Fantastic news. Two events coming up in London explore the Japanese art of Benshi narration for silent film, both of them courtesy of the Japan Foundation. You may have already heard that there will a screening of the masterpiece I was Born, But … (Yasijuro Ozu, 1932) at the Barbican on 25 June with piano accompaniment and Benshi narration. Book your tickets here.
Before that, on Friday 23 June at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, you can learn more about Benshi itself, with Katsudo-Benshi Hideyuki Yamashiro and silent film pianist Mie Yanashita. There’ll be a talk, demonstration (with a scene from Orochi, 1925) and even the chance to have a go yourself. I’ll be there too, giving an introductory talk about silent cinema to set the scene and chairing the Q&A with Yamashiro. More details below – it’s free but you have to book your seat on Eventbrite.
In conjunction with the Barbican’s screening of Yasujiro Ozu’s I was Born, But… organised as part of The Japanese House exhibition, the Japan Foundation is delighted to present a special evening exploring the art of Benshi. Following an introductory talk by silent cinema specialist Pamela Hutchinson, Katsudo-Benshi Hideyuki Yamashiro and Silent Film Pianist Mie Yanashita will perform a clip from Orochi (1925) recreating an authentic Benshi experience. As part of his illustrated talk, Yamashiro will discuss Benshi as a contemporary occupation as well as the unique appeal of Japanese silent cinema.
This fascinating event will also offer a few audience members the chance to take to the stage and perform the role of Benshi under instruction from Yamashiro himself!
This event is free to attend but booking is essential. To book your place via Eventbrite, please click here
Do you remember London Symphony? It’s a project this site has long been excited about. You may even have backed it on Kickstarter, or like me, even appeared in it. The film is directed by Alex Barratt and it’s a sumptuous new city symphony for the capital – an entirely silent movie that swoops around more than 300 locations in London to the tune of a newly composed musical score by James McWilliam. And finally, you’re going to get the chance to see it.
London Symphony will have a ’boutique’ theatrical release, with a screening at the Barbican on 3 September 2017, accompanied by the Orchestra of St Paul’s playing McWilliam’s score live. You can book tickets here.
There will be further UK screenings after the Barbican event, which will be announced shortly, and the film will be distributed internationally by Flicker Alley.
LONDON SYMPHONYis a contemporary take on the ‘city symphony’, a genre of creative non-fiction that flourished in the 1920s and consisted of works that attempted to build poetic portraits of city life. As well as serving as a form of virtual tourism, city symphonies raise important and universal questions about the nature of community life – questions that have become vital within the current political climate.LONDON SYMPHONY’S September release will coincide with the 90th anniversary of Walter Ruttmann’s BERLIN, SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY, one of the most important examples of the original city symphonies. Ruttmann was one of the great pioneers of experimental film, and Barrett and McWilliam have worked hard to bring a similar sense of poetic playfulness to LONDON SYMPHONY, while also updating the form for the 21st Century.
The project’s September release will be launched with a special screening at the Barbican Centre, the home of silent cinema in London, where it will be presented with the live premiere of McWilliam’s musical composition, as performed by OSP (the Orchestra of St Paul’s) and their conductor Ben Palmer. Says Palmer: “It’s always a thrill to bring a new piece to life, but this promises to be an unusually interesting collaboration for OSP. We’re very excited to be premiering James McWilliam’s fantastic music forLONDON SYMPHONY, especially at the iconic Barbican Centre”.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Barrett, McWilliam, Palmer and London history specialist Mark Rowland, chairman of Footprints of London. It will also mark the opening of the Barbican’s autumn ‘Silent Film and Live Music’ series. Tickets can now be purchased here: https://www.barbican.org.uk/film/event-detail.asp?id=21462.
After this special launch event, LONDON SYMPHONY willtour around a number of carefully selected venues throughout the UK, including conventional cinema spaces and alternative spaces such as a Parish Church and a Buddhist Meditation Centre. “In many ways,” says Barrett, “LONDON SYMPHONY is a community project, and we hope to bring it directly into those communities during our release”.
