner and reception with Brownlow and Davis.

Unfortunately, it’s not a cheap proposition for us Silent Londoners if you throw in the cost of flights, hotels and taking leave from work. While a few friends of the blog are making the trip west for Napoléon, most of us will be sitting at home, trying not to let the jealousy get the better of us.

But there’s no need to succumb to the green-eyed monster. Napoléon last played in London in 2004 and although Brownlow is adding new footage all the time (the original film ran at around nine hours) so the California screenings will technically be an advance on those shows, it’s only a matter of time before Gance’s masterpiece makes its way back to us. What I’m hearing, from reputable sources, is November 2013, at the Royal Festival Hall.

However, if that still seems like a long way away, and you’re suffering from FOMO (otherwise known as the Fear Of Missing Out), here is a five-point guide to help you pass the time, and overcome the Napoléon blues.

1 Get your Photoplay fix

Napoléon isn’t the only film to have been restored by Brownlow and Co, nor is it the only one to benefit from a Carl Davis score. Tickets are already available for Ben Hur at the Royal Festival Hall this summer. And if you want to look even further ahead, the Philarmonia Orchestra will accompany The Thief of Baghdad at the same venue in June 2013.

2 Do your homework

The story of how Abel Gance struggled to make his masterpiece, how it was shredded and how Kevin Brownlow pieced Napoléon back together starting with the 9.5mm snippets he bought as a schoolboy is worthy of a film adaptation itself. You can read all about it in Brownlow’s book, which is available to buy here with a sampler CD of Davis’s score. Napoléon has been all over the American media recently too, in the runup to the Oakland shows, so there’s plenty more to devour. You can read Martin Scorsese in Vanity Fair, or this neat MUBI post, which tells the story of the film via its many posters. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both printed heavyweight features about the film, Gance and Brownlow’s restoration. If your French is up to the task, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog has posted some original articles from the French press about the making of the movie. I also enjoyed this Smithsonian blog that pushes The Artist to one side to say that this restoration is the silent film event of the year. And who can argue with that?

A Napoléon triptych
A Napoléon triptych
Polyvision
Three movie cameras stacked on top of each other on the set of Napoléon to film in ‘Polyvision’.

3 See the bigger picture

Of Gance’s many extraordinary technical and artisitic innovations in Napoléon, the most famous must surely be the film’s climactic triptychs: a way of creating an early form of widescreen that required three cameras on set and three projectors in the cinema. This Polyvision effect is also one of the reasons why the film is so rarely shown. Intrigued? On 29 April, more or less fresh from the Oakland screenings, Kevin Brownlow is speaking at the Widescreen Weekend festival in Bradford, and it’s a fair bet that he will mention Napoléon. The subject of his lecture is: ‘From Biograph to Fox Grandeur. Early Experiments in Large Format Presentations’. It strikes me that if you want to learn more about Polyvision from the man who knows more than most, that’s the place to be. If you’re lucky, he may even screen a clip or two.

4 Gen up on Gance

Of course, Napoléon wasn’t Gance’s only film. It wasn’t even his only great film. If you have the technology to play Region 1 discs, Gance’s anti-war film J’Accuse (1919) and his impressionistic railway melodrama La Roue (1923) are both available on very nice DVDs, courtesy of Flicker Alley. At around four-and-a-half hours long each, they are ambitious by any standard, although they can only hint at the scope of Napoléon, and they’re well worth devoting a clear afternoon and a coffee pot to. If you’re shopping around for import DVDs, you may well find the four-hour cut of Napoléon, with Carmine Coppola’s score. It’s not quite the real deal, of course, but still fascinating.

La Roue (1923)
La Roue (1923)

5 Clear out your attics

Brownlow’s restoration of Napoléon is magnificent, but it’s still not complete. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was more waiting to be discovered? And unearthing the final reels of a film this important is surely every silent cinema geek’s number one fantasy. Apart from the ones that involve a close encounter with Buster Keaton/Louise Brooks (delete as applicable), that is.

Charlie’s London: the Walworth Road

Charlie Chaplin
Photograph of Charlie Chaplin from the archives of Roy Export Company Establishment.

This is a guest post for Silent London by Ayşe Behçet.

Hello again everyone! First, thank you for coming back for part two of my personal guide to Charlie Chaplin’s London. The journey is hopefully going to be interesting and fun with many unknown treasures along the way.
When I was thinking about the best way to write this blog I pondered the structure for quite a while. Should I group places together by theme? Should I piece them together by their visual representations within Chaplin’s films? Finally I realised the best way was the start at the very beginning. Ironically this was never how Chaplin made his movies; he would often think of a scenario and work on the beginning and end at a later time. Yet Chaplin’s background in London helped to set the scene for some of his best visual work.

Charlie Chaplin's blue plaque
The plaque marks the spot?

