Category Archives: Festival

Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand bring silent cinema to Glastonbury for the first time

On Saturday night at Glastonbury 2014, the mud, the terrible noodles and the hangovers will all be worth it. For the first time ever, a silent film will play the country’s leading rock festival. Neil Brand and the Dodge Brothers will perform their rousing score for William’s Wellman’s rail-riding rollercoaster Beggars of Life in the Pilton Palais cinema tent, at 6pm on 28 June. We’ll be there – will you?

Read more about Beggars of Life here

Lillian Gish and The Wind: ‘It excited my imagination’

Lillian Gish in The Wind (1928)
Lillian Gish in The Wind (1928)

The Wind screens with a specially commissioned live musical accompaniment from Lola Perrin at the Electric Cinema, London, on 9 April 2014, and the Watershed Cinema, Bristol, on 30 April 2014

This is a guest post for Silent London by Kelly Robinson. If you haven’t seen The Wind, be warned that this article discusses the ending of the film.

Ethereal, delicate, poetic, otherworldly are just some of the somewhat elusive adjectives used to describe Lillian Gish since the early years of her stardom. Effusive admirer Vachel Lindsay said “Lillian Gish could be given wings and a wand if she only had directors and scenario writers who believed in fairies.” However, in reality Gish had her feet firmly on the ground. She had a career spanning eight decades, was a spokeswoman for cinema’s history with high artistic ambitions for herself and for the medium. King Vidor, who directed her in La Boheme (1926) commented: “The movies have never known a more dedicated artist than Lillian Gish.”

In his autobiography A Tree is a Tree Vidor said that Gish was incredibly assertive and had her own thoughts about the filmmaking process. Indeed, she knew a great deal about cinematography and in particular lighting. She had learned her trade during the more collaborative process of the silent era, where she had received extensive tutelage from DW Griffith in a production context where actors frequently worked without scripts and where they were encouraged to collaborate on characterisation and staging. She may only have had had a small acting role in Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), however she designed and furnished sets, helped with lighting and cutting, wrote intertitles and advertising copy.

Continue reading Lillian Gish and The Wind: ‘It excited my imagination’

Why Change Your Wife?: Cecil B DeMille and the New Woman

Gloria Swanson in Why Change Your Wife?
Gloria Swanson in Why Change Your Wife?

Why Change Your Wife? screens with a live score by Niki King as part of the Birds Eye View Film Festival on 10 April 2014 at BFI Southbank, at 6.10pm

This is a guest post for Silent London by Kelly Robinson

Cecil B DeMille is perhaps predominantly remembered for his big-budgeted biblical epics of the 1940s and 50s. For instance, the captivatingly lurid Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments are both still television staples. However, DeMille had a career that spanned several decades and he made more than 50 films in the silent era alone. Many of these early titles were similarly lavish and sensationalist, whilst also seeking to exploit contemporary social concerns.

Jesse L Lasky, Vice President of Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount), encouraged “modern stuff with plenty of clothes, rich sets, and action”. Savvy to the growing female audience, Lasky contracted screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson to portray women “in the sort of role that the feminists in the country are now interested in … the kind of girl that dominates … who jumps in and does a man’s work.” The result was several delightful, enormously successful, marital comedies, starting with Old Wives for New and followed by Don’t Change Your Husband. Why Change Your Wife? completes the “does what it says on the tin” trilogy. With their focus on female glamour and desire, these films offer more permutations of the “New Woman”, which Birds Eye View has explored in previous Sound & Silents strands.

Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

Considering his somewhat indomitable, patriarchal image, it is perhaps surprising to find a large number of women amongst Demille’s regular collaborators. Anne Bauchens edited his films, from Carmen (1915) all the way through to The Ten Commandments (1959), his last film. In his unpublished autobiography he wrote that it was an essential clause in every contract that she be his editor. In the Los Angeles Herald Examiner he is quoted as saying that: “‘though a gentle person, professionally she is as firm as a stone wall … We argue over virtually every picture.”

Continue reading Why Change Your Wife?: Cecil B DeMille and the New Woman

British Silent Film Festival: 2014 style

Betty Balfour in The Vagabond Queen (1929)
Betty Balfour in The Vagabond Queen (1929)

Just like last year, the British Silent Film Festival hits London town, but not in its traditional form. Very much as was the the case last year, actually, the festival proceeds in a slightly cut-down version, comprising a symposium at Kings College London on Friday 2 May 2014 and a full day of screenings at the Cinema Museum on the next day.

There’s a loose theme to those screenings at the Cinema Museum – runaway women or some such. I like. More to point: Betty Balfour fans – fill your boots. And if you want to submit a proposal for a paper to the symposium, you have until 31 March – so hurry up, clever clogses.

Here are the full details for each day:

The British Silent Film Festival Symposium 2014 will take place on 2nd May 2014 at King’s College, London.

Following the success of last year’s symposium, this one-day event again seeks to draw together scholars and enthusiasts of early British cinema, and operate as a forum for the presentation of new research, scholarship and archival work into film culture in Britain and its Empire before 1930. Possible areas may include but will not be confined to: Cinema in the context of wider theatrical, literary and popular culture; Empire and cinema; Cinema and the First World War.

An early evening screening of The Wonderful Story (Graham Cutts, 1922) will be included in the day’s events.

Proposals (around 200 words in length) are invited for 20 minute papers on any aspect of new research into film-making and cinema-going in Britain and its Empire before 1930. Please submit them to Lawrence.1.Napper@kcl.ac.uk by 31st March.

Read more on Facebook & register for the symposium here

Betty Balfour
Betty Balfour

Put-upon ladies take on the world in this programme of rarely seen silents from the BFI National Archive.

A double bill from talented Hungarian director Geza von Bolvary, stars Britain’s favourite actress Betty Balfour as the stand-in princess in The Vagabond Queen (1929) and besotted bottle-washer in Bright Eyes (1929). Also yearning to break free, an oppressed wife hangs her hopes on a typewriter in J.M. Barrie’s The Twelve Pound Look (1920) and a programme of shorts continues the theme.

PROGRAMME

  • 10.00-11.30 The Twelve Pound Look
  • 11.30-12.00 Break
  • 12.00-13.30 The Vagabond Queen
  • 13.30-14.30 Lunch
  • 14.30-16.00 Shorts programme
  • 16.30-18.00 Champagner/Bright Eyes

Doors open at 09.00 for a 10.00 start.