While the rest of us spent the summer wincing at the news and Instagramming our hot dog legs, Neil Brand has been in a better place. In a Hollywood vision of Sherwood Forest, to be specific, cooking up a new score for Allan Dwan’s 1922 blockbuster Robin Hood, starring the wonderful Douglas Fairbanks. The score will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Brock, at a special screening of the movie in the Barbican Hall on 14 October.
It’s a stellar year for silent film screenings in London, big and small, but there is one particular show I have been looking forward to for months …
Allan Dwan’s captivating, super-sized adaptation of Robin Hood, starring the athletic, charming Douglas Fairbanks, is one of my all-time favourite family-friendly silents. It has wit, and spectacle and action and a true star to recommend it. And who doesn’t love Robin Hood?
But there is another reason to anticipate this screening. Robin Hood screens at the Barbican in October, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing a brand new score, by the one and only Neil Brand, a veritable swashbuckler among film composers. The Barbican promises us that Brand’s score transforms and further enlivens the classic silent, adding “a new richness and relatability to the film’s building tension and dark humour”. I think this is going to be very special.
Robin Hood set a very good example when he robbed from the rich to give to the poor. You could win a pair of tickets to experience the movie, and the new score, for yourself (and a friend).
This is a guest post for Silent London by Neil Brand.
In late 1918 a film was in preparation that was to rewrite the history books – a British picture, running almost as long as Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, bringing to life the political career of the country’s prime minister, the full ferocity of the war and the experience of ordinary people caught up in these momentous events. It was called The Life Story of David Lloyd George. Nothing as ambitious had been tried before and it was ready for launch immediately after Armistice Day. There was even a deal in place with Carl Laemmle to splash it across the American continent.
Then late one afternoon in January 1919, a lawyer arrived at the offices of Ideal Film Company, the film’s producers, handed over £20,000 in £1,000 notes and drove away with the only negative and positive copies of the film. It was never seen again by its makers, its writer, the respected historian Sir Sidney Low, or its director Maurice Elvey. No audience saw it at the time and the film became a lost treasure.
But you can see it at the Barbican on 17 February, 2013.
The story behind these extraordinary events is still murky, but what we do know is this. Towards the end of 1918, as the film was nearing completion, the owners of Ideal Film, the Rowson brothers, issued a writ for libel against John Bull magazine, edited by the virulent xenophobe Horatio Bottomley, which had accused them of being German sympathisers (largely on account of their original name, Rosenbaum). At the same time, word came down from Lloyd George himself that he was unhappy with the film going ahead, this despite the fact that the producers had secured his involvement before shooting began. These two events are almost certainly linked, but the outcome is still shocking to this day.
The £20,000 paid to Ideal represented the out-of-pocket costs of the film not appearing – the greater costs, to Elvey, to lead actor Norman Page, whose Lloyd George is a phenomenal performance of nuance and understatement, even to the future of the British film industry, are incalculable. As Kevin Brownlow wrote on seeing the film in 1996, “… had the Life Story of David Lloyd George been released, Elvey might even have been hailed ‘The Griffith of Britain’ … certainly the film would have been placed beside the best work from America and the continent and it would not have been entirely overshadowed.”
So how did Brownlow come to see it? In 1994 the Welsh Film Archive in Aberystwyth took delivery of 16 cans of film found on the farm of Lord Tenby, grandson of Lloyd George. These turned out to contain 137 unedited rolls of nitrate film, which, after two years of painstaking restoration and reconstruction work, finally hit a screen before an audience in North Wales in April 1996 – I was the pianist on that occasion, unable to believe my luck.
For Lloyd George is a phenomenal film, a history that plays out like a biopic, a time-capsule that, at its best, still holds a modern audience with extraordinary power. Like the best biopics it hops nimbly between the big picture and the small, creating a fascinating portrait of Lloyd George within an entirely convincing political and domestic world. It has massive scenes, including a riot at Birmingham Town Hall with nearly a thousand extras; and quiet, contemplative scenes informed by Page’s charismatic dignity. Best of all, it still has the power to move, as much as it would have done with those audiences of 1919 who were destined never to see it. I urge you to see this “lost” masterpiece on its only London showing, and be prepared to have your preconceptions about British cinema, the first world war and silent cinema acting overturned.