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in Lambeth, South London on 16 April 1889, supposedly in Walworth, an area not far from East Street Market. Walworth and Lambeth officially lie within the borough of Southwark. The Walworth Road is a rather long stretch: all the way from Westminster to just beyond Camberwell. Charlie often described open-top tram journeys towards Westminster and even though he referred to his home as Walworth and Lambeth its position just beyond the north of Lambeth was also close to Waterloo. I was born at one end of the Walworth Road, the end closest to London Bridge, but I’m still from Southwark/Lambeth.
Are you confused? I don’t blame you! I believe this is why Charlie always referred to Lambeth as his birthplace – it’s easier! Phonetically, us Londoners are a very strange bunch, immigration had helped create a shift in the dialect over the years and certain words do not spell as they sound, and we also speak rather fast. For instance, if Charlie had commented that he was born in Southwark no doubt a journalist somewhere would have heard “Suffolk”, can you imagine where the myths would have ended up then?

East Street Market
East Street Market has been officially open since 1880, but there has been trading in this part of London since the 16th century.

Today the East Street Market still stands on the same site and at the entrance a blue plaque is posted on a wall above a clothes shop to mark the suppose birthplace of Charles Chaplin. In fact, no one really knows if this is true. There has been a lot of speculation about his origins, especially with the recent release of the MI5 file stating no birth certificate exists. Well apart from the fact that this was common in Victorian England. I would like to throw something else into the mix. Has anyone here actually dealt with Southwark Town Hall? I rest my case!

East Street AKA East Lane
East Street AKA East Lane

Now, in the most recent edition of his book My Autobiography Chaplin states that he was born in East Lane, Lambeth at 8 o’clock in the evening. Here is another sign his origins show through even when he may not have meant them to! In his introduction, the eminent Chaplin historian and biographer David Robinson says that only south Londoners refer to East Street as East Lane, and I for one can vouch for that. My grandmother always called it this and people living in the area still do to this day.
As a child I frequently visited the Walworth Road, the treat was pie and mash in Arments and Sarsaparilla in Baldwins. In winter the Sarsaparilla was warmed with slices of orange and apple and served from barrels. When Charlie was a boy, Arments was located on the Walworth road itself, but it was relocated in 1914 to its current position just behind it. Baldwins has always been in the same spot; maybe as a child Charlie too drank warm Sarsaparilla there? Not far from where Arments was originally situated is a fishmonger’s, which has been there since the Victorian era. My mother would always buy fish there on a Friday and remembered always buying my grandmother bloaters that she would proceed to smoke. Charlie also fondly recollects his mother buying penny bloaters on a Friday while they lived at 3 Pownall Terrace, Lambeth, most probably at the same shop.

Along this journey I aim to find out as much as I can about not only my film hero but also about myself and my heritage. I have always been a proud South Londoner and knowing I walk in Charlie’s footsteps is an immense honour!

Thank you so much for reading. The next instalment will appear on 2 April.

Ayşe Behçet


Londoners – A Vintage Film about Modern-Day London

More than 100 years ago, film-makers Mitchell and Kenyon advertised their services to the public with the line: “See yourselves as others see you.” A new film, shot last summer in London, offers us the opportunity to see ourselves, now, as Mitchell and Kenyon might have seen us. Londoners is a 21st-century “actuality”, comprising film shot on the streets of the capital, outside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, in Hyde Park and at the Notting Hill Carnival. The twist is that the footage was filmed on a 1915 vintage camera, an old-school hand-cranked machine.

Director Joseph Ernst discovered the camera in a warehouse filled with old film-making equipment, and taking the Mitchell and Kenyon films as his inspiration, set out to record London circa 2011, but at 18 frames per second. As he told Wired.com, the people he photographed with the vintage camera were just as happy to be filmed as the customers of his Edwardian predecessors, and just as astonished by the technology.  “Modern society finds no comfort in the digital camera. We shy away from them. We complain if someone points it in our direction. But if you bring out some spectacular relic from the past, people forget all that. They’re surprised that such a thing still exists and that it actually still works.”

And you can see that amazement in the film, which I was lucky enough to be granted a preview of. Londoners who might well be expected to be unmoved by the sight of a cameraphone, camcorder or iPad pointing in their direction, smile, point and nudge their neighbours when they see Ernst’s vintage machine. A Hell’s Angel dances an old-timey jig, a football fan guffaws and a wag at Speaker’s Corner mimics the cameraman’s movements – the the hand-cranking motion we all recognise from games of Charades. A group of photographers on Millennium Bridge snap the camera from all angles with their hi-tech DSLRs. The dancers at Carnival put on a display too, one that would probably have made the Edwardians blush.

But perhaps the Edwardians weren’t as stuffy as we think. There’s a uncanny, out-of-time quality to Londoners, with its faded, flickery footage of people who dress, stand and gesture just like us, but walk, thanks to the lower frame rate, with a hint of the jerky stiffness we associate with people from days gone by. It’s a reminder, if we needed one, that people don’t change very much at all over the years. Yes, the people in Londoners are more casually dressed, less formal, and overwhelmingly more racially mixed than in those Mitchell and Kenyon films, but they’re just as likely to hurry past or pose for a close-up, to smile or leer at the camera. The faces are the same. In a scene of commuters hurrying down the steps to a tube station, we’re drawn to a man who’s taking the descent a little slower, clutching on to the handrail, struggling to contain the tremors that are running through his body. It seems as if only the film-maker notices, as the crowd streams past him unaware, that the rush-hour journey is not the same for everyone.

In fact, even when the film is joyous, as when primary school children are bouncing in front of the lens, Londoners strikes a mournful tone. The music, which is taken from a gorgeous Bat For Lashes track, sets the mood. But there’s more to this movie. At a time when we’re losing our grip on real film, and apps from Hisptamatic to Silent Film Director offer us to the chance to remodel our snaps and home videos as relics from another time, Londoners’ deliberately archaic, lo-fi construction offers a more powerful blast of nostalgia. In another hundred years, the technology this documentary uses will seem irredeemably quaint, but so too will its subjects’ clothes, their junk food and even their risqué dance moves. But a project such as this compresses the years and shrinks the distance between us and our forebears. Mitchell and Kenyon would feel right at home, and I hope we see something just like it in 2112.

You can find out more about Londoners, and see out-takes from the film, on the Facebook page at facebook.com/LondonersDoc

 

Riots, refunds and a rescued star: the first Titanic films

RMS Titanic
RMS Titanic

This is a guest post for Silent London by Greg Ward, author of Blogtanic.

Working on Blogtanic, my Titanic centenary blog – I was looking for stories about chairs on the Titanic, but let’s not go into that – I stumbled across this intriguing snippet of movie history, in the New York Evening World of April 27, 1912.

The Titanic cinema riot
The Titanic cinema riot

At this point, it’s still less than two weeks since the Titanic went down. Three theatres in Bayonne, New Jersey, 10 miles from downtown Manhattan, announce that they’re going to show moving pictures of the sinking. Knowing that no such footage exists, the local police chief declares he will only allow them to show genuine images. And so the audiences riot.  “Having been led to believe they were to see something sensational [they] uttered loud protests. Seats were torn loose …”

Only in New Jersey did the police take it upon themselves to censor such shows. All over the world, moving picture houses were presenting fake “newsreel” images of the Titanic. Typically they’d include actual film of the Titanic’s Captain Smith, shot the previous year but captioned as though it had been taken on the fatal voyage, cobbled together with close-ups of other liners and scenes of icebergs bobbing in the ocean.

Advert in the Tacoma Times
Advert in the Tacoma Times

Cinema-goers placed a heavy premium on genuine footage – even though there was none of the disaster itself. In this advert, from Tacoma, Washington, a theatre promises to pay out $5,000 if its pictures aren’t genuine.

Dorothy Gibson
Dorothy Gibson

Meanwhile, the same week as the New Jersey riots, and in the same state, director Etienne Arnaud had already started shooting the first-ever Titanic feature film,  Saved From The Titanic. A mere ten days earlier,  22-year-old bona-fide movie star Dorothy Gibson had escaped on the first lifeboat to leave the sinking ship. Now, working to her own script, she re-enacted her ordeal wearing the self-same clothes, and then segued into a fictional story about finding love with a sailor.  Two scenes were even filmed in colour, using the Kinemacolor process, and it was released on 14 May.

By the time the German feature film  In Nacht Und Eis was released that August, four months after the tragedy, the public appetite for sensational images seems to have been sated. Trade papers solemnly reported that Titanic films “don’t attract audiences any more”.

Tell that to James Cameron.

Blogtanic.wordpress.com is written by Greg Ward, the author of the new Rough Guide to the Titanic. Read more about the BFI’s film screenings to commemorate the Titanic centenary on Blogtanic here.

Mary Pickford: from the ‘girl with the curls’ to ‘woman’s woman’

Mary Pickford with camera
‘You didn’t really direct Mary. She was a very sure person in her own category’ – Howard Hawks

This is a guest post for Silent London to mark International Women’s Day by Kelly Robinson, curator of the Birds Eye View Sound and Silents programme. 

Birds Eye View’s Mary Pickford Revived event is part of WOW – Women of the World Festival 2012 at the Southbank Centre. Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley with The New York Hat and Female of the Species screen at the Southbank Centre on 9 March at 8pm (find out more). Sparrows screens at Hackney Picturehouse on 11 March at 4pm (find out more).

My success has been due to the fact that women like the pictures in which I appear” – Mary Pickford

In any serious study of early cinema, prominent men such as the “Father of Film” DW Griffith and silent clown Charles Chaplin are always first to feature. Happily though, recent literature has sought to readdress this critical gender imbalance by also highlighting the contribution of similarly extraordinary pioneers – including Mary Pickford.

Pickford was certainly a creative force on a par with Chaplin, and the two had a lot in common. Like Chaplin, she also performed in the theatre from a young age to support her family. At 13, a precocious Pickford harangued theatre impresario David Belasco to hire her, apparently telling him: “I’m the father of my family.” Like many other theatre actors, she was initially disdainful of cinema but was drawn in by the financial rewards. She enquired at the bustling Biograph studios for work, and it was here that she met Griffith, the director of two of the beautiful shorts that feature as part of the Southbank programme.