Refreshments will be available in our licensed café/bar.

TICKETS & PRICING

£25 for the full day, £15 for a half day, £8 for one session. Sorry, no concessions.

Advance tickets may be purchased from WeGotTickets, or direct from the Museum by calling 020 7840 2200 in office hours.

UPDATE: tickets on sale now

Read more on the Cinema Museum website

Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2014: reporting back

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Bo'ness #hippfest

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Silent London podcast: Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2014

I’ve just returned from the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Bo’ness, Falkirk. It’s a fantastic event – I really enjoyed myself and only wish I could stay longer. To give you a flavour of the weekend, if you missed out this time, here’s a mini-podcast and a selection of social media updates too. Surely there is no cooler hashtag for a #silentfilm event than #hippfest?

Hats off to Alison Strauss and her team and Falkirk Community Trust to – Hippfest is a triumph.

UPDATE: Here’s my Hippfest report for the Guardian film blog
Continue reading Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2014: reporting back

The 4th Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema – 12-16 March 2014

Lucky Star (1929)
Don’t go to Bo’ness without me, darling!

Scotland’s only silent film festival returns to the glorious Hippodrome cinema in Bo’ness with another impressively wide-ranging programme. There are some real treasures to be unearthed here: rare screenings of little-seen but highly valued films, and innovative ways to share the magic of silent cinema with younger audiences. Gala screenings include the Dodge Brothers‘ Scottish debut, accompanying the Hollywood classic Beggars of Life, starring Louise Brooks; Jacques Feyder’s heartstopping Visages d’Enfants closes the festival, with music from Stephen Horne; Frank Borzage’s wartime weepy Lucky Star plays on the Friday night, with Neil Brand on the piano; and Jane Gardner will perform a specially commissioned new score for Ozu’s gangster drama Dragnet Girl. German group The Aljoscha Zimmermann Ensemble will provide a score for Murnau’s timeless The Last Laugh; Jason Singh will create his magical vocal soundscapes for Grierson’s landmark documentary Drifters, live at the Hippodrome.

Continue reading The 4th Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema – 12-16 March 2014

The 10th Slapstick Festival, January 2014: a centenary salute to Chaplin

City Lights (1931)
City Lights (1931)

The funniest weekend of the year is back: Bristol’s own rib-tickling Slapstick Festival. This year marks not only the 10th year of the festival but, as you all very well know, the 100th anniversary of Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp. The Slapstick Festival will be celebrating the tramp in fine style with an orchestral gala screening of the the wonderful City Lights (1931), recently voted into the Top 10 Silent Movies by the Guardian and Observer. The screening will be introduced by comedian Omid Djalili and music will be provided by the 39-piece Bristol Ensemble.

There’s a full weekend of funny films beyond the Chaplin too. Check the listings below for details. Notable screenings inlcude the Societ laugh-riot The Extraordinary Adventures of Mister West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), the rarely shown Raymond Grifffith romp Hands Up! (1926) and a chance to see Constance Talmadge in Her Sister From Paris (1925). And don’t miss Harold’s Lloyd’s classic Safety Last! (1923) with Radio 4’s Colin Sell on the piano.

Max Davidson
Max Davidson

More treasures are to be found in the talks and lecture events: David Robinson on the Tramp, Kevin Brownlow on Chaplin and the Great War, all three Goodies on Buster Keaton and Graeme Garden delving into the work of German Jewish comic Max Davidson.

There will be some modern work featured too: from Wallace & Gromit (naturally) to The Meaning of Life and Withnail & I. Yes, Tim Vine will be offering a tribute to Benny Hill too!

The 10th Slapstick Festival will be held at various venues across Bristol from 24-26 January 2014. Visit the website for more details, or read on for full listings and ticket information.

Continue reading The 10th Slapstick Festival, January 2014: a centenary salute to Chaplin

Bernard Natan, Musidora and Alice Guy-Blaché: French pioneers remembered on film

Bernard Natan
Bernard Natan

You may notice the widget on the righthand side of this page, ticking down the days until this blog dispatches itself to Italy, to report from Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. We have many reasons to get excited about the arrival of the world’s most prestigious silent film festival. There’s the debut of the lost-and-found Orson Welles short Too Much Johnson, the premiere of a new restoration of The Freshman with a score by Carl Davis, Italy’s first glimpse of Blancanieves, an Anny Ondra retrospective, a programme of Swedish silents, more treasures from the Corrick collection, Ukrainian classics, Mexican rarities, a strand devoted to Gerhard Lamprecht and much more.

I had a smile on my face this morning, however, when I learned that a documentary co-directed by none other than a fellow classic/silent film blogger – the marvellous David Cairns of Shadowplay – will be showing at the Giornate. Natan takes a look at the controversial life of French film-maker Bernard Natan, and the various scandalous assaults on his name. Natan was a Jewish French-Romanian film produced, who was at one time the head of the Pathé studio. Financial troubles, antisemitism and allegations that he was a pornographer degraded his reputation in the industry. His story ends on an even darker note – he died in 1942, in Auschwitz.

Cairns blogged about the film earlier this year:

Bernard Natan used to sign his films — literally, his producer credit was an animated signature inscribing itself on the screen. And then, as Natan’s reputation was destroyed and his company taken away from him, a lot of his films were shorn of their signatures. When the movies got re-released, it was considered embarrassing for their executive producer’s name to be seen. And during the Occupation, many Jewish filmmakers were quietly erased from title sequences.

Since then, Natan’s name has been restored to some of his films, and a few historians have attempted to restore his reputation. That’s the effort Paul and I hope to contribute to with our film, which should tell a dramatic and tragic story, shine a light upon some neglected corners of cinema history — but also help give Bernard Natan his good name back ~

Musidora: la dixieme muse
Musidora: la dixieme muse

The film has already shown at several festivals, including Edinburgh and Telluride – and it plays at Cambridge film festival this week. The Pordenone festival will also be screening a documentary about another French cinema legend: Musidora: la Dixieme Muse. The documentary, by writer and filmmaker Patrick Cazals, promises to trace the actress’s career right form the early days of Vampires and Judex, to her work in later life as a producer and director as well as at Henri Langlois’ Cinematheque, positioning her as a cornerstone of French cinema as much as a legend.

