Category Archives: Exhibition

Trento Tunnel exhibition: a unique perspective on cinema and the first world war

The Trento Tunnel exhibition
The Trento Tunnel exhibition (tgcom24.mediaset.it)

This is a guest post for Silent London by Neil Brand, writer, composer, silent film accompanist and TV and radio presenter.

Deep beneath the mountains of the Trentino range of Italy and Austria’s Dolomites lies one of the most extraordinary exhibits, in one of the most extraordinary galleries, in the world. One walks into a gigantic road tunnel, through a curtain and into one of the most potent and gripping representations of WWI cinema anywhere on the planet. From the very first image (from the Imperial War Museum) as a real shell strikes a galloping troop of British field artillery, leaving dead horses and soldiers on the field as the smoke clears, we are in the binary world of WWI “reality” as seen by the cameras of the time and the imaginations of those who came after.

 

That this exhibition, by the Trentino History Museum, should be a chilling reminder of the inhumanity of Italy’s White War on the Austrian border is no surprise – what is utterly unexpected is that it should also be a clear meditation on the very notion of cinema as “point of view”, with our attention continually drawn to the voyeurs and showmen, the “victors” and “victims”, the selective nature of documentary and the over-exaggeration of the “real”.

The exhibition’s existence is the result of a fruitful collaboration between Fondazione Museo Storico del Trentino and Cineteca del Friuli (with the assistance of archives around the world) in which the Museum, which owns and programmes the tunnels, has turned to experts at the Cineteca (particularly Pordenone mentor Luca Giuliani), to trace the history of WWI on film all the way from the outbreak in 1915 to the most recent films on the subject.

 

All the classics are contextualised on the way: J’Accuse, All Quiet on the Western Front, La Grande Illusion, Paths of Glory. The result is 46 full-size academy screens, through which we walk, looking to left and right, for half-a-mile, taking in a century of imagery and cinematic treasures beautifully configured into intriguing sub-genres; wounds, adventure, heroism (Italian strong-man star Maciste fighting the Austrians), fiction, imperialism, and more. Three-quarters of the way up the tunnel we emerge into sound, via a soundproof screen and the “Control Room” which is almost the most fascinating part of the exhibition. There we are introduced to the magic behind the screens: the film-makers, their equipment, and ourselves as their intended audience.

J'Accuse (1919)
J’Accuse (1919)

Continue reading Trento Tunnel exhibition: a unique perspective on cinema and the first world war

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Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen at GRAD Gallery: review

This is a guest post for Silent London by Amy Sargeant, author of British Cinema: a Critical History (BFI, 2005).

As with recent exhibitions of the photography, typography and graphic design work of Aleksandr Rodchenko (at the Hayward in 2008 and at Tate Modern in 2009), it is gratifying to see the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, London, introducing a new generation to the stunning power and exuberance of Soviet film posters. This show reinforces an impression that disorientation and montage were methodically deployed across a number of design practices to arresting and persuasive effect. The respect for this work accorded by contemporary critics is acknowledged by the GRAD show’s inclusion of an advertisement for the 1926 Second Exhibition of Film Posters: people came to recognise the monograms of “named” designers; the dedication of artists to public art was officially celebrated and promoted.

The largest collection of Soviet film posters, to my knowledge, is held by the Russian State Library in Moscow, deposited as a consequence of copyright requirements. Unfortunately, in many instances, little is known about the commissioning process, nor the circumstances and extent of information supplied to designers at the time the posters were produced concerning the films advertised. To those of us familiar with the Moscow archive, the range of formats will come as no surprise – nor will the anonymity of some designers. For visitors acquainted with glossy, flat, reproductions of posters in such coffee-table compilations as Susan Pack’s Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde (Taschen, 1995), the raw texture of the lithographs on display will serve as a reminder of the technical constraints under which the work was produced. Photogravure and modern offset printing came to Russia only late in the 1920s. Offprints of the posters are here available as postcards or at A3 (£25) and a1 (£60). Posters, I recall, were a great hit at the British Council’s Yuri Gagarin installation.

The GRAD show, drawn from two private collections mostly of the monogrammed variety – the Stenberg Brothers feature prominently), alongside readily identifiable excerpts from films: Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Victor Turin’s Turksib (1929) sit alongside Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Chess Fever (1924) and Storm over Asia (1928); an excerpt from Pudovkin’s The End of St Petersburg (1927) is accompanied by posters by Izrail Bograd and Semyon Semyonov-Menes for the same film (both featuring the monumental equestrian statue of Alexander III – as it appears in the film). An “Avrora” sailor’s hat-band, in a section of a Stenbergs’ hoarding, is sufficient to evoke Eisenstein’s October (1927).