The films in this programme span a period of just seven years but this was a time of rapid change. Indeed, in the months that separate Griffith’s The New York Hat and Female of the Species we can see striking developments in film form and style. The volume of films Biograph churned out was phenomenal and between 1909 and 1910 Pickford appeared in 80 films for Griffith.

Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart
Mary Pickford, America’s Sweetheart (Courtesy Birds Eye View)

Pickford said: “I got what no one else wanted and I took anything that came my way because I decided that if I could get into as many pictures as possible I’d become known, and there would be a demand for my work.” Indeed she quickly became a favourite with audiences, although they didn’t yet know her name; she was referred to as the ‘”girl with the curls”. Once she had established the extent of her fame, she asked for a rise from Griffith and her name on the screen.

Continue reading Mary Pickford: from the ‘girl with the curls’ to ‘woman’s woman’

Competition: Listen to long-lost silent film music – and make an animated film

Some of the scores discovered in Birmingham in 2011
Some of the scores discovered in Birmingham in 2011

You remember, I’m sure, the exciting haul of silent film music that was discovered in Birmingham last year: the stash contained stock pieces to suit different moods, genres and locations as well as one very specific tune, a Charlie Chaplin theme. There were around 500 manuscripts in total, including compositions for small orchestras as well as solo pianists. The music had been ignored for decades and almost certainly not played in 80 years.

Neil Brand was quoted in the Guardian, explaining the significance of the find:

“This collection gives us our first proper overview of the music of the silent cinema in the UK from 1914 to the coming of sound. Its enormous size not only gives us insights into what the bands sounded like and how they worked with film [but also] the working methods of musical directors. Above all, it gives the lie to the long-cherished belief that silent films were accompanied on solo piano by little old ladies who only knew one tune. When they are played we will hear the authentic sound the audiences of the time would have heard.”

Read more, from the Bioscope, here.

The good news is that this spring, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra will be playing some of the music as part of a special Charlie Chaplin night on Friday 20 April (they’re screening One AM and City Lights). The even better news is that you can hear some of the music on Soundcloud now. I’m quite fond of Dramatic Love Scene:

And how about The Great Ice Floe?

Or The Smugglers?

You’ll find nine tracks on the Orchestra’s Soundcloud page here. The reason that the tracks have been recorded and uploaded is that the Orchestra is holding a competition, and if you’re a whizz with animation you really should think about entering. The deal is that you have to make an animation to accompany one of the tracks, which includes the word “Birmingham” or an iconic image of the city. The winner will see their work on the big screen at the Charlie Chaplin night in April and receive a placement at the Charactershop animation studio and an Introduction to Final Cut Pro X course.

There are more details on the Orchestra’s website here.

Introducing … Charlie’s London

Charlie Chaplin
Maybe it’s because he’s a Londoner … Charlie Chaplin

Introducing a new series of guest posts by Chaplin expert and south Londoner Ayşe Behçet: a personal journey through Charlie Chaplin’s London.

Firstly, I want to say thank you for taking the time to read my first blog and what I hope will be an interesting journey through some unknown gems connected with one of the geniuses of early cinema, Charlie Chaplin.

Ayse
Ayşe

My fascination with Chaplin started at a very young age. My grandmother and I would watch his films on a Saturday afternoon and thinking back on it now it was always raining. It was always about three in the afternoon too! With so many other comedians and great silent films circulating, at first I didn’t understand why we mostly watched Chaplin, but soon it all became clear.

My grandmother, my mother and myself were all born just off the Walworth road, so was Charlie. We had meandered around the back streets of Southwark, Camberwell, Lambeth, East Street Market and Kennington, so had Charlie. We had all seen the beautiful buildings and yet the depravity and roughness of the streets, and of course, so had Charlie. Sitting with Nan one day I found all this out, and suddenly I learned more about her through him than I had ever known before. From an early age I felt this immense pride that this hero, icon and pioneer had started life in the same humble beginnings as so many members of my family and he proved that anything was possible.

The images most people associate with Chaplin are the Little Tramp and his glamorous and often debauched escapades in in Hollywood – but I want to look at something more. I want to look at the real Chaplin. The houses, streets and community he knew are all gone, but the signs of his times still linger on in small near-forgotten landmarks scattered across the city. The Three Stags pub where he last saw his father, The Coal Hole Public House, a first steady job for Syd, East Lane and of course 287 Kennington Road, his home while he lived with his father are all still very much there. These buildings still tell tales, as do many other spots in London, and this blog aims to show you all of them, proving that Charlie was always  a London boy – despite the glitz of Hollywood.

Hope you enjoy the instalments, the first blog spot will be Monday 19 March and will run fortnightly from that point on. Keep in touch.

Happy walking round London with me!