So that’s a nicely themed double-bill at Pordenone for us to savour, but French cinema pioneers are in vogue right now – you can’t have failed to miss the successful Kickstarter campaign for the Jodie Foster-narrated Alice Guy-Blaché documentary.  It has been a massive campaign, conducted enthusiastically and cannily across social media. The line they have been using is that Guy-Blaché’s name is forgotten now because she has been written out of history by her male colleagues and successors. That may be true for many film fans, but just like Musidora, her name is already well-known in silent cinema circles – if Be Natural is to redeem her reputation, it must spread her fame to a far wider audience. While certainly impressive, Be Natural‘s 3,840 Kickstarter backers represent a drop in the ocean. The movie looks like it could be great though – and it’s the popularity of the documentary, rather than the worthiness of its intentions, that will return Guy-Blaché’s name to global renown.

Catch Natan at Cambridge if you can, or if you have already seen it or Musidora, do let me know your thoughts below. There’s a Variety review here. You can also like Natan on Facebook. I have to say, I am looking forward to all three of these films.

PS: I think Lady Gaga, for one, has been mugging up on her early French film – spot the Méliès refs and Musidora costumes in her latest video, Applause

Too Much Johnson restoration to premiere at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, 2013

Orson Welles directs Too Much Johnson
Orson Welles directs Too Much Johnson

It’s an unbelievable discovery, “stranger than fiction” as Paolo Cherchi Usai of the George Eastman House told me. Orson Welles’s 1938 silent movie Too Much Johnson, believed to be lost, destroyed in a fire, has finally turned up. Not only that, the film, which is admittedly just a work print, was discovered in a warehouse in Pordenone, home of the prestigious Giornate del Cinema Muto.

Rejoice, if you are going to Pordenone this year, because Too Much Johnson will have its premiere at the festival, on 9 October 2013, before screening at the George Eastman House (where the film was restored) in the US the following week. Cast your eyes on this lovely video preview of the film – and then click here to read a short piece I wrote for the Guardian about the film and its rediscovery. In it, Cherchi Usai tells me that the Welles film this lost-and-found work reminds him most of … is none other than Citizan Kane.

The Pordenone countdown starts here – read more of the programme for this year’s festival, including Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman, with a score by Carl Davis, and the gorgeous modern silent Blancanieves, here on the Giornate website.

Scalarama: The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Scalarama is a far-reaching kind of film festival – one that covers the whole country, and virtually any manifestation of cinema you can think of. It’s dedicated to the spirit of the old Scala screenings in King’s Cross, London in the 80s and now in its third year, has a diverse and fascinating programme, fuelled by the passion of movie fans championing their own, often obscure, favourites. I am delighted to report that silent cinema is very much part of the month-long festival, with several screenings of Dreyer’s masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc lined up, from Leicester to Canterbury. And it’s the gorgeous new Eureka print they’re screening too.

The Scalarama organisers asked me to share some thoughts about why I love silents, and why you (yes, you) should go to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, for the first in their series of podcasts supporting the festival. So listen up. I have listed the screenings below – Visit the Scalarama website for more details and links.

Screenings of The Passion of Joan of Arc:

  • Sunday 8th September: The Gulbenkian, Canterbury
  • Thursday 12th September: Genesis Cinema, London – with ECM records score live-mixed by Scanner
  • Friday 13th September: Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford – with live score by Roger Eno
  • Sunday 15th September: Rio Cinema, London – in double bill with Pandora’s Box
  • Saturday 28th September: Phoenix, Leicester

Silent films at the London film festival 2013

Harbour Drift (1929)
Harbour Drift (1929)

There is no beating about the bush here. The 57th London Film Festival’s approach to silent cinema is definitely quality over quantity. Here’s what you can look forward to this year.

The Epic of Everest (1924)

The Epic of Everest (1924)
The Epic of Everest (1924)

This year’s Archive Gala, also going on nationwide release, is this unforgettable expedition film of Mallory and Irvine’s doomed attempt to climb Mount Everest in 1924. Gorgeous photography, a heart-stopping story and another great, surprising score from Simon Fisher Turner. Read our full review here. The gala screening will feature the score played live, which is sure to be fantastic.

18 October 2013, 6.15pm, Odeon West End Screen 2

Jenseits der Strasse (1929)
Harbour Drift (1929)

Harbour Drift (1929)

I saw this last year at Pordenone, and I loved it. Harbour Drift/Jenseits des Strasse is a moody, romantic melodrama, directed by Leo Mittler – the kind of film that gives even the grubbiest events a touch of magic. The screening at the London Film Festival will also be accompanied by Stephen Horne, making it a must-see. Here’s what I had to say about it in 2012.

My highlight was a lyrical German film that came between them, called Jenseits der Strasse or Harbor Drift (Leo Mittler, 1929). A beggar nabs a pearl necklace from a puddle, and promises to share the profits on its sale with a new-found drifter pal, all the while a prostitute plans to take it, and sell it herself … Impressionistic, oddly noirish, tragic and ultimately dark-hearted, this is a real find. The film has been championed for a few years now by Stephen Horne, who accompanied it beautifully on piano, flute, accordion and zither. The recent discovery of the film’s previously missing reel makes this gem ripe for restoration, and a wider audience.

13 October, 12.30pm, NFT1, BFI Southbank

You’ll find full booking information on the London film festival website.

La Antena at the East End Film Festival, 6 July 2013

La Antena (2007)
La Antena (2007)
No pressure guys. The East End Film Festival‘s “sonic cinema” screenings have won the, ahem, coveted Silent London poll first prize not once, but twice. And this year, the festival is going off-piste with an evening called A City Without a Voice. The free screening will feature a modern silent film from Argentina, a live “gothic pop” score – and an “immersive” contemporary dance performance. If the prospect of all that doesn’t get your senses tingling, then quite frankly you may as well stay at home and watch Millionaire.
First, the film: La Antena (2007) is a visually delirious modern almost-silent film, a fantasy about a city in reduced to silence after the residents’ voices have been stolen by an evil capitalist villain. The intertitles dance across the screen, becoming almost physical objects, and the film’s imagery is explosively ineventive, combining silhouettes, surrealism and a heavy debt to the cinema of Fritz Lang. You can read more about this fantastic film in a post that the fashion and film historian Amber Jane Butchart wrote for Silent London.
Gunfire in La Antena
La Antena
As for the music, Esben and the Witch, who will provide the score, are a three-piece from Brighton, named for a Danish fairytale. The NME described them as “gothic but not goth”, and many of the songs on their new album are inspired by literature: from Vladimir Nabokov to Robert Frost. Here’s a taster of their music:
The visual performance comes courtesy of Neon Dance, who will persent their immersive piece The Intention, inspired by an Argentinian novel. You can read more and watch rehearsal footage here.
Over to the festival themselves to set the scene for the screening:
La Antena is screening as EEFF 2013′s free outdoor screening, soundtracked by a specially commissioned score by Esben and the Witch. Setting the scene for Esben and the Witch’s atmospheric performance, the London premiere of contemporary dance piece The Intention, performed by East London dance company Neon Dance, will be led by world-renowned choreographer Adrienne Hart. Inspired by ‘The Invention of Morel’, a novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, ‘The Intention’ explores a world of disjointed presences; where the playback of a recording of events takes on a greater reality than the continued existence of its subjects.
A City Without A Voice is set to be a festival highlight and there are limited seats available, so bring your cushion and grab a front row seat for this unmissable event.

