Category Archives: TV

Shiraz: coming to a screen near you soon

Were you at the Barbican for the London Film Festival Archive Gala last year? It was a really special evening: the premiere of the BFI’s immaculate new restoration of Indian-Anglo-German romance Shiraz: A Romance of India with a stunning new score composed by Anoushka Shankar. I was there, and you can read my review here.

However, whether you missed out, or you just want to relive the magic, there is good news. Shiraz gets a theatrical release very soon – it lands in cinemas from 2 February 2018. If you want to take Shiraz home, you’ll be able to buy it on DVD/Blu-ray on 26 February too. You’ll also be able to watch Shiraz on the BFI Player, and BBC4 will broadcast a behind-the-scenes documentary on the recording of Shankar’s ambitious score at some point during the year.

Anoushka Shankar accompanies Shiraz: A Romance of India at the BFI London Film Festival Archive Gala. Credit: Darren Brade Photography
Anoushka Shankar accompanies Shiraz: A Romance of India at the BFI London Film Festival Archive Gala. Credit: Darren Brade Photography

Last night I had a sneak preview of the DCP of Shiraz – the digital version that will be shown in cinemas and appear on disc, with the recorded score. A repeat viewing confirmed that this is an especially gorgeous film, with beautifully composed frames full of detail. The first time round I was distracted by the leading players, but on second viewing the landscapes in the background caught my eye, not to mention a donkey scratching his neck on a tentpole, a potter spinning his wheel. And sorry, Hollywood, but all your grandest designs can’t compete with the stunning architecture in this film. Shankar’s score, too, is full of surprises, bold decisions and graceful melodies. The range of instruments and styles in this piece of music is really breathtaking, and yet it’s always sensitive to the film – a really accomplished silent movie score.

Seeta Devi (Dalia) in Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)
Seeta Devi (Dalia) in Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)

There may be more good news too – although you’ll have to cross your fingers. The BFI hopes to stage some more screenings of the film with the music played live, but we will just have to wait and see …


Pompidou: Matt Lucas’s silent comedy comes to BBC2

Matt Lucas and Alex MacQueen in Pompidou
Matt Lucas and Alex MacQueen in Pompidou
Matt Lucas is a bit of a comedy hero, from his hilarious cameos on Shooting Stars, to the taste- and boundary-pushing Little Britain, to the trenchant way he knocks down the idiots who try to step to him on social media. I may not like everything Lucas does, but he is one of the most original, and bravest, voices in TV comedy. Unafraid to go against fashion as ever, his new project is a “visual comedy” TV series, Pompidou, which debuts on BBC2 on Sunday 1 March.

Lucas has co-written the series with Julian Dutton, and he plays the title character: “an elderly oddball aristocrat who has fallen on hard times”. Alex MacQueen plays his long-suffering butler, Hove. And they have a canine companion, too: the elegant Marion, an Afghan hound.

New silent comedy on our screens is always a cause for joy and anticipation – so we’re very keen to see how this one pans out. There are six 30-minute episodes to come, and in each of them, we are promised, Pompidou and Hove face a new, bizarre, challenge.
Continue reading Pompidou: Matt Lucas’s silent comedy comes to BBC2


Silent comedy on TV – Inside No 9: A Quiet Night In, and more

A Quiet  Night In
A Quiet Night In

There’s a silent half-hour comedy on the iPlayer right now. It will be there until 19 March 2014 and I reckon you should check it out. Here’s the link.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s new anthology series of standalone half-hour comedies has been picking up rave reviews. But the excitement turned positively feral on Wednesday night when episode two, A Quiet Night In, aired on BBC2. The episode features an old rich geezer (Denis Lawson), the two cat burglars who are trying to half-inch his priceless modern art (Pemberton and Shearsmith), his trophy, er, wife (Oona Chaplin) and a door-to-door salesman (Kayvan Novak) – and for the very most part, it is deliciously dialogue-free.

What I really like about what Pemberton and Shearsmith have done is that the idea may be an old one (they have talked about Mel Brook’s Silent Movie as an inspiration), but the tone of A Quiet Night In is far from rowdy slapstick of much modern silent humour, or even the genre-spoofing horror-comedy of their Psychoville series, which was just as inventive as Inside No 9 is shaping up to be. A Quiet Night In is a clever, and very dry comedy – in parts it is almost bleak. It is certainly not for kids, nor sensitive dog lovers. And you’ll never look at kitchen paper, Post-Its and baking foil the same way again.

That Oona Chaplin has a starring role will doubtless please the silent fans – one can only imagine what her grandfather would have made of what lurks under the bedstead here …

On this site you can find out a little more about A Quiet Night In, and watch clips, including a video of the creators discussing their motivation for writing a silent episode.

All this will have to tide us over until Matt Lucas’s Pompidou airs later in the year on BBC1. Yes, the Little Britain star is working on an entirely silent comedy series for the Beeb’s flagship channel. No catchphrases, no David Walliams. Lucas is co-writing, and he will play the title character, “an elderly aristocratic English oddball who has fallen on hard times but who remains upbeat and resourceful”.

It seems the idea is catching: two very famous ITV stars want to develop their own silent comedy project too. Mr Lucas is very supportive, as you can see.


Edwardian Insects on Film, BBC4

It’s not often I find myself recommending a natural history programme, but on Tuesday night this week a BBC4 nature documentary will celebrate the work of film pioneer Percy Smith. Edwardian Insects on Film is punchy name of the hour-long doc, which is part of the channel’s Alien Nation insects season. As the video above shows, the film follows wildlife film-maker Charlie Hamilton Jones’s attempts to replicate Smith’s ingenious film The Acrobatic Fly (1910). It promises to be a rare opportunity to look in detail at early cinema methods and technology – and an even rarer opportunity to see such things on TV.