The National Library of Wales holds more information on this extraordinary film and its story, if not the solution to the mystery of the film’s disappearance. Here’s my take on it – the film turned up among Lloyd George’s own possessions and, as was common knowledge at the time, £20,000 was about the going rate for a baronetcy …
The Barbican is marking the weekend’s 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster with a moving event that combines live music with archive footage. Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic was inspired by reports that the ship’s string ensemble continued to play the hymn Autumn as the vessel sank; it was written in 1969 and first recorded on Brian Eno’s label Obscure. It will be performed in the Barbican concert hall by the Gavin Bryars ensemble with multimedia artist Philip Jeck.
The archive footage projections have been designed by film-maker Bill Morrison, whose work, including Decasia and The Miners’ Hymns, you may already be familiar with, in collaboration with Laurie Olinder.
Tickets for the event start at £15, but readers of this blog can enjoy a 20% discount when booking online. See the promotional code below.
Throughout the 72 minute piece Bryars and the ensemble weave refrains from Autumn with layers of Jeck’s sample-based materials, creating, at times, clamouring waves of sound that suggest the great engines and massive bulk of the vessel and the ocean that swallowed it. The result is a heart-achingly intimate and direct work.
The Sinking of the Titanic also features projection design by the internationally renowned Bill Morrison, who has commissioned work for some of the most important composers of his time, such as Steve Reich and Henryk Gorecki . Collaborating alongside Morrison is Laurie Olinder, multimedia designer, founding member of New York’s Ridge Theater with previous work being screened at some of the world’s most prestigious arts venues, such as Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Centre and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Silent London readers can claim a 20% discount on tickets for The Sinking of the Titanic. Just enter promo code 15412 when booking online, at barbican.org.uk. The Sinking of the Titanic plays at the Barbican on 15 April 2012 at 8pm.
Read more about the earliest films of the Titanic disaster and about events to commemorate the anniversary in our guest post by Greg Ward here.
If you were at the British Silent Film Festival last year, you won’t need telling twice to book for Beggars of Life. The gorgeous Louise Brooks, leery Wallace Beery, a hulking great train, ‘Wild Bill’ Wellman at the helm and a soundtrack by the coolest skiffle band in town.
This show is a fine example of how invigorating the combination of a great silent movie and live music can be. The Dodge Brothers, an Americana-drenched quartet featuring none other than bequiffed film critic Mark Kermode on bass and harmonica, will accompany rail-riding rom-com Beggars of Life at the Barbican next month. And their numbers will be swelled by Neil Brand on the piano. Here’s a taster of one of the quieter moments from their score.
The Barbican silent film and live music season continues in fine style with this sophisticated, satirical French comedy. René Clair’s film is a period piece, set in 1895, the year the Lumière brothers first unveiled their cinématographe, but was released just as the talkies were changing cinema for good – or ill. With few intertitles and plenty of visual humour, An Italian Straw Hat is classic of silent cinema, which Pauline Kael described as “so expertly timed and so elegantly directed that farce becomes ballet”. Contemporary reviews praised its:
“Delightful social irony and hilarious situations welded into divertingly sustained comedy. Amusing characterisations which are ironic criticisms. Witty situations and deft development. “
Albert Préjean stars as a hapless bridegroom whose journey to his own wedding is interrupted when his horse chews up a woman’s hat. She demands a replacement, which is easier said than done, and the groom is soon tangled up in a series of comic misunderstandings. An Italian Straw Hat is more than farce though, it uses the absurd premise as a route into a sly attack on bourgeois narrow-mindedness. The Silents Are Golden website sums it up this way:
The plea for intelligence, for rising above petty worries like lost gloves, for refusing to be constrained by petty convention, make An Italian Straw Hat a crusader in human propaganda. The sublimely naturalistic sets, the superb uniformity of the acting, and the flawless action continuity are the measure of René Clair’s technical proficiency.
If you’ve seen René Clair’s short silents, such as Entr’acte and Paris Qui Dort, or his later work including the Sous les Toits de Paris and A Nous la Liberté your appetite will already be whetted. Stop reading this blog, and book yourself a ticket.