A City Without a Voice takes place at 8.30pm on Saturday 6 July 2013 in Old Spitalfields Market as part of the East End Film Festival. Arrive early to get a good seat and wrap up warm. Read more and book tickets here.

Fashion in Film Festival – Marcel L’Herbier

L'Argent
L’Argent

The Fashion in Film Festival is a movable feast, but one we can always rely on for some wonderful silent film screenings. This year’s event has just begun, and the focus of the festival is the French director Marcel L’Herbier, who worked in both the silent and sound eras, creating captivating, elegant and strange films of staggering beauty. This is what the festival has to say about his silent films:

During the silent period, L’Herbier’s ambition for the cinema was to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, a cinéma totalwhich would synthesise all the arts and draw together architects, artists, set designers, couturiers and costume designers. Among the many major cultural figures he collaborated with were the artists Fernand Léger, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, the composers Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger, the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, designers Alberto Cavalcanti and Claude Autant-Lara, and couturiers Paul Poiret, Lucien Lelong (L’Herbier’s cousin) and Louiseboulanger. Paired with his multi-disciplinary collaborative approach, it was L’Herbier’s desire to legitimise and ennoble cinema as the ‘seventh art’ that helped establish him as a seminal figure within Paris’s vibrant cultural milieu of the inter-war years.

Using art, fashion and design as the prisms through which to examine L’Herbier’s diverse body of work, Fashion in Film’s season highlights his lifelong interest in cinematic style and aesthetics. As the costume designer Jacques Manuel once observed, costume for L’Herbier was so often a way of  ‘feeding’ the ‘mechanical eye’ with evocative surfaces and textures, a way of testing the formal elements of cinema itself such as movement, rhythm, light and shadow.

To feed your own eyes, and for a direct lesson in the importance of costume design to L’Herbier’s total vision of cinematic photogénie, watch the festival’s slinky trailer here.

A true multi-disciplinarian, L’Herbier arrived at film-making after considering literature and music as possible careers, and more prosaically, having worked in a uniform factory during the first world war. When Feuillade’s leading lady Musidora took L’Herbier to see Cecil B DeMille’s melodrama The Cheat, he realised the potential of cinema, and starting out in the army’s cinematographic unit, began to learn the art of film-making. However unlikely a start this may seem, even his very first film, a propaganda piece called Rose-France, was ambitiously experimental.

L'Inhumaine
L’Inhumaine

At first, L’Herbier worked for Gaumont, but his artistic dreams soon clashed with the realities of their budgets, and in 1923 he formed his own company, Cinégraphic. You may be familiar with L’Herbier’s silents already, particularly Zola adaptation L’Argent, which is available on DVD from Masters of Cinema. The Fashion in Film Festival is showing L’Argent, as well as sci-fi opera L’Inhumaine (The Inhuman Woman) and doppelganger drama Le Vertige (The Living Image). You can read the full programme of events here. Not showing at the festival, but recently released on Blu-Ray by Flicker Alley in the US, is the Pirandello adaptation Feu Mathias Pascal.

Le Vertige
Le Vertige

To read more about L’Herbier, and the films showing in the Fashion in Film Festival 2013, read Samuel Wigley’s piece on the BFI website, which includes a sumptuous picture gallery. Also, in this month’s issue of Sight & Sound magazine, David Cairns offers an excellent study of the films showing at the festival and a director he describes as “commingling High Seriousness and High Camp in an ecstatic personal vision”. Now, don’t you want to see what that looks like?

Read more and book tickets, here on the Fashion in Film Festival website. The festival runs from 10-19 May.

The British Silent Film Weekend 2013 – reporting back

Betty Balfour
Betty Balfour

As you know, this year the British Silent Film Festival has taken a year off – but luckily for us, it’s the kind of year off where two all-day events still go ahead. Just to keep things ticking over, as it were. So last weekend there was a symposium on British silent cinema, held at King’s College London and organised by Dr Lawrence Napper. The following day the Cinema Museum hosted an all-dayer of screenings, themed on the tantalising idea of “sensation-seeking”.

I attended both events and while it didn’t feel like the festival was running, it was a real treat to be immersed in British silent film in this way. Let’s hope the festival returns back to full strength next year.

The papers at the symposium were limited to 20 minutes apiece, but covered a wide range of topics, from Edwardian theatre to state censorship to international co-productions to saucy novels. One hardly knows where to begin.

There were two papers with a theatrical bent: Ken Reeves’s dip into musical comedy theatre and its links to silent film concluded with some ideas for “crossover” events that would mix theatre, film and audience participation to spread the love about early British cinema. Audience participation? Reader, I sang. Very badly. Theatre historian David Mayer’s unforgettable presentation played and replayed the same baffling scrap of film as he uncovered the truth behind its creation. The scene of a waterfall bursting its bank and bringing down a bridge (and a couch and four) was, it turned out, not shot on location but on stage at the London Hippodrome in 1902, where a collapsible stage could be dropped and filled with water to create watery scenes. There was more – involving elephants on a slide. Elephants. Read more here.

Elisabeth Risdon on the cover of The Picturegoer July 1915
Elisabeth Risdon on the cover of The Picturegoer July 1915

Lucie Dutton, sometimes of this parish, also talked about the stage, presenting a history of film director Maurice Elvey‘s early career – in theatre in London and New York, before moving into the pictures with his star Elisabeth Risdon. She was followed by John Reed from the National Screen and Sound Archive in Wales, who took us through the production, loss, rediscovery and restoration of Elvey’s landmark film, The Life Story of David Lloyd George. Intriguingly, Reed pointed out a few instances in which Elvey could be seen in the film, waving a handkerchief and appearing to direct the action. Could this be because in these scenes the prime minister was played not by Norman Page but by Lloyd George himself? It’s an enticing thought.