The show confirms an appetite on the part of Soviet audiences for cinematic entertainments tragic, dramatic and comedic. The Stenbergs’ poster for Aleksandr Ivanovskii’s The Decembrists (1926) demonstrates the Soviet regime’s concern to establish precedents in Russian history for the October Revolution. There is also ample evidence of the export of American and European films to Russia in the post-Revolutionary period, likely to receive a welcome reception: for instance, Murnau’s Der letzte Mann (1924), significantly known in Russia as A Man and a Livery, is represented by Emil Jannings proudly standing foreground in his preposterously braided hotel commissionaire’s uniform, with, in the background, the shadowy, hunched figure he is destined  to become once retired to the hotel’s basement washroom.

The show’s thin catalogue (overpriced at £25) includes short essays by co-curator Lutz Becker and co-editor Alexandra Chiriac. The former covers key aspects of art school training, film production and distribution; the latter pays obeisance to Walter Benjamin (the 1926-27) Moscow Diary and 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility) while, sadly, failing to counter Benjamin’s uninformed estimation of the talents of Igor Ilinskii, undeservedly reported as “an inscrupulous and inept imitator of Chaplin”. Russian audiences appreciated Ilinskii as one of their finest actors, on stage and screen. An appendix outlines the education, careers and varied output of the designers recognised.

I look forward to GRAD’s coming exhibitions, notably its 2014 summer show of Soviet textiles.

By Amy Sargeant

The Kino/Film exhibition continues at the GRAD gallery until 29 March 2014

Wood Street Pop-up Picture Palace, Walthamstow, 30 March 2012

Wood Street Pop-up Picture Palace
Wood Street Pop-up Picture Palace

Walthamstow is at the very heart of the British film industry, or at least it used to be. Between 1910 and 1930, 400 movies were made in London’s E17 postcode at four studios, including a very grand establishment on Wood Street that was built by the Broad West Film Company in 1914. Nowadays, the suburb is more associated with a 90s boyband than film pioneers, but that doesn’t mean that the locals have turned their back on the area’s cinematic heritage. This summer, for example, the BFI will be showcasing the silent work of a little-known local film-maker called Alfred Hitchcock.

Check out this picture of the Wood Street Studio in the silent era. And do read this interview by Kevin Brownlow with Tilly Day, a woman who worked there as a Continuity Girl at the time. Her memories of a sharing a scene with Kenneth McLaglen, being frightened by the horses on location shoots in Epping Forest and watching Walter West directing silent films are all fascinating.

Broad West Film Company's Wood Street studio
Broad West Film Company's Wood Street studio

The Wood Street Pop-up Picture Palace will celebrate the days when Walthamstow was in the movie business in grand style on Friday night, with a special event that includes live music and the chance to dress up like a vintage film star. There’ll also be a screening of a new silent film, which incorporates animation and live action, and was filmed with help from the children of Woodside Primary School. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but the artists involved in the project are Elizabeth Hobbs, who makes animated films, and Emily Tracy, who produces beautiful light sculptures and collaborative art projects.

The Picture Palace's home in Wood Street Indoor Market
The Picture Palace's home in Wood Street Indoor Market

I popped down to the project’s offices at the new Wood Street Indoor Market on the weekend, but sadly they were closed. However I did spot a few sketches of the old Wood Street Studio that certainly intrigued me. Do get along to the special event on Friday 30 March, if you can. It’s free and promises to be very interesting and a lot of fun.

To read more about the indoor market, and other cultural events in E17, visit the very hip and happening Walthamstow Scene website.

Battleship Potemkin flash mob, 26 November 2011

Are you a silent film fan? Do you live in London? Are you a little bit eccentric?  If you answered yes to all three of those questions you probably want to know about this interactive art performance taking place at the ICA next Saturday:

In flash-mob-performance-art-meets-iconic-cinematic-history, the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin will be re-created on the Duke of York steps, adjacent to the ICA, in three separate performances of 60 people. It might be slightly irreverent, it might end up nothing like Eisenstein’s visionary comment on the social and political state of Russia, but it will be a lot of fun, and a chance to pay tribute to one of the greatest moments in early 20th century cinema. Members of the public can book a slot to play a role in the reconstruction and filming of the scene. Each slot will be fast-paced and full of improvisation, complete with costumes and props. An eclectic mix of artists and personalities from the art world including Norman Rosenthal, Johnny Woo, Andrew Logan, Sue Tilley and Christopher Biggins will be taking on the major roles.

Christopher Biggins? That’s what it says here. Anyway, finally, you will have the chance to experience the thrill that Brain de Palma and Kevin Costner felt when filming The Untouchables. The re-enactments will be recorded for posterity too. Artists Jane and Louise Wilson will record the performances using the 8mm apps on their iPhones, and the resulting footage will be posted online.