You’re all over Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Roscoe Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy too. But there’s more to silent comedy than those big, big names, and this January, the Barbican offers a chance to get to know another fantastic funnyman from the early days of cinema, the dapper, charming Charley Chase – a comic as hilarious as his moustache is thin and elegant.
Charles Parrott started out in vaudeville, like so many silent comedians, but he went to work for Mack Sennett at Keystone in the early teens. While there, he appeared in a few films with Mr Chaplin and moved into directing as well. He directed several more films at Hal Roach’s studios, and after Harold Lloyd deaprted those premises he began starring in his own short films, under the name Charley Chase.
Chase’s silent movies were generally two-reelers, and the most famous of them were directed by Leo McCarey – three of which will be showing at the Barbican. Chase’s speciality is the comedy of embarrassment – character-driven farce as much as pure slapstick. In His Wooden Wedding, Chase is tricked, by a love rival, into believing his bride has a wooden leg. Mighty Like a Moose features a married couple who both undergo extreme makeovers courtesy of a plastic surgeon and then subsequently fail to recognise each other. Oliver Hardy takes a small role in Crazy Like a Fox, in which Chase pretends to be mad in order to avoid an arranged marriage. In each case, of course, mortifying complications ensue.
Crazy Like a Fox (1926), His Wooden Wedding (1925) and Mighty Like a Moose (1926) screen at the Barbican on 22 January at 3pm. Piano accompaniment will be provided by John Sweeney. Tickets start at £7.50 and are available from the Barbican website here.
There will also be a chance to see some Charley Chase classics at the Slapstick Festival in Bristol next month – so check that out too.
A rarely seen gem from Czechoslovakian silent cinema, Battalion (1927) tells the story of a lawyer who becomes a champion of the Prague underclass. It was remade in 1937 as a sound film, but the 1920s version is considered superior: gritty and emotionally affecting.
A much loved novel and play in its day, Josef Hais Tynecky’sBattalion was based on the fortunes of a real-life reluctant hero who took on the legal system. Popular Czech singer Karel Hasler stars as the disillusioned lawyer who swaps his home for the ill-famed pub Battalion after finds his wife with a lover. Living among the poor and drop-outs of Prague he becomes their patron, and when one of them is shot during a police raid, he stands as a key witness in the trial. Raw and effective, director Premysl Prazsky imbues his 14th film with an intellectual and emotional depth exceptional for its time.
The film’s star Karel Hasler, was a very popular Czech musician, director and actor who appeared in several film. Tragically, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 for “crimes” including singing patriotic songs, taken to a concentration camp, and tortured to death.
Battalion screens at the Barbican on 20 November 2011 at 4pm, with a live piano score from Jiří Hradil, a Czech rock musician who is also known for his silent film accompaniments. Tickets start at £7.50 and are available here, on the Barbican website.
The 2012 Olympics are not just about sport. The London 2012 Festival will bring hundreds of cultural events to the capital as well. Music, dance, art and literature all get a look-in, but of course, the strand that really catches my eye is The Genius of Hitchcock. The sound films of Leytonstone’s favourite son will be shown at a complete retrospective at the BFI in August, September and October 2012. Before that, and more importantly, Hitchcock’s wonderful silent films – all nine that survive – are in the process of being restored by the BFI, and will be screened across London next summer, with live, specially commissioned scores. These special events will be must-sees for silent film fans, so I’ll be keeping you updated as the tickets go on sale.
The exciting news for readers outside London is that The Lodger will also receive a theatrical release – and the performances of The Ring and Champagne will be streamed live online too.
The first screenings have now been announced, and you can even start booking tickets. I will update this post as more details and dates are announced
28 & 29 June 2012: Hitchcock’s first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925) will be shown in the gorgeous, and apt, Wilton’s Music Hall in Limehouse, with a score written by rising star composer Daniel Patrick Cohen and performed by the Royal Academy of Music’s Manson Ensemble. Tickets cost £21.50 and you can book them on the BFI website.
6 July 2012: The wonderful silent version of Blackmail will be accompanied by Neil Brand’s magnificent orchestral score when it screens at one of its most celebrated locations – the British Museum. Tickets here.
