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.
This blog has been all a-twitter about Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc, recently, because it has been given a new rock-influenced score. By contrast, Richard Einhorn’s 1994 Voices of Light composition for orchestra and chorus seems like the established standard.
This is the magnificent soundtrack you can hear on the Criterion DVD release of the film, and though it is not without controversy (some feel that adding choral music to an anti-clerical film is rather beside the point), it has been widely, and rightly, acclaimed. It’s a real spine-tingler. You can read more about it here, and listen to it yourself online here.
Voices of Light is definitely something you want to experience live though, and luckily this November the Barbican Concert Hall is staging a performance of Voices of Light that you really, really don’t want to miss out on. The score will be performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Chorus, conducted by the trailblazing Marin Alsop. A film as majestic as The Passion of Joan of Arc deserves to seen this way, so this is a wonderful opportunity.
Yes, this definitely counts as advance notice, but tickets are already on sale, so ink it in your diary, people.
Einhorn Voices of Light and Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc will be performed at the Barbican Concert Hall on Sunday 6 November 2011 at 7.30pm. Tickets range from £10 to £35 and are available here on the Barbican website.
And while we’re here – have you bought your tickets for Underground yet?
What’s better than a silent film screening eh? A free silent film screening of course. The Barbican is camping out at Canary Wharf this August to stage three outdoor screenings of feature-length silent comedy classics and you won’t have to pay a penny to attend.
Neil Brand will be accompanying on the piano while the assembled crowds enjoy Monday night screenings of Buster Keaton’s The Navigator and The General and Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last. There’s nothing like watching silent comedy with a large, lively audience and Neil Brand is always on top form, so these shows should be inked in your diary already.
Monday 8 August
6.30pm – The General (U) (US 1926 Dir. Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman 89 min)
Set during the Civil War and based on a true incident, The General is considered to be the one of the greatest comedies of all time. Buster Keaton plays Johnnie Gray who loves his steam train The General. When Union soldiers penetrate Confederate lines and steal his locomotive, Johnnie sets off in hot pursuit – and seven of the film’s eight reels are devoted to the nail-biting chase.
Monday 15 August
6.30pm – Safety Last! (U) (US 1923 Dir. Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor 73 min)
In Safety Last!, Harold Lloyd’s most famous comedy, he plays a sales clerk in a department store who finds himself hanging off the hands of a collapsing clock on the side of a skyscraper high above the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Harold’s legendary building climb is breathtaking and hilariously funny at the same time. A sequence achieved without any special effects.
Monday 22 August
6.30pm – The Navigator (U) (US 1924 Dir. Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton 60 min)
Keaton’s biggest box-office success tells the story of inept millionaire Rollo Treadway and Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire), his rich, pampered girlfriend, who find themselves on a huge deserted liner adrift in the ocean. The Navigator is one of Buster Keaton’s finest films.
Hopefully some of the financiers of Canary Wharf will be tempted to leave their offices and join in the fun – it’s got to be more of a laugh than banking.
The Barbican is devoting the summer to animation, with a multifaceted season called Watch Me Move. There’s an exhibition in the art gallery and screenings in the cinema of everything from anime to Jan Svankmajer. And there’s this, a presentation of early animated films, accompanied by the musicians of the Guildhall Electronic Music Studios.
Top billing goes to the earliest film here: Georges Méliès’s science-fiction spectacular A Trip to the Moon (1902): possibly the most influential 14 minutes of film ever recorded. It’s fair to say that your year of Méliès mania starts here. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the director’s birth and there are two big releases in the pipeline to celebrate. First, the painstaking full-colour restoration of A Trip to the Moon, which premiered at Cannes and should be coming to these shores soon. Second, Martin Scorsese’s 3D movie Hugo Cabret, based on a children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which features Méliès and his beautiful trick films. This snippet from Le Figaro suggests that we might just see both films together when the latter gets its theatrical release.
