BFI Silents: February roundup

Lord Richard in the Pantry
Walter Forde is on the right, directing Richard Cooper in Lord Richard in the Pantry (1930)

It’s all about the archives this February at BFI Southbank. The stand-out feature for us is What Next? (1928) directed by and starring Londoner Walter Forde. Encouragingly, this film was recently discovered as a result of the BFI’s Most Wanted project, which searches for lost films. Forde, born in Lambeth in 1898, started out in musical halls before becoming a popular film comedian, then gradually moved into directing. What Next? is described as a”cheerful farce” and features a “deranged archaeologist” chasing our hapless hero around a museum at night in pursuit of a valuable Egyptian candlestick. As a bonus feature there’s a short film, Walter the Sleuth (1927). Both films are, of course, accompanied by live piano.

What Next? is screened in NFT2 on Wednesday 2 February at 6.10pm and will be introduced by a curator of the BFI archive.

There are also archival treasures to be found in the Tales From the Shipyard season, which opens with a compilation launch event on 7 February. At that event, and on 17 February as part of the A Ship is Born in Belfast programme, you can see footage from 1910 of the SS Olympic, which was the Titanic’s sister ship.

The Tales from the Shipyard launch event is on Monday 7 February in NFT1 at 6.20pm

A Ship is Born in Belfast is on Thursday 17 February in NFT2 at 8.30pm.

The most intriguing item is a talk on 19 February called The Tragic Launch of HMS Albion. Film-maker Patrick Keillor will be joined by the BFI’s Bryony Dixon, John Graves from the National Maritime Museum and London historian Chris Ellmers to discuss the terrible events of 21 June 1898. On that day, the battleship HMS Albion was christened, but as it entered the Thames, a wave caused a platform bearing spectators to collapse, and 34 people were drowned. The ship’s launch and the subsequent disaster were being filmed – so the debate will cover the ethics of documentary film-making, as well as providing historical context.

The Tragic Launch of HMS Albion is on 19 February from 11am to 4pm in NFT3 and tickets are £5

The BFI’s Tales From the Shipyard DVD will be released on 14 February.

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Berlin, Symphony of a City and Manhatta at the Barbican, 6 February

Berlin, Symphony of a City
Berlin, Symphony of a City (1927)

This tale of two cities is a very cool way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The classic Berlin: Symphony of a City (1927) montage documentary directed by Walter Ruttmann is paired with a film that partly inspired it: Manhatta (1921), based on Walt Whitman’s poem Mannahatta. Both films create portraits of cities rather than character-driven narratives. It’s an idea that’s radical even now, and both of these films are beautiful works of modernism. What better to watch in the sleek 60s architecture of an arts centre in the east end of London?

Accompaniment for the films comes from the saxophone and keyboards of German group Reflektor2. The duo, Jan Kopinski and Steve Iliffe, toured the UK last year with a live score for Der Golem (1920) and have written scores for many other silent films.

Berlin, Symphony of a City and Manhatta screen at 4pm on 6 February 2011. Tickets are £10.50 full price but £8.50 online and less for concessions. They’re available here.

Share your cinema this Christmas

Hello. As it’s Christmas time, many of us are thinking about giving gifts, and helping people less fortunate than ourselves. I am no exception to that – and I have recently found out about a charity that does fantastic work, which film lovers might like to support. Open Cinema is “a nationwide network of film clubs programmed by and for homeless and socially excluded people”. The idea is that socially excluded groups, whether rough sleepers, recovering drug addicts, former soldiers or migrant workers, can come to an Open Cinema to watch a film, meet film-makers and have a go at making a movie themselves. You can take a look at the variety of films they show here.

This is quite simply a brilliant idea. If you’ve ever experienced the joy of sharing a much-loved film with a friend, you’ll know why. But they put it much better than I could:

People suffering from homelessness and deprivation urgently need the benefits of culture, as well as information and food. Entertainment and culture are another kind of nourishment, and have been shown by research to measurably contribute to the mental health and wellbeing of socially marginalised people.

Our work is supported by research carried out by Broadway, one of London’s leading homelessness charities, together with Westminster Primary Care Trust. It revealed that taking part in social and cultural activities provided significant benefits to mental health. These included the alleviation of isolation, the reduction of anxiety and depression, and the promotion of relaxation and healthy sleep patterns. A study conducted by the Salvation Army found that 51% of their clients spent most of their time alone, lacking support networks and beneficial relationships.