Tickets for one of the sessions cost just £5. I’m assuming, and hoping, that this will all be totally safe and no babies (or adults) are liable to get hurt during proceedings. Still, you might prefer to play a cossack than a peasant, if you’re worried.

Re-enacting Eisenstein takes place on the afternoon of 26 November 2011. To book, and for more information, visit the ICA website.

Shadow Play: gallery talk and master class at the Barbican, 1 September 2011

Cinderella (Lotte Reiniger, 1922)
Cinderella (Lotte Reiniger, 1922)

The Barbican’s Watch Me Move animation exhibition continues all summer, and is well worth a look. These two events may be of particular interest to silent film fans, though. On 1 September, writer Marina Warner will be giving a talk in the gallery about “shadow play” animation, from Lotte Reiniger, through to more contemporary artists such as William Kentridge and Kara Walker (below):

The lecture is followed by a shadow play animation workshop – Warner will be joined by artist Reza Ben Gajra, and you’ll learn all you need to know to create your own piece in the vein of The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

Both events take place on 1 September 2011, at 6.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets for the talk cost £10, and for the master class £12. For more details, click here, and here.

Turn your cinema memories into art

The EMD Cinema Memories project
The EMD Cinema Memories project

We all have powerful memories of visits to the cinema – your first trip, as a child; the first time you saw your favourite film; your first cinema date; maybe even your first silent film. And if Alfred Hitchcock were here to share his memories with us, they would surely involve a few educational afternoons at the EMD cinema in Walthamstow, north-east London, where he watched silent films as a boy. We can’t all claim to have come away from the cinema as inspired as Hitchcock, but we all know what it’s like to stumble out of the foyer with images reeling around our heads, thinking: “I’ve got to see that again.”

Well, the EMD Cinema has fallen sadly out of use and into disrepair, but there is a thriving, celebrity endorsed campaign to get it up and running again. And the Save Our Cinema group wants to collect your cinema memories, not just of the EMD, but of other “characterful” independent picture palaces, all in the name of art. The stories will be collated and turned into an exhibition at the E17 Art Trail in September.

There are two strands to our special storytelling project – as well as written or recorded voxpops of YOUR OPINIONS, we’re looking for PERSONAL ANECDOTES about going to the pictures in a cinema with character. We hope to make sound and video clips of people telling their own stories, along with written pieces, photos, music and drawings. Whatever way you’d like to tell your story about why a distinctive cinema matters to you, we’re interested. If you have special memories of childhood matinees, first dates, first kiss!, wild nights at concerts or just a warm feeling about the place, we want to hear about it. If you missed the chance to visit the EMD before it was closed but you have first-hand stories of a cherished cinema somewhere else, please share them with us.

So if you have a cinematic story to tell, do get involved – you might even help to save Hitchcock’s cinema. If you want inspiration, here’s Ryan Gilbey, film critic of the New Statesman, showing us how it’s done. More details about the history of EMD Cinema can be found here, and details of the Storytelling project can be found on Facebook here. Maybe this is why they call it “awesomestow”.

To get involved, or to send your anecdotes, images, videos or audio clips, contact storytelling@savewalthamstowcinema.org, tweet @saveourcinema or send post to Save Walthamstow Cinema, 39-41 High St, London E17 7AD

Free silent films at the National Portrait Gallery Glamour of the Gods Exhibition, 17 and 31 July 2011

Pandora's Box (1929)
Pandora's Box (1929)

There’s very little that Silent London enjoys more than a touch of Hollywood glamour, and evidently the National Portrait Gallery agrees. Their new exhibition, which opens on Thursday 7 July, is entitled Glamour of the Gods: Hollywood Portraits and features photographs taken from The John Kobal Collection. To accompany the show, which includes stunning pictures of Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and other beautiful megastars, the Gallery has programmed a series of events, including free film screenings on Sunday afternoons.

Fittingly, two of the films come from Hollywood’s most glamorous decade, the 1920s. First, Buster Keaton’s cattle-herding adventure Go  West (1925) will be screened on 17 July. You may have seen this film featured on Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood documentary recently. This is the film that apparently offers a glimpse of Roscoe Arbuckle in drag, long after he was officially exiled from the movies.

Second, one of the silent era’s slinkiest actresses, Louise Brooks, stars in the notoriously decadent Pandora’s Box (1929) on 31 July. Brooks’s effortless sex appeal in this film really set the template for Hollywood glamour for decades to come, so you can’t afford to miss it.