Ayşe Behçet

Spiritismes: Guy Maddin revives lost films in Paris

The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921)
The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921)

“Over eighty percent of silent films are lost. I’ve always considered a lost film as a narrative with no known final resting place — doomed to wander the landscape of film history, sad, miserable and unable to project itself to the people who might love it. This absence haunts me. I need to see these films. It’s eventually occurred to me that the best way to see them would to make contact with their miserable spirits and invite them to possess me. And with actors quite willing to participate in some para-normal cinematic experiments … Every day my actors will plunge themselves deep into a trance, and open themselves up to possession by the unhappy spirit of a lost film. And every day my actors will act out the long forgotten choreographies that once lived so luminously on the big screen for thousands, maybe millions of viewers.” – Guy Maddin

Last weekend, I visited the set of The Blue Mountains Mystery, which was shot in Australia in 1921. The day before, I dropped by to see the same crew, and largely the same cast, working on an Erich Von Stroheim script, Poto-Poto.

The filming took place, not in another dimension, but in Paris, at the Pompidou Centre, where Canadian film director Guy Maddin has taken it upon himself to shoot an entire film each day, or rather to revive a lost film, in a series of “ciné-séances”. The filming takes place in public, in the basement of the arts centre and I elbowed through the crowds to glimpse the hanging around, whispering and brief bursts of activity that comprise the magic of movie-making. The set of Poto-Poto was very reminiscent of the second half of Queen Kelly, with a large, draped bed, but there was little happening when we swung by. We had better luck with Blue Mountains the next day, somewhere over the shoulders of the crew we may have witnessed a murder, or something that looked a lot like one.

Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/12
Action! Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/12. Maddin is in the black T-shirt, with the still camera

“Every day, Guy Maddin invites visitors of the Centre Pompidou to witness the making of a new film inspired by a long-lost movie. Summoning these wandering spirits of cinema in theatrical “séances”, Maddin and his actors inhabit their ghostly scenarios.” – Pompidou Centre

You can read more about the project, and watch a live stream of the filming, here on the Pompidou website. Spiritismes began on 22 February and runs until 12 March; the schedule includes films by Jean Vigo, Kenji Mizoguchi, Lois Weber and William Wellman as well as a few surprises to be announced along the way. Actors in Maddin’s rep troupe include Isabella Rossellini, Geraldine Chaplin and Udo Kier. The films will all apparently be edited and finished and made available to view at a later date.

Spiritismes has taken up residence at the Pompidou in the lead up to the French release of Maddin’s new film Keyhole and will apparently be repeated at other venues across the world, including New York. Let’s hope it comes to London. You can read more on this blog by Kim Morgan, Maddin’s wife and another of the actors involved. I leave you with some blurry phone snaps, and some more wise words from the director.

The set of Guy Maddin's Poto-Poto séance, Paris 25/2/12
The set of Guy Maddin's Poto-Poto séance, Paris 25/2/12. Could that be Geraldine Chaplin in the bed?
The set of Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/2012
The set of Guy Maddin's The Blue Mountains Mystery séance, Paris 26/2/2012

“This project made its way into my head for almost twenty years. During all these years, he moved my heart and even my soul, until I myself am possessed! I learned that there are lost films. Beautiful films, made for a very long, generally silent, popular films, glorified, loved, raised to the level of myth by millions of spectators, some obsessively. Films which, however, dying in obscurity. Since I realized this, I literally haunted. Some of these films were destroyed by the studios, simply because they needed shelves, some were thrown into the sea or burned in a bonfire at picnics countryside. Others were reduced to dust because they were poorly preserved, others perished in the flames in an accident of projection. Some of these films have simply disappeared from history.” – Guy Maddin

.

Post-silent-era silents from City Lights to The Artist

La Antena (2007)

This is a guest post for Silent London by Amber Butchart, author of Theatre of Fashion

“[Talkies] are spoiling the oldest art in the world – the art of pantomime. They are ruining the great beauty of silence.”  –  Charlie Chaplin to Motion Picture Magazine, 1929

The phenomenal success of The Artist has sparked an understandable resurgence of interest in silent film. The success at the Baftas and the Golden Globes was a foreshadow of last night’s Oscar triumph, where the film bagged, as hoped, statuettes for best picture, director, actor, costume and score. A number of projects have developed in recent years that disregard dialogue in the quest to tell a story, from Silent Life – a silent film about Valentino currently in post-production, to a Charlie Chaplin musical set to open on Broadway this year and Louis, a silent film about Louis Armstrong complete with live score that had its European premiere last year at the Barbican. This interest, reductively dubbed the rise of ‘Retrovision’ by the Guardian, is more than just a passing fad. Creating silent films in a post-silent era, while unusual, isn’t unique: from Chaplin in the 30s to Jacques Tati in the 50s and Mel Brooks in the 70s, many directors have embraced the challenges of creating a narrative based on images rather than speech. It’s often the lament of film composers that their work is considered successful only when the audience is oblivious to it; when it forms such a seamless continuity between emotion and story that the viewer barely notices it’s there. But with ‘Soundies’ – films that have synchronised music and sound effects, but limited speech, the sound paradoxically reaches an elevated level. In fact, such ‘Soundies’ often use their score as a fundamental part of the narrative in a more progressive and successful way than most regular films, and the sound itself becomes a character in the action. In celebration of The Artist’s Oscar success, here’s an introduction to a few of my favourite post-silent-era silent films.