If you want to help Open Cinema, who have branches in Newcastle and Bradford as well as several in London, you can donate, volunteer or become a friend for £10 or £20. That’s the cost of a DVD – and guess what, with the £20 option you do receive a free DVD of short films made by people participating in Open Cinema events.

All the details are on the website here. And you can follow Open Cinema on Twitter here.

Merry Christmas!

The Silent London End of Year Poll

Silent film screening

There are a heck of a lot of end-of-year lists floating around at the moment. But most of them are dominated by talkies. To rectify this, allow me to present The Silent London End of Year Poll. I’m looking for the best silent film show of the year – anywhere in the world. And I’d like your help.

If you love going to watch silent films with live music then there have been ample opportunities to indulge your passion this year. The scene is thriving in London, not that we wouldn’t like to see more screenings. And my Twitter spies tell me that from New York to Paris to California to Sussex people are enjoying silent cinema shows of all kinds. So what has been your personal highlight of 2010? The show that introduced you to silent film or reinvigorated your appreciation of it? A new film or musician that blew you away – or a classic done just right?

Continue reading The Silent London End of Year Poll

Metropolis at the ICA, 22 & 23 December

Metropolis
Metropolis (1927)

Christmas is coming and we all deserve a little treat, so it’s worth knowing that on two afternoons next week, the ICA is showing the new restored Metropolis. At 145 minutes long, that’s a deliciously long respite from the Christmas shopping, and the ICA is only two stops down the Bakerloo line from Oxford Circus. Can you afford not to?

Metropolis screens at the ICA on 22 and 23 December at 3.30pm. Tickets are £9 or £8 for concessions, and are available online here.

The British Silent Film Festival – April 2011

I Was Born But ... (1932)
I Was Born But ... (1932)

Consider this a teaser trailer. The British Silent Film Festival returns to the Barbican in April – and some of the screenings have already been announced. The theme is Going to the Movies: Music, Sound and the British Silent Film – no great surprise, as the festival is presented in partnership with the Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain project. As well as lectures and clip shows, five standalone film screenings are listed:

  • Beau Geste (1926)
    Hollywood director Herbert Brenon’s adaptation of the best-selling British adventure story about the Foreign Legion starring the quintessentially English Ronald Colman.
  • Twinkletoes (1926)
    US director Charles Brabin’s take on the British music hall starring Hollywood’s favourite flapper Colleen Moore.
  • Lonesome (1928)
    Paul Fejos’s brilliant part-talkie where dialogue was introduced as a novelty in this story of two lonely people trying to find love in New York. The film features a fantastic jazz-fuelled parade in Coney Island.
  • Morozko (1925)
    Yu Zhelyabuzhsky’s rarely seen Soviet fantasy about a stepdaughter who is driven out to face the spirit of winter is here presented with its original music score rediscovered and reconstructed for orchestra. Presented in conjunction with Sounds of Early Cinema Conference.
  • I Was Born But … (1932)
    Ozu’s classic family comedy marks the very end of the silent period. As one of the greatest silent films ever made, it is screened here to celebrate the artistic excellence which the silent cinema had achieved.

So, clearly the festival is not limited to British films, and with several compilation programmes, including New Discoveries in British Silent Film – there is lots to look forward to. The promise of an orchestral score for Morozko is intriguing, as is the Ozu film, which will surely be very popular. As soon as we know more, such as accompanists and individual dates, we’ll post it here. Until then, read the Bisocope’s post about the festival here, and consider your appetite well and truly whetted.

The 14th British Silent Film Festival takes place from Thursday 7 April to Sunday 10 April at the Barbican Arts Centre, London.

