Silent London Poll of 2017 – the winners!

There ain’t no party like a Silent London Poll-Winners’ Party. Why? Partly because this is a virtual party, so you can join in the fun, and still stick to your Dry January #goals. Alternatively, take a shot every time you spot a typo and boy will this blogpost go with a swing. Not only that, but we politely declined Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s offer to host this year, so fingers crossed, the prizes will go to their rightful winners, right away.

While I shuffle the envelopes and the guests sashay down the red carpet, a little announcement. Every year the poll gets more international (although obviously the British bias is strong). Plus, this year we had the most votes we had had in years. As you are free to nominate whatever you like (and you did!), the answers were pretty diverse. So in the 2017 poll, I am awarding Gold, Silver and Bronze awards for the very first time. At Silent London, we like to share the love!

So, as the sports commentators say, let’s find out who, and what, podiumed this year!

Blus

Best silent film DVD/Blu-ray release of 2017

GOLD: You’re going to hear this name a lot tonight. The best silent film DVD/Blu-ray release of 2017 is London Symphony – out now in the US from Flicker Alley. Some of these votes may also have been anticipating the UK DVD release in February from New Wave.

SILVER: Another British film gets a medal, though it’s more international than most. Second prize goes to the BFI’s Dual Format DVD/Blu release of Arthur Robison’s The Informer.

BRONZE: It’s another Flicker Alley release at number three! The notorious Behind the Door, directed by Irvin V Willat, restored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and once seen, never forgotten.

London Symphony (2017)
London Symphony (2017)

Best silent film theatrical release of 2017

GOLD: It’s a second gold medal for London Symphony, which went on an ambitious tour of UK venues in 2017 – and is still going!

SILVER: Second place goes to Eureka’s theatrical release of Der Müde Tod – amazing to see one of Lang’s more obscure silents get this treatment. Brava!

BRONZE: The Informer places here too, for its theatrical run after the 2016 LFF Archive Gala.

Best modern silent of 2017

GOLD: Can you guess? It’s another gold medal for London Symphony!

SILVER: Lots of you voted for Bill Morrison’s magical documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time. And who can blame you? Not strictly a modern silent but I see exactly why you love it.

BRONZE: The Moonshiners takes third place. This Finnish short, directed by Juho Kuosmanen, is actually a remake of Finland’s first ever fiction film – the original is sadly now lost. You can read more about The Moonshiners in the February 2018 edition of Sight & Sound, too.

Continue reading Silent London Poll of 2017 – the winners!

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Bronnt Industries Kapital and Arsenal: listen up

When I saw Dovzhenko’s Arsenal at the British Silent Film Festival in Leicester in 2015 I was blown away. Yes, it’s a great film, but I had seen it once or twice before. However, the score performed that evening by Bronnt Industries Kapital, AKA Guy Bartell, knocked my socks off. If I’m strictly honest, it made me appreciate the film itself, which had previously left me a little cold, far more. You may have heard the band’s excellent score for Turksib – this one is even better.

I said, “Bartell’s score is expertly judged – an echo chamber of horror for the film to resonate inside. I urge you to catch the film with this score whenever you can.” And I wasn’t the only viewer impressed. None other than John Sweeney, who knows whereof he speaks, said: “An extraordinary soundtrack for an extraordinary movie, Guy Bartell’s sound score for Arsenal plugs the viewer directly into the nervous system of this shattering film.”

Arsenal.jpeg

So I am very chuffed to share with you the news that Bronnt is releasing this new score for Arsenal on CD, (green) vinyl and digital formats on 12 January 2018 via I Own You records. The score was commissioned by the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre with the British Council to accompany the ODNC’s recently restored print. Which means …Yes, Bronnt is taking the music and the film on a little tour. Remember what I told you – catch it if you can.

Additional dates to be announced soon.

  • You can pre-order a copy of Bronnt Industries Kapital’s Arsenal soundtrack here.
  • And here’s a taster of the music:

 

 

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 …

Top of the blogs: the 10 most popular posts on Silent London in 2017

I often forget to check out the most-read pieces published on the site in any given year – but 2017 offers a particularly varied and cheery top 10. So here goes: the most-read (new) features on Silent London in 2017 were, in ascending order:

Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)
Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)

10: LFF REVIEW: SHIRAZ: A ROMANCE OF INDIA (1928) WITH ANOUSHKA SHANKAR

I reviewed the London Film Festival archive gala, with a head full of festival flu. Cracking night, though.

