Wonderful news from a true friend of Silent London. Musician, broadcaster, writer and man of many talents Neil Brand has composed a new orchestral score for a truly staggering British silent film, South (1919) – the gripping document of Ernest Shackleton’s journey to the Antarctic, with stunning photography by Frank Hurley. It is the highlight of a BFI Southbank celebration of British explorers and the films that captured their endeavours. Here’s more about the season.
On 5 January 1922, the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration drew to a symbolic close with the death of Anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Marking both this centenary, and that of Britain’s first attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the BFI presents TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: EXPLORATION AND ENDURANCE ON FILM, a season at BFI Southbank throughout January, with associated film releases in cinemas and for home entertainment. There will be themed collections on BFI Player (available from 5 January) and in the BFI Mediatheque.
And yes, there will be plenty of silent film in the season:
I have been talking to you about London Symphony, the modern City Symphony film, for a while now, but finally it’s time for you to see it. Or at least book a ticket to see it. yes, London Symphony is coming to a cinema near you, even if you don’t live in the capital. Details of the tour as it stands now are copied below, but I recommend you keep an eye on this page for up-to-date information from the horse’s mouth.
You’ll see that some of the screenings have live music, are followed by a Q&A or take place in a venue that appears in the film – or all three! The screening at Southwark Cathedral, I’m told, will take place by candlelight. You don’t get that kind of atmosphere with Dunkirk …
Meanwhile, don’t miss Kim Newman’s review of the film in this month’s Sight & Sound, which although it completely neglects to mention my own appearance in the film (yes, really) rightly praises its “seductive parade of striking images and juxtapositions”.
I just wanted to drop you a line (geddit? you will in a minute) about a very special silent-film-and-live-music tour happening this summer. You may know Drifters, John Grierson’s silent debut, a gorgeous, choppily edited and Soviet-inspired promotional film for the fishing industry. I would always highly recommend you see with with Jason Singh’s stripped-down “vocal sculpture” score, although I hear it has actually been improved on and expanded since I first saw it in 2012.
Now Singh is taking Drifters to the sea – to the fishing towns that will best recognise the labour and the courage shown in Grierson’s evocative film. He’ll be accompanying the film in a series of special screenings in Leith, Hull, South Shields, Aldeburgh and Great Yarmouth.
The 2017 Following The Fleet: DRIFTERS tour will visit six of the UK’s important fishing ports, re-tracing the historic journey of boats, men and women in pursuit of the once abundant herring shoals. Commencing in the major port of Leith on Saturday 5th August, the tour will then be dropping anchor for a free atmospheric outdoor screening at Hull Marina as part of The Floating Cinema’s ‘In Dialogue’ film programme within Hull UK City of Culture 2017 (10th August), before calling at SeahousesHUB (22nd September), The Customs House, South Shields (24th September), Aldeburgh Cinema (28th September), finishing at SeaChange Arts, Great Yarmouth (30th September).
But there’s more. Shona Thomson of A Kind of Seeing has commissioned site-specific archive film screenings to show alongside the film. Each Drifters event should have a unique appeal to the community it appears in – a really powerful combination of archive film and live music.
Leith-based female singing collective Davno will celebrate the major port’s East European connections of the past and present with their ethereal arrangements of traditional songs from Poland, Russia and Ukraine.
As part of his On the Bench film series and waterways tour from Sheffield to Hull, Yorkshire artist Harry Meadley will present live narration for a selection from amateur filmmaker John Turner’s Hull Street Scenes film series of the 1950s exploring our presumptions of what ‘archive footage’ might be.
Northumberland-based singer/songwriter Andy Craig brings his historical knowledge of the landscape to explore the transformation of the once-thriving fishing village of Seahouses to a busy tourism destination.
21-year-old Aaron Duff – whose deep maritime connections in North Shields through his seafaring grandfather he honours by performing under the name of the last ship under his command Hector Gannet – will perform a new live soundtrack commemorating those lost at sea. Also on the bill is 17-year-old Eve Simpson, a mesmerising and accomplished live performer from South Shields whose passionately political voice will be accompanying films from the North East Film Archive around the role of women in the South Shields and Tyneside port industries.
The haunting, raucous and joyous East Anglian ensemble Dead Rat Orchestra bring their own innovative blend of folk and improvisation to explore the urgent issue of coastal erosion around Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
A group of fresh, talented performers from the Portuguese-speaking community of Great Yarmouth accompanying films of the golden days of the 1950s seaside resort, reflecting on the changes the town has seen and is still going through.
Anniversaries are bittersweet at the best of times, but this summer marks an especially painful date. It is 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, the largest battle of the first world war, in which more than a million men were killed or injured. The date was marked publicly in the UK this weekend with tributes across the country.
Many people who read this site will know that relatives of their lost their lives in the First World War – almost all of us will have heard family tales of hardship and resilience from those four bruising years. The power of cinema, even during the war when it was only around twenty years old, is that it can show us the small human stories of the home front, as well as the epic tales of the battlefield. In fact, it can tell us the intimate, personal incidents of the trenches, as well as the soothing narrative of stoicism and sentiment back in Blighty. And on the cinema screen, these experiences can be shared with a crowd, and something therapeutic happens when we face our fears together. This summer, you can see some of the contemporary films from WWI, back on the big screen, and at the bottom of this post you will find a two-for-one ticket offer too.