13 July 2012: The Ring (1927) is a love triangle with rival boxers trying to win the heart of the same woman, and is one of the most recognisably Hitchcockian of his silents. It is screened here at the magnificent Hackney Empire in East London, with a jazz score by Soweto Kinch, performed by a five-piece band. Tickets start at £15 and you can buy them here.
What can I tell you about The Wolves? I’ve not seen it, but I hear very good things. It’s a Portuguese silent film, from 1923, shot on location and with non-professional actors. It was directed by Rino Lupo, who had previously worked elsewhere in Europe, most notably for Gaumont in Paris. He made one hit film in Portugal, Mulheres da Beira (1923), but it sounds as if The Wolves was a troubled production – Lupo was sacked by the studio after the film wrapped, for missing deadlines and for financial “disagreements”.
It’s an unusual film by all accounts, described as having a “paradoxical uniqueness”, and telling the story of a stranger’s damaging arrival in a rustic community, fresh out of jail. The title refers to the two lead characters: “wildly violent in their desires and impulses”. It’s a elemental film, we’re told, and that location photography is very important. “The sea and the mountains push heavily, encircling their psyches and ways of life.” Also, The Wolves features Portuguese cinema’s first scene of full nudity, if that is of any interest to you.
Having shunned the studio and the professional actor, and also the temptation to import a foreign, tried and tested formula that was common practice in Portugal and other peripheral film industries of the time, Lupo opened the way, some would say, to the specific irregularity of a cinema, that of Portugal, that only during the years of the dictatorship, and elsewhere recently, has walked the tracks of mainstream production.
The Wolves screens at the Barbican Cinema on 13 November at 4pm. This will be the film’s UK premiere, which will be accompanied by live music composed by Luis Soldado, conducted by Maestro Rui Pinheiro, and performed byGrupo de Música Contemporânea de Lisboa. The film will be introduced by Tiago Baptista, Rino Lupo’s biographer. For tickets, visit the Barbican website.
One of the many things that Silent London loves about the Barbican’s Silent Film and Live Music strand is the way it crosses over other with film festivals taking place at the venue. There are silent screenings coming up that are part of the Portuguese and Czech Film Festivals, for example. The Portuguese silent, The Wolves (1923), looks particularly interesting – but more of that in a future post.
The film festival we’re concerned with today is the Bicycle Film Festival, now in its 11th year and packed full of cool documentaries about urban bikers and BMX stunts. The Wheels of Chance (1922) is rather more genteel, though: an adaptation of an HG Wells novel by American director Harold Shaw. The hero of this caper is an awkward draper’s assistant, who falls for a cycling beauty while on holiday in the home counties. We’re told that the story is a “metaphor for the revolutionary effect of the bicycle on Edwardian society”, but it also sounds like a good deal of fun. This is how the Bioscope reported a screening of the film at Pordenone two years ago:
Filmed, as is seemingly usual with Shaw, largely on location with strong emphasis on pictorialism. Wheels of Chance is a comedy with a plot borrowed from a melodrama, with George K. Arthur, back from Shaw’s Kipps, as a draper’s assistant on a cycling tour foiling the machinations of a foreign-named cad – Bechamel – trying to elope, also by bicycle, with a naive suburban girl thereby trapping her into compromising situations in Home Counties pub/hotels, while her mother and her entourage set off in pursuit. Charming but never cloying, the happy ending here is not the unlikely riding off into the sunset – socially impossible in those times – but a recognition by all parties of the lessons learned; she is less naive, and she and her elders have learned respect for their ‘social inferior’; he gains self-respect, and has had his horizons broadened just a little bit … it’s a well-made film, with its heart in the right place, and those evocative shots of 1920s Surrey and Hampshire …
Music for the screening will be provided by Robin Harris on piano and the feature will be accompanied by two early shorts: Thomas Edison’s Bicycle Tricks (1899) and the hypnotic Ladies on Bicycles (1899), shown above.
The Wheels of Chance screens at the Barbican Cinema at 4pm on 9 October 2011. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Barbican website.
