Category Archives: Screening

Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 2

Pordenone is about halfway between Athens and London, right? So at some point on Monday I was probably there, just 37,000ft above it. Travelling cramped my style somewhat at the start of this week, but I don’t give up on silent cinema. Not ever.

It might seem perverse that I was at a open-air cinema in Athens watching Ammonite when I could have been trying to force my hotel wi-fi into rendering a masterwork of Chinese cinema on my laptop,. However, I’ll tell you this: there is a magic lantern scene in Ammonite, while made me smile, ruefully, and remember the fantastic first programme of the day, which of course was …

Day Two
The Brilliant Biograph! The name contains its own review. Many of you will have seem many of these films before, or at least heard me bang the drum for them, but still, it’s worth reminding ourselves what marvels they really are.

Continue reading Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 2

Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 1

There is nothing like watching a film in Pordenone, the collective joy of sharing a discovery or a fabourite classic, with hundreds of fellow silent film enthusiasts in the Teatro Verdi. This year’s Giornate del Cinema Muto Limited Edition, also, will be nothing like that. We will be dialling in online, streaming films in our separate spaces, alone. But that is not to say I haven’t been anticipating it with relish. I have been counting down the days.

This year I will not be blogging the collective experience of sharing the silents in the Verdi, of discussing them over coffee and spritzes in the Posta. My experience of the festival will be different to yours, very different in some cases. This is my Giornate journal and it won’t be like the ones I have written before.

Day One
It’s a silent film fan’s nightmare. I am late for the Giornate! When the first programme was broadcast on Saturday afternoon I was not at home with my projector poised, I was … at a film festival in Europe. Lucky me, I was on the jury of the Athens International Film Festival this year, a festival that took place IRL, in the open-air. So as Pordenone began I was in an outdoor cinema in the National Gardens in Athens, handing out prizes and then watching Christian Petzold’s gorgeous water-nymph romance Undine.

Continue reading Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 1

Abwege (1928): delirious dissolution in the Weimar nightlife

Abwege, otherwise known as Crisis, or The Devious Path, is streaming as part of the 2020 Limited Edition Pordenone Silent Film Festival. You can sign up here – tickets start at €9.90.

Abwege, GW Pabst’s 1928 film about the descent of one respectable married woman into the depth of the notorious Weimar nightlife is one of the unmissable titles in the programme, and it will be available for 24 hours from Thursday 8 October, with musical accompaniment by Mauro Colombis. You can explore the rest of the programme online.

Pabst was born in Austria in 1885. He started out in the theatre, an actor turned director who only began making films in 1923 at the age of 37. He soon became known as an actor’s director, and especially an actress’s director. His 1925 film The Joyless Street, for example, starred both the Danish diva Asta Nielsen and a then little-known Greta Garbo. He also made two films with the iconic Louise Brooks. But Brigitte Helm, the star of Abwege, was the special one for him.

Continue reading Abwege (1928): delirious dissolution in the Weimar nightlife

Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #5: To Fight a War

The festival closed, for me at least, on a grim note. Apocalyptic in fact. Perhaps it was end-of-festival anguish. Perhaps it’s just the end of the world as we know it.

Here’s how I rounded off my virtual Il Cinema Ritrovato.

Continue reading Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #5: To Fight a War

Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #4: a long weekend online

If I were in a Pollyanna frame of mind, I could argue that it was my good fortune to be in cloudy England and not sunny Italy when contemplating spending the bank holiday weekend indoors. I promise you I did some bank holiday-ish things in between films, but I wasn’t going to miss out on virtual Il Cinema Ritrovato. There are a few things more important than movies, but not many.

It was a fine weekend at the sofa-festival. For one thing, on Friday night we announced the winners of the DVD awards, after meeting to discuss the candidates on Zoom earlier in the week (rather than over lunch in Bologna as is customary, but roll on next year).

And then there were the movies. A film such as the recently found and restored Chess of the Wind (Mohammad Reza Aslani, 1976) from Iran really exemplifies all that ‘s so great about this festival, and indeed Cineteca di Bologna and The Film Foundation too. And there was a killer silent feature too, my most anticipated film of the virtual festival: Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924), brilliantly restored from the BFI’s nitrate print.