The Artist (2011)
The Artist (2011)

At the core of the narrative of The Artist is the issue of sound itself; the seminal point in Hollywood history where film transitioned from silents to talkies. Hollywood itself has long been enamoured with this era, and classics such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and Sunset Boulevard (1950) have both helped to mythologise this process. The descent of silent stars as talkies were developed has become part of Hollywood folklore, but in reality it was more often the case that moguls used the coming of sound to renegotiate or break contracts with stars they wanted to lose – it was used as as a purging process to usher in fresh meat for cinema audiences.

The Artist (top) and Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain (1952)
The Artist (top) and Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Continue reading Post-silent-era silents from City Lights to The Artist

The Artist and Hugo clean up at the “silent Oscars”

An-Oscar-statue
It's Oscar!

Well, I think we can allow ourselves to enjoy the moment. Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist has become the first silent film to win the best picture Oscar since Wings. It also carried away best actor (for Jean Dujardin), best director, best score and best costumes. Martin Scorsese’s not-quite biopic of Georges Méliès, Hugo, was the other big story of the night, winning the same number of awards, including heavyweight gongs for cinematography and art direction as well as three technical awards: best sound mixing, best sound editing, visual effects. I’d like to think it doesn’t take anything away from Scorsese to suggest that his awards were also a tribute to Méliès himself, in recognition of his beautiful, magic films.

We all know that Hollywood loves films about the movies, and there are those who love silent film who don’t necessarily love these two films – but there is no doubt that last night was a triumphant one for fans of the silent era. Let’s not forget that the Buster Keaton-inspired The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore triumphed in the best animated short category too. And the 2012 Academy Awards capped a joyous year in which early cinema was talked about more than it had been for years.

Here’s a quick look back at how it was reported on Silent London:

The Artist is announced for Cannes

The Cannes critics fall for The Artist

The Hugo trailer lands

The Artist: London film festival review

Hugo: review

I meet Uggie, star of The Artist

The Artist triumphs at the Baftas

What to watch when you have watched The Artist

A silent encore: What to watch when you have watched The Artist

Berenice Bejo in The Artist (2011)
Berenice Bejo in The Artist (2011)

Warning: this blogpost contains spoilers! Close this tab on your browser. Go to the cinema and watch The Artist. Then we can talk…

The Oscars are looming now, and The Artist is still the frontrunner for the biggest awards, which is one of the most exciting triumph-of-the-underdog stories Hollywood has produced in years. So the chances are, lots of people who would never have thought to watch a silent movie have now done so, and fingers crossed, they’re hungry for more. If you’re one of those people, read on. The Artist gives nostalgia, and film geekery, a good name, and whether you think it matches up to the films it pays tribute to or not, it’s the perfect prelude to a movie marathon. But where to begin, especially if you’re new to silent cinema?

Continue reading A silent encore: What to watch when you have watched The Artist

A stroll down Flicker Alley – photos

Cecil Court, AKA Flicker Alley
Cecil Court, AKA Flicker Alley

Cecil Court is a tiny turning off Charing Cross Road in the West End of London. Nowadays it is packed with bookshops, boutiques and ‘psychic advisers’, but back in the beginning of the 20th century it was “the heart of what was new in the British film industry, attracting young companies who clustered together to learn from one another” (Simon Brown, Film Studies, 2007). Following last year’s summer film festival, these ‘blue plaques’ have been posted in the shop windows of Cecil Court, as a reminder of the time when it was known as ‘Flicker Alley’. Read more here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Flicker Alley, posted with vodpod

Storify: Silent movies for a nine-year-old boy

Jean Dujardin sinks into the quicksand in The Artist (2011)
Jean Dujardin sinks into the quicksand in The Artist (2011)

I am something of an evangelist for Twitter, where, in turn, I am something of an evangelist for silent cinema. On Tuesday night, a Twitter user called @Drangula approached me with a request. Would I repost his plea for film recommendations? “Wiz pleasure!”

Storify screengrab
How the conversation began ...

@Drangula knows a nine-year-old boy who loved The Artist and wanted to watch more silent films. What would be suitable? Considering this request came through at around 9pm GMT on Valentine’s Day, I was overwhelmed by how many people responded and by the quality of their suggestions too. It’s a great question, which prompted some great answers. Thanks to all the people who took part.

I have attempted to collate all the responses using Storify, so these random acts of cinematic kindness could be saved for posterity. I’m sure you’ll agree that this was a Good Thing, and I really hope the young lad enjoys the films, and his  mother overcomes her aversion to Chaplin.

Click here to see how the conversation went.

The Artist triumphs at the Baftas. Wow.

The Artist (2011)
The Artist (2011)

We are living in strange, glorious times. The Artist, Michel Hazanavicus’s silent billet-doux to Hollywoodland, has officially “swept the board” at the Baftas. Best director, best actor, best original screenplay and best picture all fell to a modern silent film, for the first time, it should go without saying, in Bafta history. The Artist also picked up much-deserved prizes for cinematography, costume and score. It has all made for an unexpectedly emotional night here at Silent London towers.