There’s nothing like seeing a film with a live orchestra – it’s far more exciting than surround sound. That’s why at Silent London we’re so excited about the world premiere of Neil Brand’s score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground (1928), which will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 5 October.
Undergound is set in London, among what Asquith called “everyday” people, but that doesn’t mean that this is an unsophisticated film. Far from it. The director’s appreciation of European and Russian cinema (he was a co-founder of the London Film Society) is betrayed by his use of Expressionist shadows, subjective camerawork and montage editing. This is 1920s London, but not like you may have seen before.
Underground tells the story of four young working people making their way in 1920s London. The parallels with life in the metropolis today are poignant and it is fascinating to see location footage of the Underground network, old London pubs, department stores and of course the climactic chase through the Lots Road Power Station in Chelsea … Asquith had a remarkable ability to portray the lighter and darker aspects of life through staging and cinematography. He was aided by the superb and unusually good-looking cast of Brian Aherne and Elissa Landi as the nice young couple, with Norah Baring and Cyril McLaglen as the unluckier, troubled duo.
The print of Underground that will be shown at the Barbican is the product of many hours of restoration work by the BFI, using new, cutting-edge techniques. The BBC Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Timothy Brock.
To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to watch Underground at the Barbican Concert Hall, just answer this simple question:
Cyril McLaglen, who plays Bert in Underground, had an older brother who was also a film actor. What was his name?
Email your answer to email@example.com by noon on Monday 26 September. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!
“Will you come with me to a talkie to-night?” From the moment we first see that intertitle in A Cottage on Dartmoor – we know we’re in for a fright or two. Anthony Asquith’s classic silent film is the story of a violent love triangle told in a sinister flashback by an escaped convict. The menacing tone is interspersed with some adventurous visual flourishes, a very English sense of humour and an unforgettable glimpse of an audience’s reaction to an early sound film. Bryony Dixon has said in her recent book 100 Silent Films that: “of all the British silent films now resurfacing A Cottage on Dartmoor is the most significant rediscovery”. You really don’t want to miss this one.
A Cottage on Dartmoor screens at the Barbican Cinema at 4pm on Sunday, with live musical accompaniment from Stephen Horne. To win a pair of tickets to this screening, just answer this simple question:
What is the name of the first film that Anthony Asquith directed?
Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Friday 9 September. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!
Pola Negri was the first European star to be brought over to Hollywood, and her native Poland is understandably very proud of her. So much so that, to celebrate Poland’s presidency of the EU, the Polish Film Archive will be screening a new restoration of one of her “lost” films, with a specially commissioned orchestral score, at venues across Europe this year.
Mania: the History of a Cigarette Factory Worker is a “movie-poem” about a young woman caught between two suitors and with a terrible decision to make. The film was shot at Ufa in Berlin in 1918, and directed by Eugene Illés with sets designed by the master of Expressionism, Paul Leni. It comes to London on 13 October 2011, with a performance at the Barbican Arts Centre at 7pm. You can buy tickets here. And you can find out more about the film and its restoration here.
Meanwhile, I’ll be attending the “re-premiere” of Mania in Warsaw on Sunday – and reporting back with all the details soon. Watch this space.
Louis (2010) is definitely helping to put modern silents on the map, but you won’t be seeing it in your local Odeon any time soon, because it is only to be shown with its live musical accompaniment, a score composed by Wynton Marsalis and performed by a hand-picked band of musicians. This is a film all about jazz in fact, set in New Orleans in 1907 – it’s a fictionalised account of the early years of Louis Armstrong, with a few nods to the cinema of the time.
Louis is a companion piece to a sound film, Bolden, which is coming out next year, about the ‘Cornet King’ Buddy Bolden. Both films have been directed and co-written by Dan Pritzker, a billionaire musician turned film-maker, who has certainly hired some big names to help realise his vision – not just Marsalis, but an Oscar-winning director of photography too.
Shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond as a modern re-imagining of early silent film, “Louis” is an homage to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, beautiful women and the birth of American music. The grand Storyville bordellos, alleys and cemeteries of 1907 New Orleans provide a backdrop of lust, blood and magic for 6 year old Louis (Anthony Coleman) as he navigates the colourful intricacies of life in the city. Young Louis’s dreams of playing the trumpet are interrupted by a chance meeting with a beautiful and vulnerable girl named Grace (Lowry) and her baby, Jasmine. Haley, in a performance reminiscent of the great comic stars of the silent screen, plays the evil Judge Perry who is determined not to let Jasmine’s true heritage derail his candidacy for governor.
When Roger Ebert saw a preview of Louis in Chicago, he praised its “energy and wit,” saying: “It’s not a social documentary, and its recreation of New Orleans is certainly on the upbeat side, but then Louis Armstrong was on the upbeat side … What he’d especially approve of might be Marsalis – who took his performances as an inspiration – and the jazz band.”
I have taken a peek at the trailer, and at first glance Louis’s moody colour palette doesn’t look quite like any silent film I’ve seen before – but the Chaplinalike villain, speeded-up chase sequences and some neat physical comedy all recall the silent era. Some of the slick superimpositions and swooping camera movements feel comfortable, too, despite their 21st-century sheen. That said, the raunchy dancing in some scenes is more reminiscent of a Christina Aguilera video than anything I’ve seen in a silent film.
We will be able to judge properly soon, though, as Louis comes to London as part of the London Jazz Festival, with two screenings at the Barbican Arts Centre. This is an exciting opportunity to see a new silent film on the big screen and hear some leading jazz musicians play. Whether the music or the film will shine the brightest remains to be seen.
Louis screens at the Barbican on 13 November 2011 at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets cost between £10 and £25 and are available here. It’s worth pointing out that this film is not suitable for children – it was rated R in the US for sexual content and nudity.
There is far more to British silent cinema than Hitchcock, whatever recent news reports might have you believe. From Yorkshireman Louis Le Prince’s claim to have invented motion-picture technology, through Cecil Hepworth’s pioneering days in Walton-on-Thames, to the directors who gathered at the London Film Society in the 1920s, our early cinema industry has much to offer. And it’s not just directors that we can praise, but actors, writers, producers and more besides.
That’s why I am so happy to report that, before Hitchcock’s work takes centre-stage next year, there are several screenings of silent films by other British film-makers coming up in London soon. This is a great opportunity to learn more about what we can loftily, but quite rightly, call our cinematic heritage – and to enjoy some rather good films. Continue reading British silent film screenings, autumn 2011→
The special effects genius Willis O’Brien, who sent King Kong to the top of the Empire State Building in 1933, was something of a dinosaur specialist. In the silent era, he worked on a handful of short films on a prehistoric theme, and one Hollywood feature – the Arthur Conan-Doyle adventure The Lost World (1925), directed by Harry Hoyt.
Wallace Beery plays Professor Challenger, who leads an expedition (including Bessie Love) into Venezuela to prove his pet theory that even in the 20th century, dinosaurs still walk the earth. Lo and behold, he’s right, and in a remote plateau the travellers encounter several dinosaurs, whose violent antics are brought to life by O’Brien’s pioneering stop-motion effects. One of the film’s most famous sequences is a based a little closer to home, however, as a brontosaurus shipped home to England by Challenger escapes, and rampages around the streets of London.
The Lost World with live score by John Garden screens at the Barbican on 25 September at 4pm. Tickets cost £10.50 full price but less if bought online or for members. Visit the Barbican website for full details and to book. This event is hosted in partnership with the marvellous people from Bristol Silents. To find out more and for details of where else in the country Garden is performing his score, check out the Facebook page.
The Barbican’s Watch Me Move animation exhibition continues all summer, and is well worth a look. These two events may be of particular interest to silent film fans, though. On 1 September, writer Marina Warner will be giving a talk in the gallery about “shadow play” animation, from Lotte Reiniger, through to more contemporary artists such as William Kentridge and Kara Walker (below):
The lecture is followed by a shadow play animation workshop – Warner will be joined by artist Reza Ben Gajra, and you’ll learn all you need to know to create your own piece in the vein of The Adventures of Prince Achmed.
Both events take place on 1 September 2011, at 6.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets for the talk cost £10, and for the master class £12. For more details, click here, and here.