The Navigator at the Barbican, 9 January

Buster Keaton in The Navigator
Buster Keaton in The Navigator

The Fashion in Film festival may have departed the Barbican for another year, but the Silent Film and Live Music series is still active. That said, there’s just one screening lined up for January, but it looks like a treat. It’s a Buster Keaton double-bill of sorts, comprising The Navigator (1924), and one of his earlier, short films, Cops (1922).
Continue reading The Navigator at the Barbican, 9 January

Silent Christmas: Cage Against the Machine

John Cage, composer of 4'33"
John Cage, composer of 4'33"

It’s a fairly safe bet that the discerning readers of this blog won’t be buying Matt Cardle’s single this Christmas.* But what should we be slipping into the fleecy stockings of our loved ones instead?
Well, in a moment of rare cross-medium helpfulness, Silent London advises you to forgo Surfin’ Bird, When We Collide and anything that has ever been recorded by Cliff Richard, in favour of 4′ 33″ by Cage Against the Machine. Not just because it’s the most genuinely subversive record to have a chance of entering the UK charts in ages, but because of the video. Yes, there’s a video, and it’s a thing of beauty.

Continue reading Silent Christmas: Cage Against the Machine

Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder – review

George Meliés's The Impossible Voyage
George Méliès's The Impossible Voyage

Before visiting the Capturing Colour exhibition , I did a little light background reading on the subject of colour photography. Rather swiftly, I remembered why Physics was not my strong point at school. However, the exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery chooses to dazzle rather than baffle, using photographs, projected films and video to help tell the story of the development of colour photography.

Continue reading Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder – review

Our Daily Bread with live score at the Roundhouse, 19 December

A still from Our Daily Bread
A still from Our Daily Bread

Not strictly a silent, this one, but we can’t help but feel it would be of interest to readers of this blog. On 19 December, one-man band Pevin Kinel will be performing a live score to the factory farming documentary Our Daily Bread at the Roundhouse in Camden.
Continue reading Our Daily Bread with live score at the Roundhouse, 19 December

The Passion of Joan of Arc at Alexandra Palace. Maybe

You don’t often get to see silent films at pop festivals, but then again you don’t get many pop festivals in locations as grand as Alexandra Palace. The I’ll be Your Mirror festival, an off-shoot of All Tomorrow’s Parties is curated by Portishead, and takes place at Ally Pally next July.

The most intriguing act on the lineup for us is The Passion of Joan of Arc. We’re really hoping that this will be Dreyer’s silent classic from 1928   – and that this will be another chance to hear the score that Adrian Utley of Portishead and Will Gregory wrote for the film.

We got in touch with I’ll Be Your Mirror a couple of times but so far have had no response. Still, this looks like a fairly safe bet. Unless these guys have changed their name.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Prince Charles Cinema

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Prince Charles Cinema in the West End shows a silent film on the last Thursday of each month – except for December, it seems. So their next silent screening is in January, and it’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring “Man of a Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney. Hunchback was Universal’s most successful silent production, and it was the definitive film adaptation of Hugo’s novel – until a certain Disney version came along.

Trivia: English actress Kate Lester, who plays Madame de Gondelaurier, died on the Universal lot a year after making this film, following an explosion in her dressing room.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is screened at 8.45pm on Thursday 27th January. John Sweeney provides piano accompaniment.

SCHEDULE CLASH: Just like London buses, etc etc, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is showing at exactly the same time as Hamlet starring Asta Nielsen screens at the BFI. Just so you know.

Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder

Link: Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder

Serpentine Dance

Early Cinema Myth No 1 is surely that all silent films were black and white. It’s not true in the slightest, which is why we’re so keen to see this new exhibition in Brighton, which explores early attempts to achieve colour – from magic lanterns onwards.

We take the moving image in colour for granted, but the search for a way to capture the world in colour is a story of ingenious inventions, personal obsession, magic and illusion, scientific discovery, glamour, hard work and determination.

The Capturing Colour exhibition is at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 20 March 2011 and admission is free.

Silent London is planning a field trip to take a look at the show later in the week – we’ll report back here.

Women Make Film History at the Women’s Library

A quick mention for this event at the Women’s Libary on Saturday, which comprises a screening of several feminist films, followed by a discussion led by a panel including Professor June Purvis and Christine Gledhill.

The screening kicks off with some silents of course: four militant suffrage comedies from 1910. Sounds great.

Tickets are £8 or £6 for concessions.

The afternoon screenings illustrate women’s relationship with the cinema through a wide range of films, moving from early suffragette films which demonstrate cinema’s role – not always complimentary – in making visible women’s political activity in the public sphere, to women’s later use of film to examine what it means to be a woman in the workplace, and finally to the flowering of women’s alternative practices using animation.

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