The Great Train Robbery (1903)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)

9: THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY’S PARTING SHOT

A reprint of something I wrote for a magazine, on the amazing ending (or is it?) of a classic film.

pandorasboxluluandjack

8: ‘PANDORA’S BOX WITH THE LID OFF!’: LULU’S MISADVENTURES IN LONDON

I presented this as a paper at the 2017 British Silent Film Festival Symposium. It’s long, and a bit grubby, but interesting, I promise.

Continue reading Top of the blogs: the 10 most popular posts on Silent London in 2017

A festive free-for-all: BFI releases silent ‘orphans’ on YouTube

Exciting news from the BFI today – especially for those of us about to break up for the holidays and looking forward to having some spare viewing time on our hands. The BFI has released more than 170 ‘orphan’ films on its YouTube channel – and they can be watched around the world as well as in the UK (unlike the BFI Player, where some of these films are also found). ‘Orphan’ films are those protected by copyright for which rights-holders are positively unknown or uncontactable. The films range from 1899 to 1985, but as you’d expect, there are several silent movies in the collection.

Here’s a short selection of some highlights, although you can see the full playlist here.

The first filmed version of Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice, this is from 1920, directed by Percy Nash and starring Joe NightingaleJoan Ritz and Arthur Pitt:

The Fisher Girl’s Folly (1914), a glimpse of an early two-reel drama directed by George Pearson: Continue reading A festive free-for-all: BFI releases silent ‘orphans’ on YouTube

Lulu links and reviews: talking about Pandora’s Box

Hello! To celebrate the fact that my BFI Film Classic on Pandora’s Box is on sale in the US as of today (LINK) I have rounded up some links relating to the book. I’ve been out and about talking about the film IRL but also online, as you’ll see. I’ve included some of the nice things that people have said about the book, too. *blush*

  • Thomas Gladysz of the Louise Brooks Society interviewed me for Popmatters. “This is a book full of historical detail – but as much as it is scholarly, it’s also lots of fun. As Hutchinson wryly notes in her introduction: ‘Exploring the film entails a journey back and forth between Europe and America, and occasionally into the gutter.'”
  • The fantastic Paul Joyce gave the book a great writeup on his site Ithankyou. “Pamela writes with an expert eye, easy wit and steadfast concision; there is much attention to detail in the book but it is all explained with fluid precision. The research is thorough, with revelations both scandalous and surprising and this is one of the best of the BFI’s Film Classics series I’ve read, achieving its key objectives with ease. Pandora’s Box is engrossing, informative and entertaining … it made me experience the film in a completely different way”
  • Rick Burin was kind enough to write this about the book: “Pamela Hutchinson’s brilliant new study of Pandora’s Box (2017), in the BFI Film Classics series, is an extremely astute, readable reading of a fascinating film, explaining the enduring appeal and allure of both the picture and its heroine, the shimmering, sensual, black-helmeted Lulu: chauvinist avatar turned feminist icon.”
  • I talked to South West Silents about the film and the book – which they are also offering as a prize in this fab competition
  • Don’t forget! You can see Pandora’s Box, on 35mm, with live music by Stephen Horne, and an introduction by me, at HOME in Manchester on 28 January. Book tickets here.

Not much more to say on this, except … except … look out for more from me* on GW Pabst in the new year. Fingers on lips for now.

 

 

*No, not a book.

Call for papers: 2018 British Silent Film Festival Symposium

UPDATED: Important news for clever clogses. The dates for the 2018 British Silent Film Festival Symposium are out, and the call for papers is copied below. The headline is that 19 and 20 April are the dates you need, and while the papers will be presented at King’s College London as usual, the the screening day will take place at the historic Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.

The eagle-eyed among you will notice an addition to the rubric this year: “in Britain or the British Empire” … That should give you something to think about.

This is always an enjoyable event, which leaves me with plenty to ponder and lots more to explore. Last year, particularly, I thought there was a really strong selection of papers.

The BSFFS aims to showcase new research in any aspect of film-making and film-going culture in Britain or the British Empire before 1930. We invite proposals for 15-20 minute papers.

The event will include a day of screenings at the Phoenix Cinema East Finchley on 19 April and a day of papers at King’s College London’s Nash Lecture Theatre on 20 April .

