As we are about to break up for the Easter weekend, I couldn’t resist sharing this egg-cellent 1902 trick film by George Méliès, L’Oeuf du Sorcier, with you. And as Easter is the festival of rebirth and new life, you will surely have noticed that Silent London has shelled out for a new web address. Point your browsers at silentlondon.co.uk in the future. It’s shorter, snappier and easier to remember than the old address – so chick it out. And that clunky old URL will still work anyway, so even if your brain is a little scrambled, you should be able to find the site with ease.
Have a wonderful Easter break dear readers and I will see you back here next week for egg-citing announcements about silent film shows, cracking competitions and, hopefully, no more of these terrible yolks.
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.
This has been a surprise from start to finish. At the beginning of last month, I learned that Silent London had been nominated for a Dorset Cereals Little Blog Award. I still don’t know who nominated me – if it was you, then thank you very much.
You might have noticed me asking for votes on Twitter and Facebook, and happily lots of you didn’t think I was being too cheeky, because the votes kept coming in all month. Last week, I received a very nice email telling me that I had won the Little Blog Award for February 2011! And yesterday, the prizes arrived: a certificate, a box of granola and cereal bars – and this dinky egg cup, complete with egg cosy.
So in this post I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who voted for me. Silent London hasn’t been going very long, and this is a big confidence boost. Hopefully it’s another small sign of the growing popularity of silent film in this city, too. I’ve got big plans for this blog, believe me – and from now on I will be going to work on an egg.
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.
Asta Nielsen as Hamlet, Lilly Jacobson as Ophelia in Hamlet (1920)
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.