So let’s begin.

Continue reading Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #4: a long weekend online

Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #3: courtrooms and circuses

Simple maths question for you? How long does it take to watch an 85-minute movie? If I had answered “85 minutes” this morning I would have been wide of the mark. It took me more like 140 minutes to get through an at-home screening of Marco Ferreri’s brilliant military satire Donne e Soldati (1955).

That time lag is on me, and my susceptibility to drop what I am doing when a piece of work comes through on email, on the fact that I was doing a load of laundry, that I made coffee and that the postman knocked twice (well, this is a movie blog). I’m not proud of it, and I need to try harder (other screenings today were far less interrupted). I am beyond grateful to Il Cinema Ritrovato for organising this online companion to the festival, so I promise I will get better at tricking myself I am in the Cinema Jolly, and not my front room.

Today’s films were excellent and Donne e Soldati is one of my top recommendations from the fest so far. Away from Ferreri’s medieval siege, we had law courts and circuses galore today. So the question of the day is, I guess, if you absolutely had to be cross-examined under oath, would you rather that Henry Fonda or Mae West was doing the questioning? Be careful, anything you say may be used against you … etc etc.

Continue reading Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #3: courtrooms and circuses

Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #2: Wish you were here

Day Two of Il Cinema Ritrovato, in this sala at least, was filled with cinematographic splendour, and I am not just talking about Mr Grant’s dimple.

Today we’re dividing the films geographically rather than by era. Don’t @ me, I don’t make the rules. Well, I do make the rules but a) I make them up as I go along, b) I am usually too busy watching films to reply to constructive criticism.

Continue reading Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #2: Wish you were here

Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #1: Have fun, honey bunch

Finally, east London has a world-class archive film festival. Almost.

Il Cinema Ritrovato has shifted a little in time and (virtual) space this year, for reasons I am sure you all understand. The postponed festival is now going ahead in Bologna, Italy, IRL but in late August rather than late June. However, for reasons that are slightly more obscure, I am not there. I am at home in east London, with a laptop, a projector and a white wall. And high hopes. I have very high hopes.

Although I am very sad not to be taking part in the living breathing festival this year but I am determined to make the most of my streaming pass. I intended to clear the week of work as much as possible, but the very second that the first virtual event began, I found myself in an actual cinema, in Soho, for a press screening. Still, the clever people at Ritrovato allow 24 hours for you to catch up with each screening, so as soon as I got home, I was ready to get started.

Continue reading Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #1: Have fun, honey bunch

Hippfest at home: horribly good news

I am delighted to share some very welcome news. Personally, I was really sorry that Hippfest had to be cancelled this year – a week or two earlier and it would have been fine. It’s no secret that it’s one of my favourite festivals, so I am already excited about returning to Bo’ness in 2021.

So I am chuffed to my boots to let you know that on Saturday 4 July, at 8pm (BST) Hippfest will be screening a classic silent horror movie with live accompaniment by the maestro Neil Brand on YouTube. That’s what I call a Saturday night. Continue reading Hippfest at home: horribly good news

Pordenone goes online: news about the 2020 Giornate del Cinema Muto

The news you were waiting for, or perhaps dreading, is here. The Pordenone Silent Film Festival has announced that its programme for 2020 will be postponed until 2021. But! There will be a virtual, “limited edition” version of the festival online this year, running 3-10 October 2020.

The need to make health our number one priority, and the impossibility of welcoming a full complement of international guests in the Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi for our annual rendezvous with silent film, has led the organizers of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival/Giornate del Cinema Muto to shift the 2020 programme set by director Jay Weissberg to 2021. Given that eight days of thematic screenings and events is simply not viable in an online format, the decision has been made to make the world’s leading film archives the Festival’s co-producers, in a sense, offering them the opportunity to present some of their riches online to the Giornate’s public during the established dates.

So, as always but even more so, the festival will be an international collaboration of film archives – and there will be plenty for us to watch. The cinematheques involved include: the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., Lobster Films in Paris, Det Danske Filminstitut in Copenhagen, the China Film Archive in Beijing, EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Film Archive of Japan in Tokyo, together with the Cineteca del Friuli, co-founder with Cinemazero of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

There will be everything we come to expect from Pordenone: rarities, restorations, live music, a collegium, the Jean Mitry award and even the bilingual catalogue. I can’t actually wait.