While the tricksy manipulations of The Acrobatic Fly are many miles away from modern wildlife film’s hands-off observe-from-a-distance approach, the documentary also looks at Smith’s pioneering work in timelapse photography (the gorgeous The Birth of a Flower, 1910), which is still a staple of the genre – used for example in David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants (1995). Attenborough himself makes an appearance in the programme, as will a few other faces familiar to readers of this blog.

Smith continued working in the film industry into the 30s, most notably making the Secrets of Nature series for British Instructional Films from 1922-33. Should you want to know more, BFI Screenonline has plenty of information about Smith and his films, some of which are available on DVD, or like the clips above, on the BFI YouTube channel:

Smith was a true pioneer, inventing original (and bizarre) methods for time lapse and micro cinematography, involving all kinds of home-made devices, including alarms all over his home to wake him up in the middle of the night if the film in the camera needed changing. With endless patience, he could spend up to two and a half years to complete a film. He also had the popular touch, with the happy knack (as he put it himself) of being able to feed his audience “the powder of instruction in the jam of entertainment”. Modern film technique could hardly better the results achieved by Smith in the first decades of the century and his early masterpiece Birth of a Flower (1910) has never been out of distribution.

Edwardian Insects on Film screens on BBC4 at 9pm on Tuesday 19 March 2013 and again at 2.40am on Wednesday 20 March 2013.


Battleship Potemkin on Film4 – and on the big screen

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)

It’s always cause for celebration when there is a silent film shown on UK TV, and, to accompany Mark Cousins’s epic documentary series The Story of Film, Film 4 has treated us to two in quick succession. We saw Orphans of the Storm (1921) a couple of weeks ago and now we can look forward to Battleship Potemkin (1925).

If we tune into The Story of Film for episode Three on More4 tonight, we are promised some glimpses of German expressionism, Soviet montage, French impressionism and surrealism, plus “the glories of Chinese and Japanese films and the moving story of one of the great, now largely forgotten, movie stars, Ruan Lingyu“. How could you pick one film out of that lot? Well, you couldn’t. But clearly Cousins is clearly a huge Eisenstein fan, and you can’t argue with Potemkin’s stature as a landmark in film history.

I really hope the version of Potemkin they’re showing is the recent restored re-release with the original orchestral score, but you can find out for yourself when it is shown just after midnight on Monday 19 September and at 11am on Thursday 22 September.

However, if you really want to see Battleship Potemkin at its best, head down to the Prince Charles Cinema or the Peckham Free Film Festival on Sunday to see this masterpiece on the big screen. You can always watch it on TV as well, after all. The Odessa Steps never get old.  Enjoy, comrades!


The Story of Film – and Orphans of the Storm, September 2011

Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Mark Cousins’s epic 15-part documentary The Story of Film: an Odyssey begins this Saturday, at 9.15pm on More4. This promises to be an excellent series, with Cousins roaming far and wide to put together a history of cinematic innovations and achievements. The early episodes obviously hold the most interest for us, and people who have seen the first instalment tell me it’s a must-see. Episode one explores the birth of the medium, from the development of techniques such as close-ups to the first movie stars and the early picture palaces. Episode two takes us into 1920s Hollywood and the golden era of comedy, with Keaton and Chaplin.

Filmed in the buildings where the first movies were made, it shows that ideas and passion have always driven film, more than money and marketing.

The series’s scope is wider than just American films, though, and if you had any doubt as to whether Cousins’s heart is in the right place, check out his new tattoo:

I know what you’re thinking – it would be great if Channel 4 could schedule some silent films to accompany these early episodes. What’s the point of telling people about Chaplin, Griffith, Dreyer and Eisenstein if we can’t watch the movies themselves? Well, there is a glimmer of hope. In the week following the first episode, Film4 will be showing Griffith’s French Revolution epic Orphans of the Storm (1921), starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish. The film will be screened at 00.50am on Tuesday 6 September (set your video) and again at 11am on Thursday 8 September.

A little update, courtesy of a helpful commenter below – Film4 will also be showing Battleship Potemkin later in the month – 19th and 22nd September to be precise. More of this please, Film4!

Meanwhile, if you’re enjoying what Mark Cousins has to say about silent cinema, and you live in or near London, watch this space for news of screenings with live music in the capital.

The Story of Film: an Odyssey screens on Saturday nights on More4 and is repeated throughout the week.

I tip my hat to @LondonMovieLoon on Twitter for alerting me to the screening of Orphans of the Storm. Much appreciated.


The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon on BBC4

A quick mention for a chance to see some early films on TV. BBC4 is repeating the three-part series The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon and it is a very welcome return. The Mitchell and Kenyon hoard was discovered in the cellar of a disused shop in Blackburn in 1994 and contains many beautiful films of Northern England in the Edwardian era. When the programmes were first shown in 2005, Guardian TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith called them “Lowry come to life”.

The films were advertised to the public at the time as an chance to “see yourselves as others see you”, but now they are a precious opportunity to see ourselves as we once were. The collection has recently been added to the Unesco World Heritage list and is even being used by scientists at Imperial College London to study “handedness” – the researchers are scanning the films by computer to measure how many of the people waving at the camera in the films are using their left or right hands. For the rest of us, they offer a nostalgic, often bittersweet, glimpse at a time gone by.

If you want to learn more, visit the BFI Mitchell and Kenyon page or read this essay by Ian Jack.

The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon screens on BBC4 at 10pm and begins on Tuesday 19th July.

With thanks to Peter Walsh.