Another famous British director was under the spotlight – one even more renowned than Elvey. Charles Barr presented on what we do know, and what we don’t, about the first film that Hitchcock ever shouted action on: Always Tell Your Wife. It’s an adaptation of a stage comedy starring theatre veterans Seymour Hicks and Ellaline Terriss and it seems the director fell out with his inflexible actors and therefore a “fat youth” from the props room was elevated to the job. You may struggle to see bold Hitchcockian strokes in what we have left of the film (which screened at the Cinema Museum on the Saturday), but we do have the director’s handwriting, unmistakably, in an insert shot of a telegram.

Jackeydawra Melford (trom thebioscope.net)
Jackeydawra Melford (trom thebioscope.net)

Far less well known than Hitchcock, but fascinating to hear about, was showman-turned-film director Mark Melford. His name, just like most of his films, may be lost to time, but Stephen Morgan attempted to flesh out his story, taking his cue from a Bioscope blogpost of 2007 that posed the pertinent question: “Who needs films to write film history anyway?” We did see a clip from the recently rediscovered romp The Herncrake Witch, directed by and starring Melford (amended, see comments) as well as being based on one of his own comic operas and also featuring his daughter (Jackeydawra, named thus due to her parents’ love of Jackdaws. True story). The story of the Melfords was hugely entertaining, but Morgan concluded by making the hugely important point that the study of lost films and forgotten film-makers is vital to a full understanding of the silent film era as a whole.

And of course, one never knows when a lost film will suddenly become an un-lost film. It happened to The Herncrake Witch and The Life Story of David Lloyd George after all. And it wasn’t so long ago that a treasure trove of Mitchell & Kenyon works was unearthed, giving us an invaluable glimpse of (mostly working-class) Edwardian Britain. In one of the day’s most diverting 20-minute segments, Tony Fletcher played a selection of Mitchell & Kenyon’s fiction films, while explaining a little more about them. The films were comedies, often chases and knockabout stuff, all with a backdrop of industrial northern England – factory gates, brick kilns and terraced streets. I particularly liked the mischievous snow comedy and the animated intertitles in a short called (I think) Driving Lucy.

The Battles of the Coronel and Falkand Islands (1927)
The Battles of the Coronel and Falkand Islands (1927)

More comedy, but this time of the you-couldn’t-make-it-up school: Alex Rock put recent Leveson revelations in the shade with a paper on the Metropolitan Police’s tangled relationship with the film industry. Its rather heavy-handed Press Bureau, founded in 1919, was popularly known as the Suppress Bureau. You can guess why. Rock’s paper traced the development of an official documentary film, supported by the Met, called Scotland Yard, and the squashing of another, based on the memoirs of a former detective.

The correspondence of public servants baffled, outraged or simply dismissive of the “movies” is unexpectedly entertaining, and never more so than in Jo Pugh’s paper on the official military response to Walter Summers’ The Battles of the Coronel and Falkland Islands. I could barely keep up with the information he was imparting, partly because I was giggling so much. Really. The good news is that we should hear more from Jo’s research and more about the film too as a little bird tells me a full restoration (possibly in time for next year’s Great War centenary) is in process.

Continue reading The British Silent Film Weekend 2013 – reporting back

Sumurun: Ernst Lubitsch and Pola Negri’s Arabian night

Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch in Sumurun
Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch in Sumurun

This is a guest post for Silent London by Kelly Robinson.

Sumurun screens with a live score by Amira Kheir at BFI Southbank as part of Birds Eye View Film Festival on Thursday 4 April at 6.10pm. Read more here.

Sumurun is the product of an intensely creative time in the German film industry when an extraordinary range of artistic and entrepreneurial talent emerged: creating ambitious films that challenged American productions for the international market.

Paul Davidson, the director of the German production firm Projektions-AG Union (PAGU), was a film producer unafraid of financial risk-taking and he invested large amounts of capital early on in the industry. In 1918 the company was merged with several other firms under the umbrella of Ufa, with Davidson becoming an executive on its board. Much of Ufa’s success was the result of the absorption of PAGU’s talent, which included directors such as Ernst Lubitsch and Paul Wegener and stars such as Pola Negri and Ossi Oswalda. Indeed because of its established reputation it still produced under the PAGU brand and retained a considerable degree of independence.

With financial support from the German bank, Ufa began a policy of big-budget films aimed at the international market. In 1918, Davidson suggested Lubitsch try making one of these Großfilmes, epic productions indebted to the Italian spectacle films, such as Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria (1914) – films which in their budgets and enormous sets were an attempt to compete with Hollywood. Lubitsch assembled a regular production team around him for a series of these ambitious films, including his co-writer Hanns Kräly, the set designer Kurt Richter, and cameraman Theodor Sparkuhl. Famous actors such as Pola Negri added star allure to these films and became a big draw for audiences’ world-wide. Sumurun is one of several extraordinary films that resulted from these collaborations during the late 1910s and early 1920s.

Pola Negri
Pola Negri

Pola Negri was born Barbara Appollonia Chalupiec in Yanowa, near Lipno in Poland. She took as her professional name the last name of Ada Negri, an Italian poet she admired and the diminutive form of Apollonia as a first name. She had danced at the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg and had acted on stage and screen in Poland before being invited by Max Reinhardt to Germany to star in Sumurun  (a story derived from The Arabian Nights) after she had appeared in a Polish theatrical version. It was here that Negri met Lubitsch, who was a Reinhardt player and comedy short director at the time, and who was playing the role of the hunchback opposite her in the German theatrical version (a role he would recreate in the film). They became good friends and he made her the star of several of the large-scale costume pictures for Ufa. Lubitsch told her: “We’re going to make a picture of Sumurun. Reinhardt’s letting us have the sets and costumes. We’ll use most of the actors from the stage productions. We’ll hardly even have to rehearse. It’ll cost practically nothing.” (Pola Negri, Memoirs of a Star). Production started in September 1920. It was substantially cut and released by First International in the US in October 1921 with the new title One Arabian Night. Negri remembered its production as: “a very easy and happy chore. Except for a few Lubitsch innovations, it was essentially a photographed stage play.” (Memoirs of a Star)

This kind of dismissive assessment has plagued One Arabian Night, with even relatively recent biographies of Lubitsch granting the film scant attention. However it is an important film, both as an example of Germany’s aesthetic advancements and also in the context of Negri’s and Lubitsch’s career.  For instance it was this film that impressed Mary Pickford so much that she brought Lubitsch to the US for Rosita (1923). The film’s critical neglect is most likely a result of viewing the bowdlerised US print, which is missing thirty minutes. Thankfully now we can see the fully restored version.