Please submit abstracts of approx 300 words to Lawrence.1.Napper@kcl.ac.uk before 20th March 2018

Do register your interest on Facebook too. See you there. I’ll be loitering by the biscuits.

Silent Santa: classics for your Christmas list

With one week to go before the big day, the Silent London elves bring you a selection of festive gift recommendations. These are great ideas to buy for the sexy silent cinephiles in your life – or to spend your gift vouchers on in the sales.

I have mostly linked to UK Amazon for ease, but you should be able to find these elsewhere online, direct from the supplier or (hopefully) in a shop near you.

London Symphony (2017)

A silent symphony

London Symphony, Alex Barrett’s gorgeous, moving tribute to the capital city is out to buy on multiregion Blu-ray now from the good folks at Flicker Alley. Also included on the disc is a 1933 archive film London Medley, as well as an interview with Barrett and his short form Hungerford Bridge. It’s a brilliant, beautiful modern city symphony, with a cameo from yours truly, and possibly a couple of other faces you will recognise. Readers in the UK may want to wait until the UK DVD release in February from New Wave.

Helen of Four Gates (1920)

The perfect introduction

New to silent cinema? Or just want to read an intelligent, refreshing perspective on late teens and 1920s cinema? Lawrence Napper’s Silent Cinema: Before the pictures got small is a valuable, and highly readable guide to pre-sound film. I loved it. Regular readers of this site will especially enjoy the hurrah for British silent cinema: “thrillingly cosmopolitan”.

Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks

Film on the front line

The history buff in your life will be fascinated by the Imperial War Museum release of The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (1917) on Blu-ray and DVD. Geoffrey Malins’ followup to The Battle of the Somme (1916) is more tightly constructed and cinematically shot with a greater focus on the soldiers than strategy. It is presented here in a crisp, fresh restoration with a beautiful score by Laura Rossi, and a reconstruction of the recommended medley score from 1917, compiled by Stephen Horne.

Continue reading Silent Santa: classics for your Christmas list

The Silent London Poll of 2017: vote now!

It’s the first day of December, which means two things. Number one, don’t forget to light the advent candle tonight. Two, it’s time to open the Silent London Poll.

Maison-du-mystere
The House of Mystery

You’ve got plenty of time to think about your choices this year – the poll will be open for the next three weeks. But remember that every vote counts.

nell-shipman
Nell Shipman

Are you struggling to remember the festivals, films, and music that you loved the most in 2017? Well take a look back through the pages of Silent London, or the Silent Film Calendar or ithankyou, both of which sites kept up to date with silent happenings all year round.

Sensation Seekers (Lois Weber, 1927)
Sensation Seekers (Lois Weber, 1927)

Remember also that I want to hear about home video releases and books as well as screenings and festivals. And modern silents too – the world didn’t end in 1927.

DietrichCROP
The Woman Men Yearn For (1929)

Leicester you forget, settle down to fill in the survey with a Hipp soundtrack, and perhaps glass of Italian wine, maybe a Shiraz, and try to remember the films and events that changed your appreciation of silent cinema this year. There were laughs. There were tears. There was even a hint of revolution in the air.

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg

As is now traditional, I’m asking for your Silent Hero, and at the suggestion of Mr John Sweeney, I’ll be asking for your favourite intertitle of the year too – just one that made the biggest impression on you.

A Page of Madness (1926)
A Page of Madness (1926)

Don’t be afraid to lobby for your favourites, or to vote for events outside the UK. The poll is now a global affair and the more votes the merrier. Sharing is caring!

Follow this link to fill in the survey – or scroll down and get started straight away.

 

Buster and beyond: silent comedy at the 2018 Slapstick Festival

More silent film goodness to look forward to in 2018, and this time a little closer to home.

The 2018 edition of Bristol’s Slapstick festival takes place at venues across the city centre from 25-28 January and tickets are on sale now. If you’re not familiar with this event let me tell you how it breaks down. Funny films. Funny people. That’s it, really. The Slapstick Festival celebrates the tradition of visual comedy on screen, beginning in the silent era. And it invites famous comedians to present and share their favourites, as well as a host of experts and the best silent movie musicians in the business.

So next year, silent comedy fans can look forward to:

Betty Balfour in The Vagabond Queen (1929)
Betty Balfour in The Vagabond Queen (1929)
  • The Silent Comedy Gala at Colston Hall on Friday night will be hosted by Tim Vine. The headline film is the superlative Sherlock, Jr, accompanied by Charlie Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life and Angora Love, starring Laurel and Hardy. The Buster Keaton feature will be accompanied by the world premiere of a new, semi-improvised score composed by Günter Buchwald and performed by the renowned European Silent Screen Virtuosi and members of Bristol Ensemble. A Dog’s Life features Chaplin’s own composition for the film and will be performed by a 15-piece Bristol Ensemble conducted by Buchwald.
  • Comedian Lucy Porter introduces two screenings of female-led silent comedies at the Watershed Cinema: Betty Balfour in The Vagabond Queen, and Constance Talmadge in Her Night of Romance. Porter is great at these intros, both knowledgeable and passionate, so don’t miss these. Music by John Sweeney too.

Skinner's Dress Suit (1926)

  • Someone else who is rather good at introducing silent movies is Kevin Brownlow, who will introduce a lesser-known film, Skinner’s Dress Suit, starring the brilliant Laura La Plante and Reginald Denny. Piano accompaniment by Daan Van den Hurk.
  • Meet the Austrian answer to Laurel and Hardy, Cocl and Seff, with a screening of some of their rarely seen work at the Watershed, with music by Stephen Horne and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry.
  • And there will be a chance to see even more rare films at a screening called Lost and Found, in which collector Anthony Saffrey and historian David Robinson will present some recently rediscovered silent comedies, from André Deed (AKA Foolshead) Marcel Perez, Max Linder, Karl Valentin and more. Music will be provided by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry and Daan Ven den Hurk.

Continue reading Buster and beyond: silent comedy at the 2018 Slapstick Festival

Weimar Cinema Revisited at Berlinale 2018

An early Christmas present for silent film fans in the form of some excellent news from the non-archive festival circuit. The retrospective strand at next year’s Berlin Film Festival will be devoted to Weimar Cinema – one of the most exciting, attractive periods in film history. Not only that but we can expect a sweep of some lesser-known titles, including new restorations.

According to the director of the retrospective strand, Rainer Rother: “Now, with this thematic look back, it’s time to turn our attention to the films that are not necessarily part of the inner canon.

“The diversity of the Weimar film landscape is best grasped via the works of filmmakers who are not usually counted among the great and prominent directors of the era. The variety of the films, by directors as varied as Franz Seitz, Sr. (Der Favorit der Königin, 1922), Hermann Kosterlitz (The Adventure of Thea Roland, 1932), and Erich Waschneck (Docks of Hamburg, 1928), is evident in the abundance of not only differing subject matter, stories, and characters, but also aesthetic approach. Looking at this legendary epoch in German film history from a new perspective reinforces its artistic reputation.”

Continue reading Weimar Cinema Revisited at Berlinale 2018

The Four Just Men and the early British thriller

thrillThis guest post is an edited version of an article on the origins of the early British thriller by Bryony Dixon, curator at the British Film Institute. The full article appears in the BFI’s new compendium on the thriller, Who Can you Trust?,  now available in the BFI shop.

Next month’s Sunday Silent at the BFI Southbank is a rare chance to see a rare early film version of Edgar Wallace’s first great success, The Four Just Men. Released in 1921 by the Stoll Company, it was adapted by its director George Ridgewell, who worked on many of the Sherlock Holmes episodes for the same company. It’s a well-made film – nothing fancy but surprisingly competent for its year – from a well written novel, in fact a novel that is noticeably cinematic.

fourjustmen1

 

Try this passage from the opening of the original novel:

A NEWSPAPER STORY

On the fourteenth day of August, 19—, a tiny paragraph appeared at the foot of an unimportant page in London’s most sober journal to the effect that the secretary of state for foreign affairs had been much annoyed by the receipt of a number of threatening letters, and was prepared to pay a reward of fifty pounds to any person who would give such information as would lead to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons, etc. The few people who read London’s most sober journal thought, in their ponderous Athænaeum Club way, that it was a remarkable thing that a Minister of State should be annoyed at anything; more remarkable that he should advertise his annoyance, and most remarkable of all that he could imagine for one minute that the offer of a reward would put a stop to the annoyance.

News editors of less sober but larger circulated newspapers, wearily scanning the dull columns of Old Sobriety, read the paragraph with a newly acquired interest.

“Hullo, what’s this?” asked Smiles of the Comet, and cut out the paragraph with huge shears, pasted it upon a sheet of copy-paper and headed it:

“Who is Sir Philip’s Correspondent?” As an afterthought—the Comet being in Opposition—he prefixed an introductory paragraph, humorously suggesting that the letters were from an intelligent electorate grown tired of the shilly-shallying methods of the Government.

The news editor of the Evening World – a white-haired gentleman of deliberate movement – read the paragraph twice, cut it out carefully, read it again and, placing it under a paper-weight, very soon forgot all about it.

The news editor of the Megaphone, which is a very bright newspaper indeed, cut the paragraph as he read it, rang a bell, called a reporter, all in a breath, so to speak, and issued a few terse instructions.

“Go down to Portland Place, try to see Sir Philip Ramon, secure the story of that paragraph—why he is threatened, what he is threatened with; get a copy of one of the letters if you can. If you cannot see Ramon, get hold of a secretary.”

And the obedient reporter went forth.

He returned in an hour in that state of mysterious agitation peculiar to the reporter who has got a “beat.” The news editor duly reported to the editor-in-chief, and that great man said, “That’s very good, that’s very good indeed” – which was praise of the highest order.

What was “very good indeed” about the reporter’s story may be gathered from the half-column that appeared in the Megaphone on the following day:

Cabinet Minister in Danger

Threats to Murder the Foreign Secretary

“The Four Just Men”

Plot to Arrest the Passage of the Aliens

Extradition Bill

EXTRAORDINARY REVELATIONS

four2

It reads like a screenplay. The ramping up in stages of tension from the total under-reaction of the old codgers of the Athenaeum, to the more informed curiosity of the Comet, to the instant action of the Megaphone creates a mental image very reminiscent of the condensed montage-opening of the standard film thriller of the 1930s and 40s. To us the vision of whirling presses and scurry of the newspaper boys may be a cliché from the opening scenes of a thousand crime films, but it was a relatively new thing in 1921, when the story was first filmed, and certainly in 1905 when it was written.

For 1905 it was, when one of the best known British thriller novels was penned by a man who would come to be known as the ‘King of Thrillers’. Edgar Wallace was a Londoner of humble origins, who overcame a modest education to become a journalist and then an astonishingly prolific writer of ingenious thrillers, plays and film scripts. His lowbrow (his word) thrillers were written to be easily readable, were hugely popular and eminently adaptable for the screen. His works spawned some 200 films and television programmes, including famously at the end of his life, the first script for King Kong (1933). He died of a chill contracted while in Hollywood working on the film for Merian Cooper.

Continue reading The Four Just Men and the early British thriller

Happy birthday Louise Brooks!

One-hundred-and-eleven years ago, the actress, writer and icon Louise Brooks was born in Cherryvale, Kansas.  She danced, she inspired a comic strip, she scandalised people, she acted, she starred, she disappeared … then she came back and told us all about it, in a series of wise and candid essays and some revelatory interviews. Her famous cool look, with those sharp features, glittering eyes and that slick haircut, represent the essence of 1920s chic. Her fame and popularity seem to grow every year. In short, Louise Brooks is hot stuff, even now.

To celebrate the anniversary of Louise Brooks’s birth I want to share with you the first look at my new book on her greatest film, Pandora’s Box (1929). Thanks for all your support along the way to writing this book. It has meant so much to me.

Pandora's Box by Pamela Hutchinson
Pandora’s Box by Pamela Hutchinson – it’s real!

You can order the book here, but if you want to celebrate Louise Brooks’s birthday in style, come along to the official launch event and screening at BFI Southbank on Sunday 19 November 2017. I’ll be there to introduce the film, and to sign copies of the book afterwards. The film will screen on 35mm film, with live accompaniment from the wonderful John Sweeney. PLUS, you can buy the book then and there in the BFI shop, a few days before its official release, with a 10% discount. Just present your film ticket in the shop to get the offer.

There are a series of other screenings planned around the country to support the launch of the book. You can read about them here, in a post which I will update as new events are announced.

 

Pandora’s Box: interview with South West Silents

The lovely people at South West Silents interviewed me about Pandora’s Box, ahead of the screening I am introducing at the Cube Cinema in Bristol on 24 November.

South West Silents

Pandora’s Box (1929), Cube Cinema, Bristol / 8:00pm + Live Music + Special Intro

We strongly recommend that you keep the evening of Friday 24th November free in your diaries! Why?! As we are offering, for our second silent film event at the Cube Cinema, Bristol, a very rare treat indeed. As not only do you have a chance to see G. W. Pabst’s masterpiece that is Pandora’s Box (1929), starring the incredible Louise Brooks on the big screen (on 35mm film from the BFI Archives we should add). But this rare treat will also give us a chance to welcome back to very good friends of South West Silents.

Pianist John Sweeney will be playing live for us and returns to the Cube after our highly successful screening of  Il Fuoco (1916; The Fire) which took place back in March.

While Pamela Hutchinson (Silent London) is…

View original post 1,195 more words

LFF review: Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928) with Anoushka Shankar

Saturday night’s London Film Festival Archive Gala was an extraordinary experience. Regularly a highlight of the silent film year, previous galas have showcased glistening restorations of old and faded movies paired with fresh scores of mostly excellent quality. This year’s event was an exercise in enchanted restoration – with makeover and music transforming a simple film into something entirely wonderful.

Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)
Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)

Shiraz: A Romance of India was an Indian/British/German co-production from the late silent era. You might know two more films by the director Franz Osten: A Throw of Dice and Light of Asia. Shiraz is a shamelessly romantic and fairly romanticised, telling of the love affair honoured by one the most beautiful mausoleum in the world, the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)
Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)

Shiraz (Himansu Rai, who also produced the film) is a humble, but exceptionally talented potter, who has a deep love for his adopted sister Selima. When Selima (Enakshi Rama Rau) grows up, she is sold as a slave into the royal court and they are separated. What’s more, a love affair slowly begins to spark between Selima and Prince Khurram (Charu Roy) … Meanwhile, general’s daughter Dalia (Seeta Devi) is plotting to get her own hands on the prince.

Himansu Rai (Shiraz) in Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)
Himansu Rai (Shiraz) in Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928, BFI National Archive)

The story may seem paper-thin, but it has a beautiful surface. The romantic leads are very sweet, with the halting love story between Selima and the Prince always believable and Devi delightfully minxy. The location backdrops of the mountains and palaces are ravishing – a testament to the art direction of Promode Nath and cinematography by Henry Harris and Emil Schünemann that makes the most of natural light.

Continue reading LFF review: Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928) with Anoushka Shankar

‘Rhythm, rhythm and pure rhythm above all’: How Edmund Meisel scored Eisenstein’s October

This is a guest post for Silent London by John Leman Riley, a writer and editor, specialising in Eastern European culture, and film sound.

Film theory is usually visually driven, and the Soviet kind – with its emphasis on editing – especially so. And since the theorisers were often directors, they are better known than the men (and, inevitably, they were almost always men) who argued about the music. So much so that the best-known Soviet film-sound-theory text is 1928’s A Statement by Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Alexandrov (“on Sound” is often added to translations to clarify the subject). With its dream of asynchronous, anti-realistic sound, it was an idealistic text, and its ideas would never be fully followed through.

But beyond that is a huge bibliography of articles, pamphlets and books about the aesthetics of film music, and the competing technologies being developed for synchronised sound. The critical tracts were often written by properly trained musicians with practical experience in the cinema but their writings are rarely translated, and remain largely unknown outside Russia.

Sergei Eisenstein
Sergei Eisenstein

What were these competing theories about film music? Nowadays, we tend to look at the degree to which the music reflects and reinforces the images but, as A Statement argues, it could counter them. And there was a third option: the music could go its own way, fitting the film where it touched. This approach was taken by a Kiev cinema whose 60-piece orchestra simply played Tchaikovsky symphonies regardless of what was on screen, which must have made for some bizarre audiovisual moments! How successful these approaches were depended to some degree on whether the film was being accompanied by a composed score, a selection from albums or improvisation (what composer-critic Leonid Sabaneyev – a regular film-music critic – called “tasteless vamping”).

But today we’re discussing October, so we’ll go back to Eisenstein. His writings are polymathic: I opened a random page to find references to and quotes from Gounod, Bach, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dickens’ Hard Times, Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman and The Little House at Kolomna, and Dumas père in a discussion of structure, movement and the visualisation of non-visual phenomena. Unsurprising then, that he put some thought to film music (or rather, as A Statement showed, film sound). Indeed, the audiovisual was a topic with which he had long been obsessed.

battleshippotemkin
Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Continue reading ‘Rhythm, rhythm and pure rhythm above all’: How Edmund Meisel scored Eisenstein’s October

Silent films at the Cambridge Film Festival 2017: the movies men yearn for

Silent Londoners are an erudite group, and no doubt we’re all regularly found in halls of academe, talking loftily of theories and histories, of books and poems and one-reel Snub Pollard movies. But even though we’re such scholars, we could all do with a trip to Cambridge this month to complete our silent film education.

The Cambridge Film Festival is one of the best regular film festivals in the country for silents, and this year, the programme of early film is full of surprises, and wonderful music. Here’s what you should be looking out for.

Ivan Mosjoukine in The Loves of Casanova (1927)
Ivan Mosjoukine in The Loves of Casanova (1927)

 

 

The Cambridge Film Festival runs from 19-26 October 2017. Read more here.

 

 

LFF review: Little Veronika (Innocence, 1930)

I first heard Robert Land’s name earlier this year. The context was: “Robert Land … ever heard of him?” I hadn’t, of course. But suddenly Land was in sight everywhere: films of his played at Bologna and there was a very informative piece on this Austrian-Czech director in Sight & Sound. At Ritrovato, I saw the rather plodding comedy I Kiss your Hand, Madame (1927), starring Marlene Dietrich, but I missed the screening of the rather better regarded Little Veronika (1929) and worried that I had made an error.

Hurrah for the Archives strand at London Film Festival, which brought the new restoration of Little Veronika to my doorstep today, on 35mm with live accompaniment of the highest quality from John Sweeney. Made around the same time, and for the same production company, as Pandora’s Box, and more to the point, Diary of a Lost Girl, Little Veronika is a short, sharp tale of rustic innocence in peril.

Kleine Veronika (1929)
Kleine Veronika (1929)

Little Veronika (played by Käthe von Nagy, an experienced, if young, actress) lives with her family in the Tyorl, caring for furred creatures, being polite to the neighbours and doing her chores like the good girl she promises to be. She goes to Vienna to visit her glamorous Aunt Rosie (Maly Delshaft, the wife in Varieté), who has grown impressively wealthy and well-dressed in her decade in the capital. Aunt Rosie has slinky lingerie and lives in a big house with several other women. You’d have to be as innocent as Veronika not to know what’s going on, how Aunt Rosie earns her money, or what plans her new friends have for her future.

Continue reading LFF review: Little Veronika (Innocence, 1930)

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017: Pordenone post No 8

Can you believe it? It seems like only a week ago I’d never seen a French western or become intimately acquainted with The Island Girl. Our “week of miracles” is over, but the last programme delivered a fitting send-off.

When it’s the final day of the festival, the Teatro Verdi is required for orchestra rehearsals, so the Pordenauts have a change of scenery – we troop a scant 10 minutes up the road to the local arthouse cinema, Cinemazero. Little did I know, this morning, that it would be a journey to the dark side, and also from (not quite) sublime to the ridiculous.

ANNA-LIISA (FI 1922) Credit:  National Audiovisual Institute, Finland
ANNA-LIISA (FI 1922) Credit: National Audiovisual Institute, Finland

The Finnish film in the Scandinavian strand today was Anna-Liisa (1922), a rather harrowing adaptation of a stage play. The subject was infanticide, and by implication, rape. “Quiet and timid” Anna-Liisa is engaged to sweet Johannes and about to make it official – she’s spinning the thread for her wedding dress, he wants to publish the banns – but the mother of local boy Mikko is having none of that. She remembers helping Anna-Liisa to dispose of the evidence of the “bond” that exists between the girl and her son. Very, very not pleasant, and somehow not quite as dramatic as one might expect from the material, but nicely done, if occasionally awkwardly staged, and gorgeously accompanied by Gabriel Thibaudeau.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (US 1929) Credit: Cineteca Italiana, Milano
SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (US 1929) Credit: Cineteca Italiana, Milano

Daan ven den Hurk was at the keys for the next film, which was an entirely different kettle of flying fish: Benjamin Christensen’s Seven Footprints to Satan (1929) was a surreal hoot from start to finish, populated by dwarves, monkey men, heavily browed housekeepers and an escaped gorilla. All of them simply having a James Whale of a time. It is best summed up here by the estimable Mark Fuller:

Think Thelma Todd and Creighton Hale in a house of horrors, beset on all sides by the henchmen and handmaidens of Satan and the fruit of the feverish imaginations of all concerned. This was a grab-bag of characters and tropes from several different horror movies, most of which had not been made yet.

Continue reading Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017: Pordenone post No 8

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