Back at the Barbican, and the other films on the bill include four of Winsor McCay’s whimsical hand-drawn animated films:
You can’t throw a plate in London this month without hitting a screening of a Russian silent film, what with Battleship Potemkin and the BFI’s Kino season, and the Barbican is getting involved too. The final episode in the cinema’s City Symphony strand is Dziga Vertov’s weird and wonderful Man with a Movie Camera. It’s a masterpiece of montage, with a whimsical sense of humour and a remarkable rhythm.
Dziga Vertov’s ‘city symphony’ creates a montage of daily life in Moscow (with some scenes shot in Odessa) and emerged as one of the most innovative and experimental films of the silent era. Stunning photography by Vertov’s brother Mikhail Kaufman depicts the pulse and energy of the city in the late 1920s, the people at work and play, and the machines that make the city tick. A landmark in avant-garde cinema.
The film will be shown on 35mm film, and will be accompanied by a live score from In the Nursery, a synth-based band from Sheffield which has soundtracked several silents. Here’s a review of their Man with a Movie Camera score from a performance in 1999.
Comprised of relatively lush, ‘intelligent’ techno, the music adds a contemporary feel to a film whose joyous celebrations of modernity in all its forms still seems fresh… Seeing the film for the first time, I found it almost overwhelming. Although In the Nursery’s techno is less ‘industrial’ than it could have been, its unashamed populism does Dziga Vertov proud.
Man with a Movie Camera screens at 4pm on Sunday 29 May 2011 at the Barbican Arts Centre. Tickets cost £10.50 or £8.50 online or £6.50 for members. You can buy them here.
I reviewed the latest City Symphonies programme at the Barbican for the Cine-Vue blog. They showed À Propos de Nice, Rien Que Les Heures and Paris Qui Dort, which was new to me and has become a favourite already. Neil Brand accompanied on the piano. You can read all about it here.
Ta-dah! The full programme for the 14th British Silent Film Festival has been announced. You will find a few surprises in there, and a few things that you have been expecting since the first announcement in December last year. I am very pleased to say that there are some interesting British films in the schedule, as well as gems from abroad such as Ozu’s I Was Born, But… and the Beggars of Lifescreening at NFT1 with music from the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand. There will also be a world premiere in the form of the restored British musical score for the Russian film Morozko, and lectures from experts including Matthew Sweet, Luke McKernan and Bryony Dixon. So, without further ado, here’s what you can look forward to at the event, which runs from 7-10 April at the Barbican:
For this post, we will mostly let the pictures do the talking. This swooning embrace is from The Strong Man, a Polish film from 1929 about an unscrupulous journalist so hungry for literary fame that he steals his dying friend’s manuscript. It’s playing at the Barbican on 13 April.
These guys are Pink Freud. Together they are a monster of jazz, and they will be providing the live score. I think this looks like a huge amount of fun.
The Strong Man screens at the Barbican on 13 April 2011 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10.50, or £8.50 online, but £2 cheaper for Barbican members. More details here.
On a related note, this is Pola Negri, Polish silent film actress extraordinaire. One of her Polish films, Mania: A History of Workers in a Cigarette Factory (1918) has been recently restored and is to be screened in 10 European capitals, including London, to promote Poland’s presidency of the EU, which begins in July. This decision has not been without controversy, but you can judge for yourself when the film comes to town with a new score by Jerzy Maksymiuk, performed by the Wroclaw Chamber Music Orchestra Leopoldinum.
So, make sure you’re in town on Wednesday 5 October, which is when the score is due to premiere at the Barbican – and then keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming DVD featuring the new soundtrack.
This short video offers some technical details about the BFI restoration of Underground, and offers a snippet of the score that Brand performed at the Queen Elizaebeth Hall when the new print was first shown in 2009.
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.
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.
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.
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.
US director Charles Brabin’s take on the British music hall starring Hollywood’s favourite flapper Colleen Moore.
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.
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.