Sumurun (1920)
Sumurun (1920)

Many historians agree that German films improved when Hollywood films began to be seen in Germany from 1921, and yet, interesting approaches to cinematography preceding the American influence are evident in films such Sumurun. For instance, in the opening of the film where the light streaming through blinds in the caravan causes chiaroscuro patterns. Cameraman Sparkuhl also has a tendency to hold closeups from a high angle, which adds variety to some of the scenes. Indeed, most of the closeups of Pola Negri, particularly the scenes of her dancing in Sumurun, are shot in this manner. This may have been a way of singling Negri out from the rest of the characters; similar to the technique of filming stars that was developing in Hollywood.

German film’s reputation for elaborate set design is evident in Sumurun. There is a rhythm both in the set design and also in the movement of figures within that design. Lotte Eisner has noted how the American musical would pattern itself on the “delicate arabesques” in this film (The Haunted Screen). Contemporary reviews often observed how Lubitsch’s films were on a par with the best American productions. Variety reviewing the film in 1921 commented: “The production is colorful throughout, the atmosphere of the East being perfect in detail.” These films were incredibly successful in Germany and abroad. Their settings, such as Sumurun’s Persia, and subject matter, offered audiences an escape from everyday reality. Negri observed  that “one of the reasons [for the success of Sumurun] was certainly because its intensely romantic oriental fatalism was precisely the kind of escapism a war-weary people craved for” (Memoirs of a Star).

Pola Negri in Sumurun
Pola Negri in Sumurun

Negri and Lubitsch were among the first international celebrities to be brought to the US – later director-star duos included Mauritz Stiller and Greta Garbo. Negri arrived under contract with Paramount in 1922 to a storm of publicity. The press went wild over an affair with Charles Chaplin and supposed spats between her and Gloria Swanson, whose top star status at Paramount she challenged.  Her vampish screen persona was conflated with anecdotes about her private life. The press spread rumours about her many lovers and delighted in reporting quirky acts such as her walking a tiger on a leash down Hollywood Boulevard.

Negri had became known abroad for playing roles where women exploited their sexuality for economic and political gain (see also Carmen and Madame Dubarry). Her swaggering sexuality is parodied sublimely by Marion Davies in The Patsy (1926). Diane Negra has observed the transformation that her persona undertook in the move from Germany to Hollywood. In the Hollywood films her femme fatale image was tempered and the films frequently ended happily. The American films also deemphasised the ethnic and class dimensions found in earlier films. Her US films were not as successful as the European ones and Negra argues that this was the result of her ethnic sexuality. Her Italian surname, Polish ethnicity and connections to German film industry meant she could not (or would not) be fully assimilated.  In public and private she appeared to resist being Americanised. “As the unassimilatable woman, both in ethnic and sexual terms, she stood for a type that was in fact far more transgressive than the thoroughly American, upper-middle-class flapper who, for all her supposed flouting of social conventions, was nearly always safely married off in the end.” (‘Immigrant Stardom in Imperial America: Pola Negri and the Problem of Typology’, Diane Negra).

Kelly Robinson

Birds Eye View Sound & Silents – Sumurun and The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Birds Eye View is one of Silent London’s favourite film festivals – a celebration of female film-makers with an exceptionally strong and musically adventurous silent cinema strand. Last year, even though the festival was on haitus, the Sound & Silents programme brought us a selection of newly scored Mary Pickford films. This year, in keeping with the overall theme of the festival, the screenings have an Arabian flavour.

The two films in the Sound & Silents segment are, to be frank, German – but the first, Lotte Reiniger’s trailblazing cutwork animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) is based on a story from 1,001 Arabian Nights, as also, perhaps more loosely, is the second, Ernst Lubitsch’s boisterous harem farce Sumurun (1920). Achmed, widely acknowledged as the first animated feature film, and still as elegantly beautiful today as in the 1920s, probably needs no introduction from me.

Sumurun (1920)
Sumurun (1920)

The latter film is a slightly guilty pleasure of mine – a rather well-made romp, enlivened by the sinuous presence of the young Pola Negri, and the more demure charms of Swedish ballerina Jenny Hasselqvist. Lubitsch himself appears as a leery clown with hunchback, but his real star turn is behind the camera, crafting a fast-paced and vivacious comedy out of unpromising material. Sumurun had been a stage hit for Max Reinhardt’s company in Berlin, and Negri had starred in both that production as well as one back in her hometown of Warsaw – perhaps it’s therefore no surprise that this film is so slick, with such larger-than-life performances, including Paul Wegener as a bully-boy sheik. I will concede, of course, that it is rarely, if ever, politically correct.

Sound & Silents is as much admired for its musical commissions as its programming, and it’s intriguing that these German Arabian pastiches will be accompanied by scored from musicians whose roots lie in both Western Europe and the Middle East – British-Lebanese Bushra El-Turk and Sudanese-Italian Amira Kheir.

Multi-award-winning contemporary classical composer Bushra El-Turk creates a new work for a chamber ensemblecombining classical Western and traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, accompanying The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the world’s first feature-length animation. Currently on attachment to the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Programme, British-Lebanese El-Turk’s acclaimed work has also been performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and London Sinfonietta.

Singer, musician and songwriter Amira Kheir blends contemporary jazz with East African music for a multi-instrumental 5-piece band, scoring landmark fantasy-drama Sumurun (One Arabian Night). Kheir has recently won acclaim for her ‘beautiful and fearless’ (Songlines) first album and her BBC Radio 3 and London Jazz Festival debuts.

Initially at least, the Sound & Silents screenings will be held in London and Bristol. Bushra El-Turk’s score for The Adventures of Prince Achmed premieres at a screening at the Southbank Centre on Thursday 7 March, with a second performance on Friday 5 April at the Barbican. Sumurun plays with Amira Kheir’s new score at BFI Southbank on Thursday 4 April and will then show at the Watershed Cinema in Bristol on Sunday 14 April. Click on the links for more information and to book tickets. Find out more about Birds Eye View here.

News for 2013 from the British Silent Film Festival

Cocaine (Graham Cutts, 1922)
Cocaine (Graham Cutts, 1922)

If my email inbox is anything to go by, several of you have been wondering when we would hear details of the 16th British Silent Film Festival. After last year’s trip to Cambridge, many of you will have been anticipating the festival’s return to London, for one thing…

Well. There’s bad news – but happily there’s far more good news.

The BSFF is taking a break this year – but there will still be a BSFF, of sorts. And yes, some of the events will be in London, but festivalgoers will also be packing their buckets and spades for a trip to The Suffolk coast – and the historic Aldeburgh Cinema.

The centrepiece of the events, according to my insider sources, will be the screening of Hobson’s Choice (Percy Nash, 1920), starring Arthur PittJoan Ritz and Joe Nightingale – a very, very rarely seen film and a magnificent adaptation of the play by Harold Brighouse. You’ll also have a chance to see the full surviving fragment of Graham Cutts’s Cocaine (1922) and the only surviving reel of Monkey’s Paw (Manning Haynes, 1923). Speaking of Haynes – you’ll be able to feast on his delightful WW Jacobs comedies down in Suffolk – a treat for any British silent film fanatic. If you linger by the seaside, you’ll also catch the Dodge Brothers accompanying the Louise Brooks film Beggars of Life (1928), which is well worth sticking around for.

Over to the official announcement on the British Silents website.

There will be no British Silent Film Festival this year while the team regroup – however, we are organising three fantastic one off events , with three enthusiastic new hosts:

19th April One day British Silent Symposium courtesy of Lawrence Napper at King’s College, University of London –incorporating the Rachael Low lecture. A ‘Call for Papers’ will be coming soon.

20th April – All day event at the Cinema Museum – a programme of sensational London related film – The Yellow Claw, full surviving fragments of Cocaine, Monkey’s Paw, and rare shorts from other collections. Also the 21st century premiere of the 1920Hobson’s Choice a genuinely good silent adaptation of the Harold Brighouse classic made famous by David Lean.

4th May – join us by the sea as the BSFF are guests of the glorious Aldeburgh Cinema for an all-dayer, with a coastal theme, including the ‘east coast’ films of Manning Haynes and Lydia Hayward based on the W W Jacobs stories, a programme of Lifeboat films and others. The fabulous Dodge Brothers will be playing ‘Beggars of Life’on the 5th for those who want to make a weekend of it!

Full programmes and further details to follow.

The 3rd Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema – 13-17 March 2013

A slide advertising Stage Struck (1925) From Starts-Thursday.com
A slide advertising Stage Struck (1925) From Starts-Thursday.com

Scotland’s only silent film festival seems to go from strength to strength. The newly released lineup for the third Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema looks more varied and ambitious than previous years – and well worth a journey north of the border for us southern softies. It’s bigger than before, too – running from Wednesday to Sunday.

Friday night’s gala screening is Allan Dwan’s part-Technicolor comedy Stage Struck (1925), starring Gloria Swanson – with Neil Brand on the piano. Other notable highlights include the Dodge Brothers’ spirited accompaniment to the rarely seen Soviet film The Ghost That Never Returns; Japanese favourite Crossways with a score by electronic rockers Minima; and Lubitsch’s irrepressible comedy The Oyster Princess, with music from Günter Buchwald.

Elsewhere in the week, you’ll find Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Baby Peggy, the rediscovered Hollywood film The Goose Woman, early Scottish cinema, the Film Explainer, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and an often-overlooked gem called The Artist

Watch a video of last year’s highlights here:

And read the full programme for the Falkirk festival here:

GALA EVENTS

Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)
Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)
  • Stage Struck – Neil Brand accompanies the glamorous Friday Night Gala starring Gloria Swanson, familiar to audiences today as bitter and forgotten silent movie queen Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. Includes ‘champagne’ reception.
  • The Ghost That Never ReturnsIn their Scottish debut, The Dodge Brothers make joyous music inspired by Woody Guthrie for this little-known Soviet gem.
  • Jujiro (Crossways) – Leading UK contemporary electronic ensemble Minima perform their new score for one of the first Japanese films ever shown in the West.
  • The Oyster PrincessVirtuoso Günter A. Buchwald makes his Hippodrome debut with a glorious comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch (The Shop Around the Corner).
The Goose Woman (1925)
The Goose Woman (1925)

NEW COMMISSIONS

  • The Goose Woman After 2012 Festival success with The Black Pirate, Jane Gardner returns to perform her new score for this film based on a still unsolved real-life murder, with Hazel Morrison and Su-a Lee on percussion, cello, musical saw.
  • The Film Explainer ReturnsAndy Cannon, Frank McLaughlin and Stewart Hardy bring archive films to life with their blend of storytelling and trad folk music.
  • New Found SoundThe third year of hugely talented Falkirk Council secondary school pupils composing and performing their own scores under the mentorship of Tom Butler of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
  • Scottish Screen Archive Shorts – Continuing the relationship with the national film archive, Mike Nolan and Forrester Pyke accompany shorts before selected features.
The Artist (2011)
The Artist (2011)

BIG NOISES in the SILENT ERA

  • Baby Peggy, the Elephant in the RoomUK premiere of this fascinating new documentary telling the moving and inspiring story of the oldest surviving silent film star whose acting career started at 18 months and stopped abruptly at age 4.
  • The ArtistOscar-winning performances in the modern silent movie sensation.
  • Bright, Steady and Free from Flickr’: Early Cinema in Bo’ness and Beyond Prof John Caughie of the University of Glasgow uncovers new research into this fast-changing chapter in the history of Scotland’s early cinema
  • A Chance to DanceLearn the Charleston and other early jazz steps from the Roaring Twenties in this public dance workshop for everyone aged 16 and over.
Buster Keaton's One Week (1920)
Buster Keaton’s One Week (1920)

SILENT OVERTURES FOR FAMILIES, CHILDREN & YOUNG PEOPLE

  • Chaplin & Keaton Double BillBring a clean jam jar to get 2-for1 tickets to see Neil Brand accompanying Chapin’s The Immigrant and Keaton’s One Week.
  • Another Fine Mess with Laurel & HardyThe boys’ triple bill of Putting Pants on Philip, Their Purple Moment and Double Whoopee with Günter A. Buchwald.
  • Make Movie Music!The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra return with a fun-filled session for primary schools using the classic Berlin, Symphony of a City.
  • #HippFest @ FusionUsing his incredible vocal talent, human beatboxer Jason Singh creates soundtracks with Fusion, a popular night for Bo’ness young people.