Back in 1916, millions of Britons flocked to the cinema to see The Battle of the Somme, a documentary that showed the families at home what their boys were facing on the front line. It’s haunting, sometimes terrifying, and always fascinating work – a letter home from the trenches to reassure and inform. A hundred years later, it has lost none of its power. If you want to know more about the film, I highly recommend Lawrence Napper’s article in the current issue of Sight & Sound, in which he calls it “one of the most extraordinary documents of our cinematic history”. Luke McKernan’s excellent Picturegoing site has also posted a contemporary review of the film, which says that it “shakes the kaleidoscope of war into a human reality”.
The Battle of the Somme is back in cinemas and concert halls across the world, to mark the centenary, with live orchestral performances of Laura Rossi’s wonderful score. You can read more about that, and find a screening near you, on the official website here. There will be 100 performances in the tour, so there is very likely to be one near you.
Unsilent Movies has been touring silent film and live music events for a couple of years now. This month, they are bringing their score for The Phantom of the Opera (1925) to venues across the UK. Percussionist Ric Elsworth tells you a little more about the project in this short video:
And here are those tour dates:
26th October – Leicester Phoenix Cinema
28th October – Shrewsbury Theatre Severn
29th October – Newcastle Tyneside Cinema
30th October – Oxford Ultimate Picture Palace
31st October – London St. James Studio
The BFI’s sparkling restoration of Miles Mander’s The First Born, with its new, elegant score by Stephen Horne, was the clear highlight of last year’s London Film Festival. The wonderful news is that it is about to hit the road this year, and you’ll be able to see the film, in most cases with Horne’s music played live, at various lcoations across the UK. It’s a gripping, sophisticated drama and a gem of British silent cinema – so don’t miss it. Here’s what the BFI have to say about it:
A philandering politician, the double standards of the upper classes, jealousy, miscegenation and a generation torn between centuries of tradition and a more modern morality… the plot of The First Born feels not unlike a lost episode of Downton Abbey. However, the film was expertly co-scripted by Alma Reville (Mrs Alfred Hitchcock) and it’s hard not to see her influence in raising it beyond old-school melodrama to be a tour de force of late silent British cinema. Sir Hugo Boycott (Miles Mander) and his young bride (a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate relationship, but it founders when she fails to produce an heir. This is a surprisingly ‘adult’ film and made with both elegance and invention.
I reviewed the film at the London Film Festival here, and spoke to BFI silent film curator Bryony Dixon and composer Stephen Horne for the Guardian too. You can see an extract from the film, below:
Here are the tour dates for The First Born, hot off the press:
Disappointing news this week, as Birds Eye View announced that it will not be putting on a festival in 2012, due to a cut in its public funding. You can read more about the announcement here. This is a real shame for many reasons, not least the festival’s track record of commissioning cutting-edge scores for silent films from some wonderful musicians.
To tide us over while we wait for the festival’s no-doubt triumphant return in 2013, Birds Eye View will be staging some one-off events, including a touring programme of highlights from its fantastic Sound & Silents strand. You’ll see these popping up on the Silent London calendar, and on Facebook and Twitter as they are announced, but here are a couple for your diary straight away.
Blue Roses will perform her score for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the Arnolfini in Bristol on 18 February 2012. Tickets will be on sale soon.
Imogen Heap and the Holst Singers will present their soundtrack to The Seashell and the Clergyman at the Roundhouse in London on 26 February 2012 and at the Sage, Gateshead on 27 February 2012. Tickets for the London show are on sale now.
For more information, visit the Coming Soon section of the Birds Eye View website.
However many big-budget war films come and go, real footage of frontline combat is still shocking. How much more powerful would such images have been 95 years ago, when The Battle of the Somme (1916) was released, and watched by 50% of the British population? JB MacDowell and Geoffrey Malins’s documentary was intended to boost morale, but its scenes of wounded and dead soldiers, not to mention the contentious “over-the-top” sequence, make it a more complicated, thought-provoking and mournful piece of work. One of the “over-the-top” scenes was staged, but so much else is horribly real here – and the film was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2005.
The Battle of the Somme‘s footage may be familiar to you as it has been mined for many a first world war documentary, but it is an entirely different experience to watch it all, in one sitting. This upcoming short UK tour offers a very special opportunity to do just that. Composer Laura Rossi’s orchestral score for the film will be performed at four special screenings of The Battle of the Somme in 2011 and 2012, by four different ensembles:
Murnau’s acclaimed Dracula adaptation, Nosferatu (1922) is still one of the most chilling horror movies ever made – and probably the most influential. So if you’re looking for a cool halloween night out, you can’t beat watching Max Schreck’s shadow creeping up those stairs with Minima’s heavy rock soundtrack. Luckily, then, there will be a few chances for you to catch the Nosferatu-Minima show this witching season. They’re playing two gigs in London, at Stoke Newington International Airport on 29 October 2011 and at the Prince Charles Cinema on 24 November. Check out the venues’ website for times and ticket prices, and if you live outside London, have a look at Minima’s website for performances of Nosferatu in Devon, Hertfordshire and Somerset.
And if you prefer a more traditional silent film accompaniment, Nosferatu is also playing at the Brentford Musical Museum, with a live organ score by Donald Mackenzie on 19 November 2011. Tickets cost £10. For more information and to book, visit the museum website.
As previously reported with breathless excitement on this very site, composer and Scissor Sister John Garden has written an electronic score for The Lost World (1925). This is marvellously enjoyable silent film pioneered the use of stop-motion special effects, and brought us the unforgettable images of a brontosaurus running riot around the streets of London.
Now, Garden is taking The Lost World on tour. He’s going to Brighton, Manchester, Southampton, Exeter and performing two dates in London: one at the Barbican Centre, and one, among the real-life dinosaur (skeletons) at the Natural History Museum.
Here are the dates in full – check with the venues for exact times and ticket prices: