Category Archives: video

Unsilent Movies: touring the UK with The Phantom of the Opera

Unsilent movies: Phantom of the Opera

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 Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera
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London’s Hollywood: a visual tour of Gainsborough Studio in the 1920s – video

It’s remarkable what you can pick up in three minutes and 45 seconds. This short video by Gary Chapman, author of London’s Hollywood: the Gainsborough Studio in the Silent Years, is an excellent introduction to the British Famous Players-Lasky outpost.

This is the time and the place where Victor Saville and Michael Balcon began their ascent through the British movie industry, where Ivor Novello smouldered for Graham Cutts, and where Alfred met Alma, while making a film or two you may have heard of …

Toronto Silent Film Festival 2014: talking about intertitles

It was a great honour for me to be asked to speak on the opening night of the Toronto silent film festival recently. It’s just a pity that geography was against us. But the speech was recorded ahead of time, and looked very smart, thanks to a colleague in the multimedia department at the Guardian generously helping me out – Andy Gallagher shot, produced, edited and did absolutely everything except sit on that blue chair.

You will probably be able to spot that it’s my first stab at presenting something like this, but it’s on the topic of silent film intertitles, which I am very enthusiastic about – the too-often unsung heroes of silent cinema. I hope you enjoy it.

Wonderful London 1924 & 2014

Film-maker Simon Smith has made another silent cinema mashup to delight any Londoner. His previous film spliced scenes from Friese-Greene’s The Open Road (1927) with the same London streets filmed in 2013. The new clip embeds scenes from the Wonderful London actuality into vistas of the capital in 2014. The effect is stunning – it’s fascinating to compare London as it is and as it was, and as the 1920s city-dwellers step out of their fuzzy sepia frames they become ghosts haunting our 21st-century streets.

As much as London has been rebuilt and redeveloped over the past century, this clip reminds us that its past has not been erased, just sunk below the surface.

Continue reading Wonderful London 1924 & 2014

Shaun the Sheep the Movie: teaser trailer – video

Will this be something we consider to be a truly silent film? Who knows. But it’s dialogue-free, delightful and comes to us courtesy of our friends at Aardman Animations, whose support for the Slapstick Festival is legendary. Shaun the Sheep the Movie is scheduled for release in spring 2015. Not just for kiddywinks, we’re sure.

More details here – and on the official Shaun the Sheep website.

From Aardman, the creators of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run, comes the highly anticipated big screen debut of Shaun the Sheep. When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he baa-rgained for! Shaun’s mischief accidentally causes the Farmer to be taken away from the farm, so it’s up to Shaun and the flock to travel to the Big City to rescue him. Will Shaun find the Farmer in the strange and unfamiliar world of the City before he’s lost forever? Join Shaun and the flock on their hilarious, action-packed adventure in Shaun the Sheep the Movie – only in cinemas Spring 2015.

Mark Kermode on silent cinema

Mark Kermode’s passion for the silent film and live music scene, expressed here in a video interview with the utterly brilliant New Empress team, is always heartening. I wish he would talk about a wider selection of movies though. Keep up to date with when Mark’s band the Dodge Brothers are accompanying silent films on their website here.

You can watch Mark talking some more about silents here, from the Kermode Uncut video blog in 2009:

And here he is at the Cinema Museum talking about silent movie accompaniment with Neil Brand:

A Boy and His Atom: the world’s smallest silent movie

Full disclosure: this is basically an advert for IBM. But it tickled me, because this mind-boggling short reminds us that “primitive” film-making is often the most ingenious. This is stop-motion animation at the molecular level, which sounds too convoluted for words. But in the finish, it’s quite adorable.

The ability to move single atoms — the smallest particles of any element in the universe — is crucial to IBM’s research in the field of atomic memory. But even nanophysicists need to have a little fun. In that spirit, IBM researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope to move thousands of carbon monoxide molecules (two atoms stacked on top of each other), all in pursuit of making a movie so small it can be seen only when you magnify it 100 million times. A movie made with atoms.

You can watch a video about the making of A Boy and His Atom here.

Crosswords: a modern silent set in London


Film-maker Steve Simmons sent me this short film, his second piece of work, and how could I resist sharing it with you? It was shot in south London, in Lambeth in fact, and any hard-working city-dweller will recognise this scene. As a crossword fan, I found Crosswords‘ wry comedy compelling: its premise initially seems simple but spirals into something a touch murkier and more dangerous as events unfold. The witty combination of text and image really caught my attention and I think it’s bound to raise a smile with the readers of this blog.

Steve tells me that he was influenced by the widest possible range of movies, silent or otherwise: “Films that haved inspired me are Metropolis, Once Upon a Time in The West, City Lights, Escape from Alcatraz and I loved The Artist.”

That’s a very diverse list and you’ll notice that although Crosswords is a modern silent, it’s far from an exercise in mimicry. For one thing, it has text, but not intertitles: “I initially considered traditional title cards to display the clues and the man’s thoughts,” says Steve, “but eventually I decided it would work best if the text was incorporated into the action. I think it helps the viewer concentrate on the clues and keeps the story flowing.”

Steve would love to make another silent, he tells me, and not just a short film: “At the moment I’m writing another silent film script but it’s more of a science-fiction based story. One day, if I had the funding I would love to make a feature-length silent – that’s the dream!”

Silent film pianist Costas Fotopoulos – video interview

Costas Fotopoulos is based in London and works internationally as a concert and silent film pianist, and as a composer and arranger for film, the stage and the concert hall. He regularly provides live improvisations to silent films at BFI Southbank and he has also accompanied films at other major British venues as well as in New York, Warsaw and Italy. I interviewed him after a screening of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans in Winchmore Hill, north London, organised by Around the Corner Cinema. We also discussed his score for modern silent film The Projectionist.

Blancanieves (2012): teaser trailer

I wrote about this silent Spanish adaptation of Snow White a few weeks ago, but now we have some footage to whet our appetites. Blancanieves is a new film by Pablo Berger (Torremolinos 73) and it’s a modern silent, set in the world of bullfighting in 1920s/30s Madrid.

Maribel Verdú plays the wicked stepmother, and Macarena García our heroine, the first Snow White I have ever seen face off with an angry bull. The dwarves are bullfighters too, as you’ll see in this Spanish teaser trailer.

According to this article from El Pais, Berger was inspired by watching Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed and the film contains some references to Carl Th Dreyer and Abel Gance also. The lush music you can hear, at least some of it is composed by Alfonso Vilallonga, and yes, they do plan some live orchestral screenings of the film before its theatrical release.

Speaking of which, we only have a Spanish release date for the film so far: 28 September 2012, bang on schedule for a debut at the San Sebastian film festival.

So what do you think? I reckon this could be quite special…

The Queen’s diamond jubilee – in 1897

The union flag bunting has been hung, the coronation chicken sandwiches have been cut and the roads have mostly been closed. Like it or not, it will be hard to escape the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations this weekend. So why all the fuss? Well, monarchs rarely reach the 60-year mark, so this is probably the only diamond jubilee we’ll see – in person that is. It has happened before, when august Queen Victoria marked her 60-year anniversary in 1897. Luckily for us, the newsreel cameras were rolling that day and the BFI has released this fascinating clip of her elaborate jubilee procession. The Queen herself makes an appearance at 1:40, but my personal highlight is 1:23, when a rather wayward horse threatens, briefly, to derail the whole shebang.

This is by no means the only clip to survive, however, and if you want to see more, you can visit the Bedford Park festival in Chiswick, west London on 21 June 2012, for an audiovsual feast of material related to Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee – presented by Luke McKernan and Neil Brand:

A 90-minute show combining archive film from the BFI, photographs, live commentary with actors, and piano accompaniment, recreating the London procession on 22 June 1897 to mark the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign. Presented by film historian Luke McKernan, with actors Neil Brand and Liz Fost reading eyewitness accounts of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Queen Victoria herself.

Click here to book tickets.

Silent Birmingham – Street Act

A few weeks ago, I posted about a competition held by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The task set was to create a short animation, featuring a city landmark, to be accompanied by one of the pieces of silent film music recently unearthed in the archives of Birmingham Library. Now the winner, whose film will be screened at a gala event on 20 April, alongside some Charlie Chaplin classics and accompany by the CBSO, has been announced.

Gareth Hirst’s short film Street Act explores the dark and violent side of slapstick comedy, and the action takes on Birmingham’s Corporation Street. The movie uses the Indian War Dance music from the archive, to great effect – you can listen to eight more extracts here. If you want to find out more about Hirst, his animation work and his prize-winning film, you can read more on his blog. You’ll see that he put an awful lot of work into the film, including a heck of a lot of research. I understand he is a keen silent movie fan and a regular visitor to the Slapstick Festival in Bristol. Congratulations, Gareth!

Tickets for the Charlie Chaplin gala at the Symphony Hall Birmingham on 20 April 2012 are available here.

The Artist (2011): the UK trailer

After a triumphant run at international film festivals, modern silent movie The Artist is finally coming to the UK – and here is the toe-tapping trailer. The film is set in Hollywood at the end of the silent era and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as an established and an aspiring star. James Cromwell, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller also appear and Michel Hazanavicius directs. It’s a charming film, inspired by classic Hollywood movies – the kind of thing that gives nostalgia a good name. You can read the Silent London review of  The Artist here.

The Artist opens in the West End on 30 December, then in selected cinemas 6 January and nationwide from 13 January.

Charlie Chaplin Google doodle video

The Charlie Chaplin Google doodle is more ambitious than most. It links to this cute Chaplin-esque video. It hasn’t appeared here in the UK quite yet, but look out for it tomorrow, 16 April, which is the 122nd anniversary of the actor/director’s birth. Very nice of Google to mark the occasion, but this video does make you miss the real thing. Those of you who are Chaplin fans all year round and not just on his birthday might enjoy this article from the Spectator. It’s a preview of the forthcoming Chaplin museum in Switzerland and an interview with the film-maker’s son, Michael. Definitely worth a read.

Silent Film Maker: an iPhone app

There’s something a little perverse in blogging and tweeting about silent film, using modern technology to write about something that started 116 years ago. After all, these days I can shoot minutes and minutes of colour footage with synchronised sound using a phone that’s small enough to fit in my pocket. That’s something that would probably blow the Lumère brothers’ minds.

What is even stranger is that you can now download an app to your iPhone or iPad that turns your high-tech videos into mockups, some might say pastiches, of old silent films. This isn’t necessarily going to be used for the best of the interesting modern silent films that some people are making. After all I made one myself out of some snapshots, and I edited it together on the tube. Yes, that was me you saw on the Victoria Line, rendering.

A quick search of YouTube, and to a lesser extent Vimeo, reveals that lots of people out there are using the app to turn footage of their cats and babies and basketball matches into silent-style films, with intertitles, scratchy film and tinkling piano soundtracks. But some people are using the app to make something a little more sophisticated. In Capo vs Daddy Episode 2, a couple fight over the affections of their dog, with fatal consequences:

There’s another warring couple, and another dog, in Guitar Affair:

I found a few more sweet shorts, including this record of a plum blossom festival in Japan, a man eating breakfast, and a bad joke about a dog. Obviously. But my favourite by far is called Happy Birthday To Me, and you can watch it at the top of this post. It incorporates slapstick, trick photography and perhaps a little bit of iMovie help. It’s also very charming.

And here’s my video, which can’t hold a candle to any of the others here, but you might recognise some of the locations:

I’d love to know if you’ve found anything better out there, or if you’ve had a go at making one of your own.

Mat Collishaw’s Magic Lantern at the V&A

If you’ve been walking past the Victoria and Albert Museum late at night recently, and you weren’t too distracted by the roadworks, you’ll have seen that the cupola of the museum is lit up by a moving 3D animation of moths. “That looks like a zoetrope,” I thought when I saw it. And I was very pleased to find out, when I looked it up at home, that it is indeed a zoetrope of sorts. The artist Mat Collishaw was commissioned by the V&A to make a work for circular space right at the top of the museum – and he chose to produce a vast (10m wide) version of the animated 3D zoetropes he had made before on a smaller scale.

Mat Collishaw's Magic Lantern
Mat Collishaw's Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern is a beautiful spectacle – and I would advise you to pay a late-night visit to South Kensington before it is taken down on 27 March, if you haven’t done so already. For me, the way that it combines a Victorian invention and Victorian architecture to create something that looks so 21st-century brings an endearing whiff of pre-cinema magick. As Collishaw says: “I’d like to have created something that’s very beautiful and beguiling and brings people in to look at it but I’d also like to smuggle in a little bit of doubt in there about what it is they’re actually becoming engaged with when they’re looking at the work.”

For a closer look, you can visit the museum garden to see a smaller model of Magic Lantern between 10am and 5.45pm. Magic Lantern will be in situ at the V&A until 27 March 2011.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Silent London

If music be the food of love …

In this early film (possibly from 1899), posted on the Library of Congress YouTube channel, a woman chooses between the affections of two musicians. The rejected serenader takes his revenge, but true love finds a way.

And in the spirit of love, togetherness and all that jazz – did you know that you can now “Like” Silent London on Facebook? Spread a little affection today, people. Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Phoenix: A Century of Cinema

The Phoenix Cinema
The Phoenix, when it was the East Finchley Picturedrome

I thought you might enjoy this elegant documentary about the history of The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley. It’s a charming film, tracing the cinema from its earliest days in the 1910s and through its several reincarnations, crises and successes. You might remember that the cinema celebrated its silent era origins with a programme of Paul and Acres shorts last November. What this films reminds us, ultimately, is just how crucial independent cinemas such as the Phoenix are to the cultural life of the city, and to individual film lovers. You never forget where you first saw your favourite film, after all.

The film was made by On Par Productions and features a soundtrack by The Last Dinosaur.