Category Archives: Regular

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.

Women Make Film History at the Women’s Library

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.

The Docks of New York at the National Gallery

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.

Beyond the M25: Slapstick Fest in Bristol

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.

BFI silents: January roundup

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.

Early cinema on TV. No, really.

The Horse in Motion

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.

BFI silents: December roundup

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.

3 January 2011: The Gold Rush with the Philharmonia orchestra

This is a real treat in the new year. The Philharmonia orchestra is performing a live score for Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 3 January 2011.

The score for this special performance (and screening!) has been ‘reconstructed’ with reference to Chaplin’s notes for his Oscar-nominated score for the 1942 sound version. It is the work of Carl Davis, who will also conduct.

If this is not a landmark date in the silent film calendar … I’ll eat my old boots.

Featuring Chaplin in his quintessential Little Tramp role, the film was described by The New York Times upon its 1925 release as ‘a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness… the outstanding gem of all Chaplin’s pictures’.