Wait, there’s more. The Giornate has a blog now? I’m beaming.

With an eye to reinforcing the ties between the Festival and its international public, a new blog is being launched this weekend, called La Gatta Muta; or, The Silent Cat, created by director Jay Weissberg and hosted on the Giornate’s website. Its aim is to stimulate discussion by uncovering the forgotten people and episodes of the silent era, privileging storytelling as a path towards rediscovery.

See you in the cyber-Posta!

Toute la Mémoire du Monde: the experiment of silent cinema

I said something a little flippant in a Q&A once. OK, more than once, but let’s just talk about this one time. The occasion was a screening of A Page of Madness (1926) as part of the Japanese Avant-Garde and Experimental Film Festival, and I was responding to a comment about experimental silent film, and whether there was anything out there in the same vein as the movie we had just seen. According to the notes of Dr Lawrence Napper, I said “when you’re talking about silent cinema, you’re talking about the first four decades of film history, so in a way it’s all experimental, you can show almost anything”.

So much, so overstated. But there’s a truth there, to my credit.

Yes, being a movie pioneer means experimenting – and the history of cinema is the history of innovations and new ideas, from close-ups to Cinerama, montage editing to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When these innovations still seem new, or when they didn’t last, we can call them experiments. Continue reading Toute la Mémoire du Monde: the experiment of silent cinema

Hippfest 2020: the lineup has landed

Happy 10th birthday to our favourite friends north of the border, The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival! This annual Bo’ness bonanza of silent cinematic goodness has pulled out several stops for its 10th anniversary edition, which runs from 18-22 March 2020, and features great movies, brilliant musicians, special guests and apparently, a barrage of custard pies.

Continue reading Hippfest 2020: the lineup has landed

Shaking up the Slapstick Festival 2020

“My four-year-old thinks One Week is a Sybil Seely film that just has Buster Keaton in it.” Polly Rose said many wise things in her introductions to three restored Keaton shorts to kick off the Slapstick Festival this year, but this one really stuck with me. The annual celebration of visual comedy had a fantastic lineup of silent cinema this year, and I saw lots of it. In between chuckles, I had plenty of time to ponder the fact that that Rose’s four-year-old made a really good point.

This year, as it has done for a few years now, Slapstick Festival goes beyond the big three, or big four, or however you want to cut the comedy canon. There are programmes devoted to those performers designated “forgotten clowns” and a dedication throughout the schedule to showcasing female talent. There was a screening of suffragette comedies for example, and even an entire distaff gala on Thursday evening – a presentation of female-led movies at Bristol Cathedral, introduced by Shappi Khorsandi, running along the same lines as the Friday night gala, hosted by Paul McGann and featuring Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy. Applause emojis all round for all of this. I absolutely loved it.

protesting-suffragettes-early-1900s

The insightful conversation between (hero) Samira Ahmed and Lucy Porter about the manifestation of the campaign for universal suffrage in silent cinema was a real highlight for me. Great to see these newsreels and comedies not just shown, but contextualised and deeply considered as well. And Porter’s line about “Darren” will stick with me for a long time. There was quite a meandering discussion in the room and the bar afterwards about the intent of filmmakers presenting such violent farces as Milling the Militants or Did’ums Diddles the Policeman. And how audiences took them! It’s hard to know the truth, but I feel that copper-bashing suffragettes and those who opposed them had both become popular caricatures by this point. So, many people watching the films, instead of looking for points of identification or moral victory, would have been merely enjoying the spectacle of a bunfight between two camps reduced to their most absurd and extreme positions – like switching on Question Time, say. Certainly one could see a few upper-middle-class white men claiming to be oppressed by intersectional feminism in these comic shorts. Though, I guess I have just proved that we all bring our own perspective to the films we watch. Make your own minds up – you can see many of these films on the BFI Player or indeed on the fine BFI DVD Make More Noise.