Watch a trailer for the 2013 festival here:

The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema runs from 13-17 March. Tickets go on sale at 10am today. Call 01324 506850, or visit the Steeple Box Office, High Street, Falkirk FK1 1NW.To read more and to book online, visit www.hippfest.co.uk. If you book before 25 February – you’ll get a 10% discount on your tickets!

Win tickets to see The General at Hackney Picturehouse

Buster Keaton in The General (1926)
Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

The Hackney Attic at London’s newest Picturehouse cinema is becoming to make name for itself as a silent film venue, with recent screenings ranging from Piccadilly to Aelita: Queen of Mars. Heartening news, then, that this trend continues with another Filmphonics presentation of a silent classic this month: Buster Keaton’s groundbreaking comedy The General, on 20 January 2013.

Surely The General needs no introduction from me: the funniest war film you’ll ever see, an astonishing technical achievement and did I mention it was hilarious too? If you need a taster though, you could do worse than this sampler from film critic AO Scott:

There’s more good news: this screening of The General will be accompanied live by the marvellous Costas Fotopoulos on piano.

Costas has now been working for many years as an improvising silent film pianist at BFI Southbank and he has also accompanied silent films at the Barbican Centre, the Prince Charles Cinema, Riverside Studios, Chelsea Arts Club among other venues, as well as scoring many silents in the London Film Festival.

The even better news is that you could get your hands on a free pair of tickets to this screening. Free. To win a pair of tickets to see The General at Hackney Attic, just send the answer to this question to silentlondontickets@gmail.com by noon on Wednesday 16 January. The winner will be chosen at random from the correct entries.

  • What was Buster Keaton’s real first name?

The General screens at 7.30pm on 20 January 2013 at Hackney Attic. To book tickets, please click here. To visit the Facebook page, click here.

The Manxman: London film festival review

The Manxman (1929)
The Manxman (1929)

A folk romance that stumbles into melodrama, an adaptation of a blockbusting novel that is now all-but forgotten, The Manxman may seem to be far more of its time than ours. But the London film festival’s archive gala screening of this neglected Hitchcock film was having none of that. The red carpet was rolled out in Leicester Square and the crowds in the Empire cinema foyer were stocking up on nachos and popcorn before taking their seat. OK, so some of assembled throng were clutching tickets for Dredd or Madagascar 3, but Screen One was devoted to a lush, heartbreaking night of silent cinema.

And the venue was oddly appropriate. Back in its music-hall days, the Empire was the first London venue to run a paid-for programme of films. It’s a long journey from the Lumiéres’ actualities to the gorgeousness of The Manxman – arguably they have more in common with the 3D thrills on offer in the neighbouring screens – but it’s a happy connection to make.

The Manxman was Hitchcock’s final “pure” silent – he was to shoot his next film Blackmail in both silent and sound versions – and the romance of the film’s story is augmented by the thought that the director was leaving his beloved silent cinema days behind him. Perhaps that is why the film is so unashamedly picturesque. The Cornish coast that doubles for the story’s Manx setting is imposing, but gorgeous. Hungarian star Anny Ondra is filmed as a tiny silhouette in front of sun-punctured cloud, skipping down vertiginous cliffs or strolling with her lover in dappled woods – and the film begins and ends with a view of fishing boats  in the harbour. These images, like the film itself, combine prettiness with an air of intangible, elemental danger, and it’s this that makes The Manxman such a gripping watch.

Because this movie can be tough too: when a crisis arrives, a disconcerting cut from a body falling into water to a pen plunging into an inkwell is as violent as Hitchcock at his familiarly cold-hearted best. On this screen, and with the benefit of the BFI’s new gleaming restoration, it looked spectacular.

The Manxman (1929)
The Manxman (1929)

Ondra plays Kate, the daughter of the local pub landlord (a brilliantly grim-faced turn by Randle Ayrton). Best pals daft-but-dishy Pete, a fisherman (Carl Brisson), and Philip, an ambitious lawyer (Malcolm Keen), are each in love with Kate, but the latter is playing his cards close to his chest. In an excruciatingly twisted balcony scene, Pete coaxes Kate into an engagement, a promise to wait for him while he goes overseas to make his fortune. At first Kate doesn’t take him seriously, and it’s not clear which of the men – the one proposing or the faithful chum who is (literally) supporting him – is causing her to simper and pout. However it was extracted, it’s a rash promise to make, and as we’ll see, it will have terrible implications. Needless to say, while the cat is away, Kate strays, but what happens next is horrific, and not so easy to predict.

We have heard a few silent film scores recently (in this Hitchcock season no less) that have seemed to smooth out, or trample over the nuances of each  scene. Not so here. Stephen Horne‘s rich score for The Manxman is alert to each turn of conversation, each double-meaning, furtive glance or blush. It’s a piece that is always a pleasure to listen to, but unafraid to sacrifice its melody to the drama when needed. This is crucial for The Manxman, where the plot hinges on whispered revelations, changes of heart and emotionally gruesome details – Kate’s face when her fiancé appoints his friend best man at their wedding, or she cuts her hand on their cake. The tempo slackens forebodingly when mid-speech, Phil is distracted by the sight of Pete and Kate together and the music follows the lead of Hitchcock’s stormy lighting effects, colouring each scene with shades of what is yet to happen. While the strings and piano offer folk melodies, there’s often a rumbling bass drum warning of impending disaster and even, at one crucial point, a very assertive oboe. The flute solo when Pete visits Phil towards the end of the film is particularly poignant; the ensemble together replicating the texture of nagging voices in the final scene especially cruel.

No one will argue that The Manxman is Hitchcock’s finest hour, the acting from the two male leads is often very weak, and the storyline offers only emotional trauma rather than his familiar bloody shocks. Despite those reservations, it is a sharply beautiful film and Anny Ondra’s sleepy-eyed romantic fool gives us a great Hitchcock Blonde before icy Grace Kelly was even born. The joy for us now is that Horne’s score gives The Manxman its best possible chance to shine, not just following but enhancing our pleasure in watching Hitchcock toy with this doomed love triangle.

Stephen Horne’s score for The Manxman was performed by Stephen Horne (piano/accordion/flute), Jennifer Bennett (fiddle/viola), Joby Burgess (percussion), Janey Miller (oboe/oboe d’Amore) and Ruth Wall (lever harp/wire harp).