The 14th British Silent Film Festival was held at the weekend, in the Barbican, the Cinema Museum and the BFI Southbank. A full report of the films, the lectures, the music and the gossip* will be forthcoming on this blog shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a piece I wrote for the Guardian Film Blog. It’s not quite a roundup of the festival, but it brings together some of the things we learned about silent film and music over the weekend – and I hope you enjoy it. If you were at the festival, let me know what you made of it, too.
At last year’s East End Film Festival, Minima rocked up at Spitalfields Market for an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s The Lodger. To say that you enjoyed that evening would be an understatement – it was a great night and the film was an inspired choice, with a plot coloured by the East End’s most notorious villain, Jack the Ripper.
This year, the East End Film Festival has booked Minima for another silent screening, and it’s one that reflects a happier aspect of the local area. The East End of London has long been home to a strong Jewish community, and the festival is celebrating this with a Romanian film, Manasse (1925).
This is not just a fresh addition to Minima’s repertoire, but a UK premiere! I was completely unfamiliar with it before today, but I can tell you that it is directed by Jean Mihail, and based on a play from the turn of the century, which was written by Roman Ronetti on the theme of religious intolerance. It’s a story about a romance between a Christian man and a Jewish woman, the niece of the title character Manasse Cohen, a Bucharest banker (played by the famous Romanian actor Romald Bulfinschi). The play was hugely controversial and was not performed in Romania for many years. So one would imagine that this film, made a quarter of a century later when the Yiddish cinema scene was flourishing, would have been highly anticipated. I’m definitely intrigued.
The festival programme has this to say:
Manasse is a highly dramatic take on the problems inherent in Romanian society at that time. Mihail was one of Romania’s most important early directors, and he explores and debates the most sensitive of issues with sincerity, visual panache and unflinching dramatic power.
As with previous years, the film will be screened in Spitalfields market, and it’s scheduled for Saturday 30 April 2011 at 8pm. Tickets for the East End Film Festival are available as of this morning, but this screening is free. Free. So fill your boots, people.
Ta-dah! The full programme for the 14th British Silent Film Festival has been announced. You will find a few surprises in there, and a few things that you have been expecting since the first announcement in December last year. I am very pleased to say that there are some interesting British films in the schedule, as well as gems from abroad such as Ozu’s I Was Born, But… and the Beggars of Lifescreening at NFT1 with music from the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand. There will also be a world premiere in the form of the restored British musical score for the Russian film Morozko, and lectures from experts including Matthew Sweet, Luke McKernan and Bryony Dixon. So, without further ado, here’s what you can look forward to at the event, which runs from 7-10 April at the Barbican:
April brings two opportunities to catch Dreyer films on the big screen in London – with The Passion of Joan of Arc at Queen Elizabeth Hall and Michael, an earlier and lesser known work by the Danish director, which is being shown at the BFI Southbank as part of the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. It’s a highly regarded film, although apparently its reception was not so friendly when it was released in the US, where critics objected to the gay storyline. More fool them. The film tells the story of a successful painter (played by Benjamin Christensen) and his unrequited love for his protegé Michael (Walter Slezak), who is, in turn, in love with a countess (Nora Gregor). Michael has a melodramatic plot, but is told sensitively, in Dreyer’s Kammerspiel style, and is beautifully designed and photographed. Casper Tybjerg writes on carlthdreyer.dk:
This sophisticated film unfolds in sumptuously decorated interiors filled with extravagant objets d’art. Dreyer had a big budget and UFA’s state-of-the-art studio facilities at his disposal as well as Karl Freund, a top director of photography in his day. Michael is a chamber play, depicting a few people and their mutual relationships. All significant things remain unspoken. Dreyer has the camera tell the story in glances, facial expressions and objects. For Dreyer, working with the actors was what mattered, guiding them to give nuanced and precise emotional performances to be captured in close-ups.