Why? The Artist isn’t the only modern silent to have been made in recent years. It isn’t even the best. But when you are as passionate about a particular corner of film history as I am, and as the readers of this blog are, it does the heart good to see it in the spotlight, with a trophy in each hand. The air has been punched, a stray tear has been wiped and now a glass of vin blanc has been poured, and raised in honour to the lovely M Hazanavicius. The Artist is a lovely film, and most quibbles I, and other early cinema enthusiasts, have with it, are impossible to untangle from its privileged position as a standard-bearer for the silent era. At some point we have to give it credit for getting into that position in the first place. So congratulations to The Artist – for earning both popularity and critical acclaim and being so damn charming with it.

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo won a brace of awards too: best production design and best sound (ho ho). So I’ll raise another couple of toasts: to cinema pioneer Georges Méliès, and to Martin Scorsese, a masterful director and the world’s greatest living advocate for film preservation. That’s part of the reason he won the biggest award of the night – the Bafta fellowship.

Roll on the Oscars at the end of the month. The silents are coming!

Merry Christmas from Silent London

A festive picture of Clara Bow
A festive picture of Clara Bow

Season’s greetings to all our dear readers – may your stockings be filled with treats and all your nights be silent. There’s plenty to look forward to in the new year, but until then, eat, drink, be merry – and why not enjoy a few festive movies too? I’ll see you in 2012!

Hugo (2011): review

Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley in Hugo (2011)
Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley in Hugo (2011)

We’ll never know for certain whether the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph audience really were so terrified by a moving image of a train entering a station that they screamed and ran for the door. It’s an enjoyable urban legend though, and one that appeals to our idea of cinema as an immersive, perfect illusion. Martin Scorsese stages the moment twice in Hugo (2011) and by doing so makes a fair case for the story’s veracity. After all, this is a 3D film, and the savvy 21st-century viewers of this film may well have been flinching and ducking at stereoscopic images of barking dogs and speeding trains – and even the terrified patrons of the Grand Cafe – bursting from the screen.

There is more to Hugo than such cheap shocks, though. Scorsese mostly uses his 3D technology not to reach forward but to create a deep stage, as Georges Méliès so often did, pulling the scenery away from the centre of the frame to reveal more fantastical images within. Hugo‘s astounding, wordless opening sequence plunges from the Paris skyline into a train station clock, where a small boy, our hero, is gazing out at the city – we then follow him through staircases, ladders, corridors and across the concourse in one breathless swoop. It’s at this point that I knew I would want to watch Hugo again – it’s a giddily beautiful shot, and would persuade the hardest heart that there is a place for the intelligent use of 3D in cinema.

Asa Butterfield in Hugo (2011)
Asa Butterfield in Hugo (2011)

Inevitably, the pace drops after that, and the first half of Hugo is really rather a sedate, downhearted affair – particularly for a children’s film. Hugo (played sweetly by Asa Butterfield) is orphan. When his father (Jude Law) dies in a museum fire, and he is adopted by his drunkard uncle (Ray Winstone with a very slippery accent) – whose job it is to wind the clocks at the train station. When the uncle staggers out one day, never to return, Hugo decides to stay in the station winding the clocks and hiding from the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) so as to avoid the authorities. He steals food, and also scraps of clockwork to fix a melancholic automaton his father salvaged from the museum where he worked – sentimentally, Hugo believes that when the robot is working again, it will write him a message from his father. It’s a fond, foolish hope, made more metaphorically adorable still when we realise that the machine won’t work without a key: a heart-shaped key. However, the film is saved from treacly sentiment by the appearance of a young friend for Hugo, the bookish, restless Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) and an enemy too: Ben Kingsley’s curmudgeonly toymaker, Papa Georges.

So much plot – and so many adorable flirtatious sub-plots among the station’s café-owners and stallholders – just to get us to the moment, about halfway through, when the automaton works, and we find out who Papa Georges really is. Now, the pulse of the film finally starts to race as the children voraciously explore the history of silent cinema, and the magical trick films made by Papa Georges in particular. Of course, Papa Georges is Georges Méliès (subtly played by Kingsley), and that’s no spoiler for readers of this blog. Scorsese’s recreation of Méliès’s studio is among Hugo’s most enjoyable sequences – the sugary colours, the pyrotechnics and lo-fi effects could be quaint, but these scenes are rendered with such love and attention to detail, it’s impossible not to feel a sharp cinephile thrill. For once, however, I am tempted to complain that this adaptation shouldn’t have been so faithful to its source. Brian Selznick’s pencil-illustrated The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a really gorgeous book, but its thin narrative feels even flimsier on the big screen, and spends a good hour pushing Scorsese away from the subject matter that is closest to his heart – and ours.