Continue reading Shaking up the Slapstick Festival 2020

‘Hopeless destruction’: Neil Brand looks back on The Big Parade

This is a guest post for Silent London by Neil Brand, writer, composer, silent film accompanist and TV and radio presenter. The Big Parade screens at BFI Southbank on 2 February 2020 with musical accompaniment by Neil Brand and an introduction by author Michael Hammond.

In 2006 my wife and I experienced a very personal, very deep loss. Happy events since have well overtaken the pain it involved, but it occurred just as I was about to leave to play for the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Sacile and I had to delay my arrival there until the Monday. Two days later I played The Big Parade. It was last thing on a midweek night, I had asked for the gig and nobody, least of all me, was expecting anything special.

The morning after, as I looked back in horror at what I can only describe as a traumatic experience, I felt that I had to write a document that could be given to the audience at that screening, explaining a few things. With the permission and profound support of my pianist colleagues, and particularly Giornate director David Robinson, I wrote this… Continue reading ‘Hopeless destruction’: Neil Brand looks back on The Big Parade

Kevin Brownlow on Cecil B DeMille: ‘controversial, innovative and funny’

This is a guest post for Silent London by Kevin Brownlow, the Oscar-winning film historian, filmmaker and author. On 16 November 2019 the Kennington Bioscope is holding a Cecil B DeMille Day at the Cinema Museum in London, in honour of the great director who started out in the silent era. The programme for the day has been curated by Brownlow and includes prints from his own 16mm collection. All the silent films will have live piano accompaniment. Here Brownlow introduces his highlights of the day and DeMille himself.

When did you last notice anyone screening a Cecil B DeMille Retrospective? He is the most neglected of the Great Pioneers – DW Griffith, Thomas Ince and  Mack Sennett – and yet he could be as controversial as Griffith, as innovative as Ince and as funny as Sennett.

The DeMille Day opens with Cecil B DeMille: American Epic, an hour-long documentary (from Photoplay) about DeMille’s silent career, with interview subjects including DeMille himself, Gloria Swanson, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Elmer Bernstein who wrote the music for this documentary as well as for The Ten Commandments. Continue reading Kevin Brownlow on Cecil B DeMille: ‘controversial, innovative and funny’

Book now for the 20th British Silent Film Festival

Consider this more of a signpost than a blogpost. The 20th British Silent Film Festival is just around the corner, next month in Leicester! That is to say 11-15 September at the Phoenix Cinema and Art Centre and the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery.

If you haven’t booked yet, you should know that all the details you need to make that happen, including the timetable of screenings, is on the website now. Specifically:

  • Here is the timetable of screenings
  • Here’s how to book. Passes for one day or the entire festival can be bought, on the phone only, from the Phoenix box office. Be aware that these passes include screenings at all venues. The prices are the same as they were two years ago, which is a WIN.

Continue reading Book now for the 20th British Silent Film Festival

Back to Bristol: Cinema Rediscovered 2019

I should say this through gritted teeth, but Bristol is rapidly becoming Britain’s most cinematic city. Designated a UNESCO City of Film in 2017, its reputation for great cinema screenings and heritage is growing and growing. One of the newest, shiniest gems in its movie crown is Cinema Rediscovered, a kind of West-Country offspring of Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato, which takes place every July at venues including the Watershed cinema in the city centre.

Disclaimer time: First, I am working with this festival again this year, and second, it’s not all silent. But genuinely, it’s one of the most exciting and ambitious archive cinema events in the country. Taking place from 25-28 July, Cinema Rediscovered will screen films ranging from the earliest experiments of Victorian cinema to a new 4K restoration of Chan-wook Park’s classic revenge thriller Oldboy (2003).

Other restorations on show include the landmark documentary Hoop Dreams (1989) and Márta Mészáros’ 1975 Berlinale Golden Bear winner Adoption (1975). There are strands devoted to the extraordinary films of legendary British director Nicolas Roeg, as well as to Nigerian director Moustapha Alassane and to feminist filmmaker Maureen Blackwood, who was the first black British woman to have a feature film theatrically released in the UK, The Passion of Remembrance (1986). Cinema heritage doesn’t always look like a pantheon of dead white men. Continue reading Back to Bristol: Cinema Rediscovered 2019

Silents in the Piazza: Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019

Buongiorno! I have just returned from a week in Bologna and while sadly I have no tan to show off, I did see a lot of silent films while I was there. What else is there to do in Italy?