Anyone who has seen The Passion of Joan of Arc will know what Dreyer can do with a close-up, so this film looks like a must-see. It’s only a pity that it will be showing in one of the BFI’s smaller screens. For a full (very full) review of Michael, see this entry on jclarkmedia.com.
Michael screens at NFT3, BFI Southbank on 6 April at 6.10pm. There will be piano accompaniment. Tickets cost £9.50 or £6.75 for concessions, and less for BFI members. They will be available on 11 March for BFI members and from 18 March for everyone else. More details on the festival website here.
Another excuse for a trip outside the big smoke, Flatpack Festival is a quirky event, showing “cinematic wonders” of all kinds at venues across Birmingham at the end of March. And there is plenty on the schedule to entice a silent film fan.
First up is an evening at Birmingham Town Hall called Digging for Gold. This event is a tribute to film historian Iris Barry and features a screening of Buster Keaton’s magnificent Sherlock Jr along with some European shorts. Music will be provided by Nigel Ogden and Alcyona Mick
On the final day of the festival you can enjoy The Keystone Cut Ups at the Electric Cinema, which mixes early slapstick film with scenes from surrealist films of the same era.
People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz have been regular collaborators for some time, and when commissioned by Berwick Media Arts & Film Festival last year the result was The Keystone Cut Ups; a kaleidoscopic split-screen voyage through silent cinema which combines celluloid moments both familiar and uncanny with an original score performed live in the auditorium. Striding purposefully into its second century, the Electric Cinema should provide the perfect setting.
Depending on which way your interest in early cinema runs, you may also be interested in a couple more events. There’s a screening of the classic Mae West film She Done Him Wrong (1933) on Sunday 27 March and the spooky Shadow Shows opens the festival on Wednesday 23 March with its Lotte Reiniger inspired silhouettes:
The performance is built around a triple-screen film projection, incorporating techniques of early cinema and a variety of shadow effects. The original music score and sound effects are performed live by Pram as hidden conspirators behind a giant film screen, occasionally also glimpsed as silhouetted figures incorporated into its fractured scheme of images. The musicians employ an eclectic mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments, while the sound effects are created using hand-crafted devices from the theatre of a bygone age.
All this as well as screenings of new and classic films, a vintage mobile cinema, and some very special cakes. More details at the Flatpack Festival website here.
The Forest Row film society in East Sussex are discerning and enthusiastic cinephiles, who show heaps of exciting films, old and new, every week. Like all people of taste, they love silent films, and so I am pleased to say that their forthcoming comedy festival will feature some slapstick delights. Top of the silent bill is a screening of Buster Keaton’s magnificent The General on Saturday 19 March, with musical accompaniment by award-winning composer Terry Davies.
And the following day, Sunday 20 March, there will be a programme called Silents, Please, which is still slightly TBC, but this is what they have to say:
Many of the great silent comedies of the 20s were two-reelers, lasting around twenty minutes. The festival will also screen a programme of these, including Buster Keaton in Cops, maybe some Harold Lloyd, Chaplin and other gems. Screened with live music from Terry Davies and Anna Cooper.
Cops is hilarious. This should be great.
For more details about the festival, check out the website here, or find the Forest Row film society on Facebook. Forest Row is easily accessible from London. Simply catch a train from Victoria to East Grinstead, then a bus or cab three miles to Forest Row itself, I am told.
The Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness, Falkirk, beautifully restored to match its 1920 heyday, will host Scotland’s first silent film festival – and it promises to be an event with a real ‘vintage’ feel. The programme incorporates some enduringly popular silents, from a rare chance to see It (1927), starring Clara Bow, to FW Murnau’s influential vampire film Nosferatu (1922) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), plus a handful of comedies from Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and Harold Lloyd.
Neil Brand will provide musical accompaniment to several of the films, and he will also perform his acclaimed one-man show The Silent Pianist Speaks. David Allison of The Island Tapes will reprise his score for Nosferatu at the festival’s closing night gala, and another of the films will benefit from a specially commissioned soundtrack performed by local schoolchildren.
There will be a Slapstick Workshop for over-12s by Scottish theatre company Plutôt La Vie, and a new, specially commissioned soundtrack for one of the films performed by local schoolchildren. Another retro treat for younger viewers is the “jeely jar special” – a revival of a 1920s practice whereby film fans can get a two-for-one deal on tickets for The Kid if they bring along a clean jam jar (with lid). Bargain.
And for a touch more glamour, the Opening Gala screening of It has a 1920s dress code. Dropped waists, long strings of beads and cloches – it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge your inner flapper and give Clara Bow a run for her money. Perhaps you can find some sartorial inspiration here. Festival director Allison Strauss says:
The whole event is designed to celebrate the magic, glamour and pure entertainment of films from the silent era. Our programme and the supporting events include something for all ages and we’ve made sure that the wide appeal will involve a broad range of tastes, from cinephiles to anyone discovering early film for the first time.
For full details and to download a brochure, visit the website here.
“Plot – The Boy is in love with The Girl – the rest just happens”*
This is not a review of the Bristol Slapstick Festival, just a note to say what a Good Thing it is, and to give you a flavour of this celebratory yet educational event. I was only able to visit about a quarter of the festival this year – in 2012 hopefully I will get to see more.
To hear, and be part of, a theatre full of people guffawing at Charlie Chaplin pretending to fall down a staircase in 1916 is immense fun, and inspirational too. How many people, how many times in how many places have laughed at the same scene? Talk about a gift to the world. In my brief visit to Bristol, I saw Harold Lloyd, WC Fields, Clara Bow, Laurel and Hardy, Harry Langdon, Chaplin and Buster Keaton – all of whose films can still have audiences in stitches today, but sadly aren’t seen too often any more. Not only was it a treat to see these films, but it was a privilege to watch them with the benefit of introductions and lectures by experts and fans – Ian Lavender on Keaton and Graeme Garden on Langdon were particular delights as, of course, was Kevin Brownlow’s talk before Mantrap.
What can I say? My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer – the full programme looked very intriguing, Bristol is a great city and I met some lovely people on my trip. I’d recommend the Slapstick Festival wholeheartedly to silent film fans, but also to people who enjoy laughing, which should be all of you I reckon.
The Slapstick Festival website is here, you can follow related tweets via the hashtag #slapstickfest and read The 24th Frame’s day-by-day blog of the festival here.
*Taken from an intertitle on Harold Lloyd’s Get Out and Get Under, but this caption applied to 99% of the films at the Slapstick Festival, and it made me smile.
• I updated this post on 8 February with the revised times and dates for the Sound and Silents screenings.
To say that Silent London has a whole lotta love for the Birds Eye View Film Festival would be an understatement. This event, which has grown in size and scope since it was launched in 2005, excels in several areas, but silent film programming has been a particular strength. This year is no exception, with an exciting range of films in its Bloody Women horror strand being screened with live, specially commissioned scores at the BFI Southbank and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The festival, which is set up to celebrate and support international female film-makers, begins on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day – and its Opening Night Gala is a marvellous way to mark the occasion. Over to Birds Eye View:
The schedule for the Glasgow Film Festival has just been released and as expected there are plenty of great films old and new being screened as part of the event next month. Of special interest to this blog is the Music and Film Festival strand, which comprises documentaries about music and musicians as well as films shown with live scores. Not all of the films with live musical accompaniment are silents, but of course some are – and they look very exciting.
You undoubtedly know The Bisocope, an exhaustive, eloquent blog about everything related to silent film, and much more besides. If by some chance you aren’t already familiar with the site, you can expect to lose the next few hours to exploring its scholarly articles. Enjoy. However, I wanted to draw your attention to one particular post, which will definitely be of interest, and may also have the power to change your holiday plans. The Bioscope has compiled a calendar of the 2011’s silent film festivals – from Kansas to Finland. The list includes some very exciting events and all of them are worthy of your support. You can find the post here – but if you find yourself buying plane tickets, don’t blame me, blame The Bisocope.
