This post is humbly submitted to the Shadowplay Project Fear Blogathon. Happy Halloween!
“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”
That’s the motto attached to Francisco Goya’s etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, which is also one of the inspirations for an utterly disturbing new dialogue-free film. Jonathan Glazer’s The Fall (2019) screened on BBC2 on 10pm on Sunday, unannounced in the listings, and at a selection of cinemas across the country. It’s a scant seven minutes of unnamed horror – a mob, a victim, an escape attempt – soundtracked by an eerie score from Mica Levi.
Matt Lucas is a bit of a comedy hero, from his hilarious cameos on Shooting Stars, to the taste- and boundary-pushing Little Britain, to the trenchant way he knocks down the idiots who try to step to him on social media. I may not like everything Lucas does, but he is one of the most original, and bravest, voices in TV comedy. Unafraid to go against fashion as ever, his new project is a “visual comedy” TV series, Pompidou, which debuts on BBC2 on Sunday 1 March.
So I'm delighted to tell you that my new series POMPIDOU begins on SUNDAY 1st MARCH AT 6:30PM ON BBC TWO!
Lucas has co-written the series with Julian Dutton, and he plays the title character: “an elderly oddball aristocrat who has fallen on hard times”. Alex MacQueen plays his long-suffering butler, Hove. And they have a canine companion, too: the elegant Marion, an Afghan hound.
Last night’s Jazz on 3 celebrated the art of live accompaniment to silent film, as part of the BBC’s marvellous Sound of Cinema season. The show, presented by Jez Nelson, features jazz and improvising musicians creating live scores for silent films. Listen again here, or catch up with the sessions by watching these gorgeous clips, with music from the live session by Alison Blunt (violin), Viv Corringham (vocals), John Bisset (guitar) and David Leahy (double bass). Here, they are accompanying an experimental film by Louise Curham called Pararaha, Ruapehu, Mt Clear.
The much-loved 1925 German film A Trip to the Planets was also among the films chosen for the session.
Another modern silent here, Composted Memorial by Sally Golding, an installation and performance artist know for her cine-sculptures. She desecribes the film, which is constructed from vintage 9.5mm home-movie fragments as: “A wonky filmic resurrection, as a cine-essay dissolving in destructive magic.”
This week, I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Sound of Cinema, a new cross-channel season from the BBC exploring film music in all its variety. The centrepiece of the season, arriving in September, is a three-part documentary on BBC4 by silent film composer Neil Brand called The Big Score. I’ve had a sneak preview of the series and it’s seriously fascinating stuff, with Brand tracing the development of film music from the silent era onwards, explaining exactly how classic scores work their magic on the viewing public and interviewing movie composers and big-name directors. Vangelis discusses the creation of his classic score for the most famous slow-motion sequence of them all in Chariots of Fire; Martin Scorsese talks us through his use of Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets. In the first episode, Brand talks to silent film accompanist Bernie Anderson at Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City – and has a go on the magnificent in-house organ there.
Other elements in the season include stars discussing their favourite film music moments on BBC Radio 6; a documentary about the relationship between hip-hop and cinema on BBC Radio 1; Bobby Friction exploring Bollywood music on the BBC Asian Network; and a BBC Radio 2 documentary made by Mark Kermode called Soundtrack of my Life, which promises to be very entertaining. There’s absolutely masses planned on BBC Radio 3, including Sound of Cinema downloads by Brand and a a week of programmes hosted by Matthew Sweet. You can read more here (PDF). Radio1 film critic Rhianna Dhillon talked to me about the intriguing possibility of getting some pop acts to have a stab at scoring a film – perhaps they will get a taste for it and we’ll find some new names added to the list of regular silent film composers!
Because, yes, this all sounds a bit “talkie” for Silent London, but I’m sharing this with you because this series promises “a deep understanding of what music does for film”. It’s a subject that silent cinema fans discuss animatedly after every screening – we’re in the now unusual position of watching the same film again and again with different scores, which can make a huge difference to the experience. Perhaps, after dipping into this season. we’ll have an insight into the influences, theories and ideas rushing through the film accompanist’s mind at the next screening we attend.
It’s not often I find myself recommending a natural history programme, but on Tuesday night this week a BBC4 nature documentary will celebrate the work of film pioneer Percy Smith. Edwardian Insects on Film is punchy name of the hour-long doc, which is part of the channel’s Alien Nation insects season. As the video above shows, the film follows wildlife film-maker Charlie Hamilton Jones’s attempts to replicate Smith’s ingenious film The Acrobatic Fly (1910). It promises to be a rare opportunity to look in detail at early cinema methods and technology – and an even rarer opportunity to see such things on TV.
While the tricksy manipulations of The Acrobatic Fly are many miles away from modern wildlife film’s hands-off observe-from-a-distance approach, the documentary also looks at Smith’s pioneering work in timelapse photography (the gorgeous The Birth of a Flower, 1910), which is still a staple of the genre – used for example in David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants (1995). Attenborough himself makes an appearance in the programme, as will a few other faces familiar to readers of this blog.
Smith continued working in the film industry into the 30s, most notably making the Secrets of Nature series for British Instructional Films from 1922-33. Should you want to know more, BFI Screenonline has plenty of information about Smith and his films, some of which are available on DVD, or like the clips above, on the BFI YouTube channel:
Smith was a true pioneer, inventing original (and bizarre) methods for time lapse and micro cinematography, involving all kinds of home-made devices, including alarms all over his home to wake him up in the middle of the night if the film in the camera needed changing. With endless patience, he could spend up to two and a half years to complete a film. He also had the popular touch, with the happy knack (as he put it himself) of being able to feed his audience “the powder of instruction in the jam of entertainment”. Modern film technique could hardly better the results achieved by Smith in the first decades of the century and his early masterpiece Birth of a Flower (1910) has never been out of distribution.
Edwardian Insects on Film screens on BBC4 at 9pm on Tuesday 19 March 2013 and again at 2.40am on Wednesday 20 March 2013.
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.
Tonight, on BBC1 at 10.35pm, The Weird Adventures of Eadweard Muybridge looks at the “Victorian enigma” who took those famous photographs of running horses, gymnasts and elephants and then started projecting his animations of said photographs on a big screen, thanks to his amazing zoopraxiscope. The documentary is presented by Alan Yentob as part of the Imagine… strand.
Need another reason to watch? Andy Serkis plays Muybridge himself.