Hugo (2011)
Hugo (2011)

That said, Hugo has plenty to indulge a silent film aficionado – or to educate a young film buff. Harold Lloyd himself, dangling from the department store clock, and Hugo’s own, less jolly, homage; glimpses of Méliès at work and plenty of his films; the aforementioned Lumière moments; passing references to zoetropes and hand-tinting; even a clip reel of silent highlights. There’s also Baron Cohen’s broad slapstick, a nice sense of early 20th-century history and so many gorgeous movie posters in the background that you’ll want to leap up and freeze the projector. Hugo‘s biggest surprise is that the 3D enhances all this retromania. Whether or not we remember that the Lumières were aiming for 3D effect with that very first train movie, or that they subsequently reshot it with a stereoscopic camera, Hugo‘s look has a freshness and novelty that suits its subject matter. A switch of focus, a camera rushing along the station platform, a series of stepped cuts all look different in 3D – it’s as if we’re seeing these tricks for the very first time.

Hugo (3D) is released in the UK on 2 December 2011. And if you want to see some of Méliès’s films on the big screen – the Cine Lumière has two screenings planned for the weeks following the release.

Chaplin in 3D. Wait, don’t run away

Charlie Chaplin in Easy Street (1917)
Charlie Chaplin in Easy Street (1917)

The reviews are already in for German film-maker Uwe Boll’s latest venture, and it isn’t even ready to view yet. “Worst idea ever,” said Anne Thompson on Indiewire. Wretched and doomed,” tweeted Roger Ebert. Thompson’s Indiewire blogpost reports that a representative of the German distributor Kinostar has approached a “major studio” with a pitch for “one 90 minute 3D movie titled Chaplin 3D – Little Tramp’s Adventure.” The plan involves the conversion of several Chaplin films into 3D, which will then be compiled into one feature-length movie. Retro-fitted 3D is rarely a happy experience, so even if the idea of Chaplin drunkenly tumbling down steps and into your lap, or skating wobbily past your nose, appeals, this doesn’t bode well. When you consider Boll’s critical reputation, which is somewhere between “joke” and ”criminal” this project is beginning to look disastrous. Led, perhaps, by Ebert, the reaction to the story on Twitter yesterday was of near-universal revulsion.

The truth is, there is more to this Chaplin in 3D story than meets the eye. Or both eyes. Clarification and elaboration arrives courtesy of a revelatory post by film preservationist David Shepard on the Nitrateville forum:

Serge Bromberg and I are among the people involved in this project. The principals, a film company in Istanbul which has been operating successfully for more than 70 years, is run by people of integrity; their proprietary 3-D conversion process is far superior to any other I have seen. Even the folks at Association Chaplin were impressed.

L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna or Technicolor scanned our earliest generation nitrate negatives to 2K and have done the highest quality of frame-by-frame image restoration of which they are capable for THE IMMIGRANT, THE RINK and EASY STREET. The films will be presented in b&w, at 20 fps, with new large-orchestra scores by Robert Israel, but in 3-D.

Obviously, Chaplin’s films are about performance; they are not highly pictorial films like, for example, those of Maurice Tourneur; we think they will look and sound wonderful and that the 3-D conversion does them no violence. We hope they will be rolled out first as family concerts with live orchestral performance, moving later on to other platforms with the recorded scores.

Obviously the intended audience is not the readers of Nitrateville, although you will not be excluded from attending the shows to see them for yourselves. If this project is successful it will be expanded to other silent films that can also deliver excellent experiences to 21st century audiences. We hope it will promote some awareness of silent films to many people who now do not have them even on their radar. Think of it as a solution for one of the performance arts (along with opera and classical music) for which the present audience is rapidly aging out, and for which something innovative must be done to insure their survival.

So, the precious films are in the hands of the experts, not a multiple Razzie-winner, and we can be fairly certain that they will look and sound great, due to the restoration and rescoring work. Those who share Mark Kermode’s aversion to 3D in all its forms will still have qualms, of course, but Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming Hugo (2011) may well be about to charm cinephiles into a newfound love of stereoscopy. Chaplin himself shot 3D test footage for The Circus (1928), though the fact that he dropped the idea may tell us as much as the fact that he attempted it. He was also known, of course, to retrospectively rework his films, such as when he added a voiceover and music to The Gold Rush in the 1940s.

It is a little saddening to think that the way to “promote some awareness of silent films to many people who now do not have them even on their radar” is to change them so radically. However, the recent re-release of Giorgio’s Moroder’s Metropolis has reminded us of the unusual paths many people take towards an appreciation of silent cinema. Could a three-dimensional rendering of Chaplin movies create a new generation of silent film fans, just as his colourised, intertitle-free Metropolis did in the 1980s?

As for Uwe Boll’s involvement? A red herring, or perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that he has worked with Geraldine Chaplin in the past (on 2005’s BloodRayne). Remember that Suzanne Lloyd has endorsed the 3D conversion of her grandfather Harold’s most famous scene from Safety Last.

I don’t need to tell you that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and doubtless we all have opinions on whether this project is likely to succeed in pleasing either existing or potential silent film fans. The Tramp is not quite in the perilous position we feared, and for now I recommend keeping an open mind.