Going to the chapel and we’re, gonna get mar-ar-arried … Silent London loves a good wedding, and the Branchage Proposes Marriage night in Shoreditch on Wednesday is definitely an event worthy of a new hat. This is a festival-crossover, hosted by the Branchage (pronouned Bron-carge) Film Festival as part of the London Short Film Festival. The night promises everything you would expect at a wedding: cake, a string quartet, a DJ, even Uncle Dennis (AKA comedy writer Freddy Syborn) telling jokes.
From Kusturica-esque gypsy weddings to lavish Royal Affairs; dazzling Bollywood affairs to a quickie in Las Vegas; all wedding ceremonies have their own theatricality. Branchage will be exploring the spectacular traditions and superstitious customs of weddings in an evening of silent film, performance, found footage, music and surreal wedding treats. Pull up a pew to hear something old and something new, all brought together with live-scoring from classical and contemporary folk musicians, as well as some found footage.
So, what will the film screenings be? Well, Branchage obviously doesn’t want to let the groom see the wedding dress before the big day, so they are keeping their cards close to their chest. However, they have revealed that they will be showing comedy short His Wooden Wedding (1925) directed by Leo McCarey and starring Charley Chase, accompanied by James Keay on the piano. Duo Plaster of Paris are also slated to appear “scoring a wedding vignette”, which might be found footage … or it might not.
Full details are available on the Branchage website here. Branchage Proposes Marriage is at 7pm on 12 January, at Shoreditch Church. As far I know there’s no wedding list, but tickets are £10 and they’re available from See Tickets.
As Bristol gears up for its annual Slapstick Festival (reported on these pages elsewhere), I thought I would share with you a couple of interesting events they’ve got lined up before the main attraction, which kicks off on 28 January. First off, the Bristol Silents club is screening The Extra Girl (1923) starring Mabel Normand, on 12 January, 7.30pm at the Old Picture House. The screening is totally free and will be introduced by film historian David Robinson. Full details are available on the Bristol SilentsFacebook page.
Consider this a teaser trailer. The British Silent Film Festival returns to the Barbican in April – and some of the screenings have already been announced. The theme is Going to the Movies: Music, Sound and the British Silent Film – no great surprise, as the festival is presented in partnership with the Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain project. As well as lectures and clip shows, five standalone film screenings are listed:
Beau Geste (1926)
Hollywood director Herbert Brenon’s adaptation of the best-selling British adventure story about the Foreign Legion starring the quintessentially English Ronald Colman.
US director Charles Brabin’s take on the British music hall starring Hollywood’s favourite flapper Colleen Moore.
Paul Fejos’s brilliant part-talkie where dialogue was introduced as a novelty in this story of two lonely people trying to find love in New York. The film features a fantastic jazz-fuelled parade in Coney Island.
Yu Zhelyabuzhsky’s rarely seen Soviet fantasy about a stepdaughter who is driven out to face the spirit of winter is here presented with its original music score rediscovered and reconstructed for orchestra. Presented in conjunction with Sounds of Early Cinema Conference.
I Was Born But … (1932)
Ozu’s classic family comedy marks the very end of the silent period. As one of the greatest silent films ever made, it is screened here to celebrate the artistic excellence which the silent cinema had achieved.
So, clearly the festival is not limited to British films, and with several compilation programmes, including New Discoveries in British Silent Film – there is lots to look forward to. The promise of an orchestral score for Morozko is intriguing, as is the Ozu film, which will surely be very popular. As soon as we know more, such as accompanists and individual dates, we’ll post it here. Until then, read the Bisocope’s post about the festival here, and consider your appetite well and truly whetted.
The 14th British Silent Film Festival takes place from Thursday 7 April to Sunday 10 April at the Barbican Arts Centre, London.