Go West screens in the Ondaatje Wing Theatre of the National Portrait Gallery at 3pm on 17 July 2011. Pandora’s Box screens in the Ondaatje Wing Theatre of the National Portrait Gallery at 3pm on 31 July 2011. Entrance to both films is free. Entrance to the Glamour of the Gods Exhibition is £6, less for concessions or free for members. You can book tickets online here. Glamour of the Gods runs from 7 July to 23 October 2011.

Hat-tip to @soshanau on Twitter for telling me about this one.

Kevin Brownlow talks about Winstanley. Plus, tour the BFI National Archive

Inside the BFI National Archive (bbc.co.uk)
Inside the BFI National Archive (bbc.co.uk)

These two events caught my eye in the JuLy BFI brochure.  They’re not silent film screenings, and one of them isn’t even in London, but they are definitely worth a peek.

First up, your favourite silent film historian and mine, Kevin Brownlow, will be appearing at BFI Southbank to introduce a screening of his film Winstanley on 5 July. There’ll be time for a discussion after the film too, which is bound to include some talk of silent cinema. I’d bet my second-best cloche on it, in fact. This event is free for seniors, so if you’re over 60 this is a can’t-miss. The rest of us whippersnappers are invited too, but we’ll have to pay usual matinee ticket prices.

Winstanley screens at 2pm on Tuesday 5 July in NFT1. There are no details on the BFI website, so it might be worth ringing the box office on 020 7928 3232.

Second, there is an opportunity for BFI members to pay a visit to the National Archive in Berkhamsted. It’s a three-hour tour, including light refreshments, and you’ll have the chance to talk to some of the talented people who work there, and find out how films are restored. It seems like an apposite time to visit, with all the work currently being done on the Hitchcock 9 project, and the fact that the archive has recently been placed on the Unesco World Heritage register.

The cost of the archive visit is £25 or £20 for concessions, and the tour will take place on Tuesday 19 July. Log in to the BFI website to find out more or call 020 7928 3232 to book.

Beautiful and Damned by Pam Glew at Blackall Studios, Shoreditch 25-29 May 2011

From Beautiful and Damned by Pam Glew
From Beautiful and Damned by Pam Glew

For the vintage-lovers among you, this exhibition should be a real treat. Pam Glew’s Beautiful and Damned exhibition at Blackall Studios in east London uses vintage fabrics and techniques to create poignant but gorgeous images of silent movie stars. It’s only on for a few days, so catch it while you can:

‘Beautiful and Damned’, the shows title, is of course taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel, which explores the listless lives of moneyed society during the Jazz Age. This captivating era, drenched in glamour yet tinged with tragedy is the decadent setting for this extraordinary series of work. The exquisitely beautiful movie starlets, society icons and characters on display capture the spirit of the age all who are caught in the unforgiving glare of the limelight and some sadly burn out before their time. As Pam states, “the tragedy amongst the beauty is what has inspired this show, the sharp contrast between a blessed life and one that ends in scandal, hedonism or destitution”.

Beautiful and Damned runs from 25-29 May at Blackall Studios, 73 Leonard Street, Shoreditch, London EC2A 4QS. For more information, check out Pam Glew’s website here.

Mat Collishaw’s Magic Lantern at the V&A

If you’ve been walking past the Victoria and Albert Museum late at night recently, and you weren’t too distracted by the roadworks, you’ll have seen that the cupola of the museum is lit up by a moving 3D animation of moths. “That looks like a zoetrope,” I thought when I saw it. And I was very pleased to find out, when I looked it up at home, that it is indeed a zoetrope of sorts. The artist Mat Collishaw was commissioned by the V&A to make a work for circular space right at the top of the museum – and he chose to produce a vast (10m wide) version of the animated 3D zoetropes he had made before on a smaller scale.

Mat Collishaw's Magic Lantern
Mat Collishaw's Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern is a beautiful spectacle – and I would advise you to pay a late-night visit to South Kensington before it is taken down on 27 March, if you haven’t done so already. For me, the way that it combines a Victorian invention and Victorian architecture to create something that looks so 21st-century brings an endearing whiff of pre-cinema magick. As Collishaw says: “I’d like to have created something that’s very beautiful and beguiling and brings people in to look at it but I’d also like to smuggle in a little bit of doubt in there about what it is they’re actually becoming engaged with when they’re looking at the work.”

For a closer look, you can visit the museum garden to see a smaller model of Magic Lantern between 10am and 5.45pm. Magic Lantern will be in situ at the V&A until 27 March 2011.

Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder – review

George Meliés's The Impossible Voyage
George Méliès's The Impossible Voyage

Before visiting the Capturing Colour exhibition , I did a little light background reading on the subject of colour photography. Rather swiftly, I remembered why Physics was not my strong point at school. However, the exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery chooses to dazzle rather than baffle, using photographs, projected films and video to help tell the story of the development of colour photography.

Continue reading Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder – review