Fresh from winning an Oscar last year, Kevin Brownlow will be in London in April to give an illustrated lecture at the Cinema Museum. The talk will use clips (all projected in 35mm) to explore the development of silent film technique, from one-shot shorts, to epic features. The clips will include newsreel footage as well as a sequence from The Fire Brigade (1926, hat-tip to mrbertiewooster on Nitrateville for that information), and will be accompanied on the piano by Stephen Horne.
Silent film comedy is perfect family viewing – the slapstick of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd is pure live-action Tom & Jerry, and recent animated features from WALL-E to Shaun the Sheep have been upfront about drawing inspiration from the early days of cinema. So screenings such as this one at the Barbican, purely for the youngsters, have their heart in exactly the right place. The film showing on this occasion is Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928), which I have to say slots pretty neatly into the Barbican’s current “City Symphony” series, but that’s not important right now. This show is part of the Family Film Club, which takes place every Saturday morning.
Harold Lloyd stars as Speedy (his real-life nickname) who has all sorts of adventures during one day in New York, including a trip to Coney Island and an encounter with Babe Ruth – culminating in a campaign to save the city’s horse-drawn trolley bus. And well he might. Judging by this clip, riding the New York subway in 1928 was not dissimilar to hopping on the Central line in 2011 (ignore the voiceover):
Speedy is on 12 March at the Barbican. The film starts at 11am, but the art activities will begin at 10.30am. “No unaccompanied adults will be admitted”, says the website, so if your children will allow you to come in with them, you can book tickets here.
A strange screening of a strange film. The monthly Cigarette Burns night at the Mucky Pup pub in Islington is fond of showing silent films to “warm up” the crowd before the night’s main attraction – a cult film, which as far as I can tell usually means zombies, trolls, gore, kung fu, spaceships and women in bikinis. I hear that Cigarette Burns always hosts a memorable night, whether at the pub or at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, and I’m particularly impressed by the artwork they put together for their screenings. Something tells me they’re serious about putting on a good show.
This month’s silent is The Lost World (1925), a film notable for its pioneering stop-motion special effects, which allowed director Harry Hoyt to stage fights between dinosaurs and his actors. Another treat is the appearance of Arthur Conan Doyle, who of course wrote the novel on which it was based, in a prologue to the film.
I’ve not been down to the Mucky Pup before, so I can’t promise you that this will be a screening to please the purists, or indeed, that it won’t. But there will be food, drink, a silent film to watch and David Hasselhoff – all on a school night. You can’t really say fairer than that.
The Lost World will show at the Mucky Pup, 39 Queens Head Street, N1 8NQ. Entry is free, and the silent film will begin at around 6.30pm. For more details, log in to Facebook or go to the Cigarette Burns website.
The Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness, Falkirk, beautifully restored to match its 1920 heyday, will host Scotland’s first silent film festival – and it promises to be an event with a real ‘vintage’ feel. The programme incorporates some enduringly popular silents, from a rare chance to see It (1927), starring Clara Bow, to FW Murnau’s influential vampire film Nosferatu (1922) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), plus a handful of comedies from Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and Harold Lloyd.
Neil Brand will provide musical accompaniment to several of the films, and he will also perform his acclaimed one-man show The Silent Pianist Speaks. David Allison of The Island Tapes will reprise his score for Nosferatu at the festival’s closing night gala, and another of the films will benefit from a specially commissioned soundtrack performed by local schoolchildren.
There will be a Slapstick Workshop for over-12s by Scottish theatre company Plutôt La Vie, and a new, specially commissioned soundtrack for one of the films performed by local schoolchildren. Another retro treat for younger viewers is the “jeely jar special” – a revival of a 1920s practice whereby film fans can get a two-for-one deal on tickets for The Kid if they bring along a clean jam jar (with lid). Bargain.
And for a touch more glamour, the Opening Gala screening of It has a 1920s dress code. Dropped waists, long strings of beads and cloches – it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge your inner flapper and give Clara Bow a run for her money. Perhaps you can find some sartorial inspiration here. Festival director Allison Strauss says:
The whole event is designed to celebrate the magic, glamour and pure entertainment of films from the silent era. Our programme and the supporting events include something for all ages and we’ve made sure that the wide appeal will involve a broad range of tastes, from cinephiles to anyone discovering early film for the first time.
For full details and to download a brochure, visit the website here.
The Arts Depot in North Finchley is a relatively new venue (it opened in 2004), but one with a packed schedule of performances and exhibitions. Their screening of Shiraz (1928) on Saturday night is a welcome addition to the silent film scene in London. Shiraz is an Indian silent film directed by Franz Osten and is the second part of a trilogy. The first film in the series, The Light of Asia, tells the story of the life of Buddha and the final part, A Throw of the Dice, dramatises episodes from the epic Mahabarata. Shiraz is a historical romance, based on the story behind the building of the Taj Mahal.
Music for this screening will be provided by the Sabri Ensemble, a world music group combining influences from South Asian, Latin American, jazz and western classical music, centred on Sarvar Sabri’s tabla playing. The Shiraz score, written by Sarvar Sabri, was first commissioned by the Lichfield Festival and has been performed at venues across the country over the past year.
Shiraz will be screened at 7.30pm on Saturday 5 February at the Pentland Theatre in the Arts Depot, North Finchley. Tickets are £16 or £14 for concessions, and they’re available here.
BFI Southbank has a busy schedule of silent films in March. All except this one are part of the Birds Eye View festival, and you can read about them here. The odd one out is also a film by a pioneering female film-maker, however, and is screened as part of the Passport to Cinema programme, introduced by Kevin Brownlow. It’s The Blot, directed in 1921 by Lois Weber:
The Blot is a realistic study of genteel poverty among the struggling middle-classes. An underpaid college professor scarcely has the means to support his wife and daughter, who in turn has three suitors, one an impoverished cleric, one the son of a nouveau riche neighbour, and one a playboy. The film is a subtle and compassionate study of the vagaries of society’s rewards.
An early example of “gritty” socially conscious film-making, The Blot was shot largely on location, often using natural lighting and with non-professional actors. The story highlights the plight of low-paid workers and the film’s mesage is sadly still relevant to modern audiences, so this should be a very interesting evening.
The screening of The Blot will be accompanied by the short animation The Country Mouse and the City Mouse as well as the talk by Kevin Brownlow. It will be shown at 6.10pm on Monday 28 March in NFT2. Tickets are available on the BFI website here.
“Plot – The Boy is in love with The Girl – the rest just happens”*
This is not a review of the Bristol Slapstick Festival, just a note to say what a Good Thing it is, and to give you a flavour of this celebratory yet educational event. I was only able to visit about a quarter of the festival this year – in 2012 hopefully I will get to see more.
To hear, and be part of, a theatre full of people guffawing at Charlie Chaplin pretending to fall down a staircase in 1916 is immense fun, and inspirational too. How many people, how many times in how many places have laughed at the same scene? Talk about a gift to the world. In my brief visit to Bristol, I saw Harold Lloyd, WC Fields, Clara Bow, Laurel and Hardy, Harry Langdon, Chaplin and Buster Keaton – all of whose films can still have audiences in stitches today, but sadly aren’t seen too often any more. Not only was it a treat to see these films, but it was a privilege to watch them with the benefit of introductions and lectures by experts and fans – Ian Lavender on Keaton and Graeme Garden on Langdon were particular delights as, of course, was Kevin Brownlow’s talk before Mantrap.
What can I say? My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer – the full programme looked very intriguing, Bristol is a great city and I met some lovely people on my trip. I’d recommend the Slapstick Festival wholeheartedly to silent film fans, but also to people who enjoy laughing, which should be all of you I reckon.
The Slapstick Festival website is here, you can follow related tweets via the hashtag #slapstickfest and read The 24th Frame’s day-by-day blog of the festival here.
*Taken from an intertitle on Harold Lloyd’s Get Out and Get Under, but this caption applied to 99% of the films at the Slapstick Festival, and it made me smile.
• I updated this post on 8 February with the revised times and dates for the Sound and Silents screenings.
To say that Silent London has a whole lotta love for the Birds Eye View Film Festival would be an understatement. This event, which has grown in size and scope since it was launched in 2005, excels in several areas, but silent film programming has been a particular strength. This year is no exception, with an exciting range of films in its Bloody Women horror strand being screened with live, specially commissioned scores at the BFI Southbank and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The festival, which is set up to celebrate and support international female film-makers, begins on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day – and its Opening Night Gala is a marvellous way to mark the occasion. Over to Birds Eye View:
It’s official. According to the BFI website, the newly restored version of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1926) with the original score by Edmund Meisel, will get its UK theatrical release on 29 April. Watch this space!
When Eisenstein heard the score that had been such an incendiary success in Germany, he worried that Meisel’s powerful music overshadowed the film. But Potemkin was already proving inspirational and few images remain as potent as a pram careering down a staircase, still widely referenced today, at the climax of the massacre of Odessa’s civilians. Potemkin’s perennial freshness owes much to Eisenstein’s improvisation when he realised the potential of those steps, and of the battleship itself, as a cockpit for the stirring of revolutionary emotion, and with Meisel’s music it’s as powerful as ever. – Ian Christie
The schedule for the Glasgow Film Festival has just been released and as expected there are plenty of great films old and new being screened as part of the event next month. Of special interest to this blog is the Music and Film Festival strand, which comprises documentaries about music and musicians as well as films shown with live scores. Not all of the films with live musical accompaniment are silents, but of course some are – and they look very exciting.
The Silent London End of Year Poll was never going to rival the ones you read in Sight & Sound and the broadsheets, I suppose. But I was heartened that so many of you did respond to my call for the best silent film show of 2010 – and fascinated by your choices, too. The big surprise was that no one mentioned Metropolis. There were a few votes for freshly restored Chaplin films, one for Natalie Clein’s sensitive cello score for The Temptress at Kings Place in May, a tantalising description of Stephen Horne’s soundtrack to La Princess Mandane as “genius” from Pam Cook on Twitter, a shout-out for the witty The Golden Butterfly (both shown as part of the Fashion in Film festival) and a “riotous” village-hall screening of Seven Chances (1925). Luke McKernan picked two films, both of which he described as “wildly obscure”: an anthropological documentary called Rituals and Festivals of the Borôro that screened at Pordenone and another vote for Stephen Horne, with his reconstruction of the score for The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (1917). Not seen those? Never mind – I’m sure you’ll sympathise with McKernan’s conclusion that the first film: “reminded me of why film is the most compelling medium, and silent film especially so”. But finally, with a whopping two votes (one on Twitter and another by email), the winner is the East End Film Festival’s screening of Hitchcock’s The Lodger, soundtracked by Minima. Congratulations – I was there as well and I thought it was a marvellous evening.
Crystal Palace Pictures is a thriving local film society, which shows a film every other Thursday on a 17ft screen in the Gipsy Hill Tavern, near Gipsy Hill station. Residents of Crystal Palace are currently embroiled in a long-running campaign for a cinema, so it’s good to see that there is an alternative in the local area. Ideally, there would be room for both, but until then, Crystal Palace Pictures is doing sterling work, showing a hugely diverse range of films.
You undoubtedly know The Bisocope, an exhaustive, eloquent blog about everything related to silent film, and much more besides. If by some chance you aren’t already familiar with the site, you can expect to lose the next few hours to exploring its scholarly articles. Enjoy. However, I wanted to draw your attention to one particular post, which will definitely be of interest, and may also have the power to change your holiday plans. The Bioscope has compiled a calendar of the 2011’s silent film festivals – from Kansas to Finland. The list includes some very exciting events and all of them are worthy of your support. You can find the post here – but if you find yourself buying plane tickets, don’t blame me, blame The Bisocope.
Due to technical difficulties, the screening of The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915) at the BFI Southbank on 24 January has been cancelled, but it will be rescheduled for later in the year. Hopefully, the rearranged screening will also benefit from an introduction from Kevin Brownlow as originally planned. Of course, we’ll pass on the details as soon we know more.
Asta Nielsen as Hamlet, Lilly Jacobson as Ophelia in Hamlet (1920)
Look what I found tucked into my copy of Shakespeare on Silent Film: A Strange Eventful History by Robert Hamilton Ball. It’s not a “vintage” postcard, but was bought for me by relatives on holiday in Berlin when I was writing a dissertation on silent Shakespeare. Asta Nielsen as Hamlet also graces the cover of the book, and looking at these pictures again I am reminded why I am so excited about the BFI screening of Hamlet next week. I’ve not seen this 1920 film directed by Sven Gade before, as it was not available on DVD when I was at university, and it still isn’t.
The BFI screening will be a chance to see a restored print of the film, and this event was also to be the premiere of a new score by Claire van Kampen – but unfortunately, that is no longer the case. However, I’m sure that Neil Brand’s improvised piano accompaniment will be up to his usual high standards.
Hamilton Ball says of the film that: “by adaptation and acting appropriate to pictures in motion, the least Shakespearean Hamlet becomes the best Hamlet film in the silent era”. He also quotes from a contemporary review in the periodical Exceptional Photoplays:
Rare is it indeed to see so complete a suggestion of all physical means – appearance, gesture, even the movement of an eye-lid – to the sheer art of showing forth the soul of a character as that which Asta Nielsen accomplishes in her role of Hamlet … For here is a woman whose like we have not on our own screen. Asta Nielsen’s art is a mature art that makes the curly headed girlies and painted hussies and tear-drenched mothers of most of our native film dramas as fantastic for adult consumption as a reading diet restricted to the Elsie books and Mother Goose … It is well … to put Shakespeare resolutely out of mind in seeing this production and take it on its own merits, though that is a mental feat made harder than it need have been by the frequent use of Shakespeare’s words in subtitles … Taken all in all, Hamlet reaches a level not often seen in our motion pictures.
Hamlet (1920) screens at the BFI Southbank on 27 January at 6.45pm. There are still a few tickets available here.
You may be interested in a piece I wrote for the Spectator’s Touching From a Distance arts blog last week. It’s a general introduction to where you can see silent films in London, and a few highlights of the forthcoming year. Here it is.
Carl Davis is back, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, to perform his score for The Phantom of the Opera (1925). You’ll be pleased to know that this film, which stars Lon Chaney, and the score, have nothing at all to do with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
More than 80 years after its première, Lon Chaney’s extraordinary performance as the Phantom – a crazed escapee from Devil’s Island, formerly imprisoned in a torture chamber on the site of the Paris opera – still has the power to shock; and the film is also notable for its sumptuous set-piece scenes, including a masked Ball in which the Phantom appears as the Red Death on the Grand Stairway.
The Phantom of the Opera screens at 3pm on 27 March 2011. Tickets range from £8-£38 and are available here.
In 2011, many people use Hollywood as a synonym for the film industry as a whole, but in the early days of cinema, California was a long distance from the heart of the action. Hollywood – the Prequel traces the geographical shifts of the silent film industry across Europe – at different times, Britain, France, Denmark and Italy could all claim to be the centre of the cinematographic world. This absorbing documentaryis presented by Francine Stock and features contributions from film historians including Kevin Brownlow, Ian Christie, Kristin Thompson, Neil Brand (with his piano) and Frank Gray. The experts take a chronological approach to early cinema, but focus on different genres in turn:
If you think the stick-em-up, the rom-com and the sword-and-sandal epic began life in the United States, then think again. The French gave the world a kinetic form of film comedy, and not only did the Danes perfect the art of the thriller, they gave the world its first bona fide movie star, Asta Nielsen, who scandalised cinema-goers everywhere with her erotic dance in 1910’s The Abyss.
Following on from February’s double-bill of Berlin, Symphony of a City and Manhatta, the Barbican brings us a triple-bill of films about French cities. The second City Symphony event comprises À Propos de Nice (Jean Vigo, 1929), Rien Que Les Heures (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1926) and Paris Qui Dort (René Clair, 1923), with piano accompaniment from Neil Brand.
Vigo’s dawn-to-dusk documentary uses montage to celebrate the vitality of Nice, but also to highlight social divides in the glamorous resort. Cavalvanti’s Paris film Rien Que Les Heures is an experimental attempt to paint a real portrait of the city, as opposed to the gloss of paintings and picture postcards. In René Clair’s surreal Paris Qui Dort, a Parisian is shocked to discover that everyone in the city has fallen into a trance – apart from him.
The City Symphony – Part 2 is on Sunday 13 March at 4pm. Tickets are available from the Barbican website and box office on 0845 120 7500. The third event in the strand, a screening of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), will take place on 29 May. Details to follow.