As you may know, I was at Il Cinema Ritrovato last week – the international festival of archive cinema par excellence. You can read my tips for doing Ritrovato right here, but this post is all about the silent gems I saw while I was there.

First: a disclaimer. I approach Ritrovato like an omnivore, tasting a little of everything, talkies and all, so this is not an exhaustive report of the silent offering, just the ones that I especially enjoyed.

The Circus (1928)
The Circus (1928)

1928 and all that

Let’s deal with the giants first: Buster Keaton’s freshly restored The Cameraman (1928) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus (1928) won a flock of new converts at grand open-air screenings in the Piazza Maggiore. Especially the latter, which I think is one of the very finest of all the silent comedy features. Watch out for the Criterion edition later this year, with a booklet essay by your humble scribe. Continue reading Silents in the Piazza: Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019

Ancient and modern: how silent cinema animated the classical world

This is a guest blog for Silent London by Maria Wyke, professor of Latin at University College London.

Recently I came across a silent short in the archives of the US Library of Congress that displays the eruption of Vesuvius in 1906. It was the first time the destructive volcano had been captured in moving images. But what caught my attention even more than that was how the (as yet unidentified) Italian filmmaker had juxtaposed scenes of destroyed buildings and dead bodies in the local towns with shots of tourists serenely visiting the ancient city of Pompeii – as if to accuse the elegant visitors of preferring to look at the pretty ruins of the past instead of helping overcome present suffering. I’ve managed to got hold of a digital copy of the film and now you too can see it alongside three other rarely seen silents about the classical world (including a recently restored feature about the emperor Caligula, about which more below).

The screening takes place at the Bloomsbury Theatre, on Saturday 6 July, 7.30 to 10pm. Tickets are £12 and available from the Bloomsbury Box office. Live accompaniment will be provided by Stephen Horne, whose impressive performances have won several Silent London awards.

2 Excursion_in_ancient_Greece
An Excursion in Ancient Greece (1913)

Silent cinema delivers a democratic take on the classical world. That’s one theme that emerges from across the films I’ll be screening. From Filmarchiv Austria comes a Pathé travelogue, An Excursion in Ancient Greece (1913), that follows its well-dressed sightseers along the Corinthian canal to view various celebrated monuments on and around the Acropolis. Distributed worldwide, the short rescues ancient Greece from its associations with high culture and moneyed tourism and offers its spectators the opportunity to visit sites affordably from the comfort of their local picture house. Continue reading Ancient and modern: how silent cinema animated the classical world

Down the Shaft, watching silent movies

Psst … this just in from the whisper network. There’s a new silent movie venue in town and it’s strictly underground.

I mean, it’s literally underground: underneath a candlelit garden, at the entrance to one of the capital’s engineering masterpieces – the Thames Tunnel. Cocktail experts Midnight Apothecary have founded a night called the Down the Shaft Film Club to screen classics in this unique space. Hey, the name may not be elegant, but you get the drift.

For two nights in May Down the Shaft will be showing classic silent movies with – crucially – live music, courtesy Meg Morley (2 May) and Neil Brand (16 May). The movies? Deathless comedies from Messrs Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy. Are you down?

Oh yes, and there will be fancy booze too, naturally. Here’s the blurb:

For your delectation we present Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Easy Street’ and Laurel & Hardy’s ‘Big Business’ and ‘Liberty’.  They will be accompanied on grand piano by the virtuoso talents of the UK’s leading silent film piano accompanists Meg Morley (2 May) and Neil Brand (16 May) in the Victorian underground Grand Entrance Hall to Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at the Brunel Museum.

This is one of London’s secret and most unusual underground venues to enjoy classic silent cinema.  This historic venue is directly below our hidden candlelit garden where you will be able to toast marshmallows around the firepit and sample a hot toddy, delicious street food or one of our award-winning botanical cocktails made from ingredients grown in the garden or foraged close by. We also have rather wonderful beer from local Bermondsey brewers Hiver and Anspach & Hobday and gin from award-winning Bermondsey distiller Jensen.

See you at the movies!