Tag Archives: British Silent Film Festival

The British Silent Film Weekend 2013 – reporting back

Betty Balfour
Betty Balfour

As you know, this year the British Silent Film Festival has taken a year off – but luckily for us, it’s the kind of year off where two all-day events still go ahead. Just to keep things ticking over, as it were. So last weekend there was a symposium on British silent cinema, held at King’s College London and organised by Dr Lawrence Napper. The following day the Cinema Museum hosted an all-dayer of screenings, themed on the tantalising idea of “sensation-seeking”.

I attended both events and while it didn’t feel like the festival was running, it was a real treat to be immersed in British silent film in this way. Let’s hope the festival returns back to full strength next year.

The papers at the symposium were limited to 20 minutes apiece, but covered a wide range of topics, from Edwardian theatre to state censorship to international co-productions to saucy novels. One hardly knows where to begin.

There were two papers with a theatrical bent: Ken Reeves’s dip into musical comedy theatre and its links to silent film concluded with some ideas for “crossover” events that would mix theatre, film and audience participation to spread the love about early British cinema. Audience participation? Reader, I sang. Very badly. Theatre historian David Mayer’s unforgettable presentation played and replayed the same baffling scrap of film as he uncovered the truth behind its creation. The scene of a waterfall bursting its bank and bringing down a bridge (and a couch and four) was, it turned out, not shot on location but on stage at the London Hippodrome in 1902, where a collapsible stage could be dropped and filled with water to create watery scenes. There was more – involving elephants on a slide. Elephants. Read more here.

Elisabeth Risdon on the cover of The Picturegoer July 1915
Elisabeth Risdon on the cover of The Picturegoer July 1915

Lucie Dutton, sometimes of this parish, also talked about the stage, presenting a history of film director Maurice Elvey‘s early career – in theatre in London and New York, before moving into the pictures with his star Elisabeth Risdon. She was followed by John Reed from the National Screen and Sound Archive in Wales, who took us through the production, loss, rediscovery and restoration of Elvey’s landmark film, The Life Story of David Lloyd George. Intriguingly, Reed pointed out a few instances in which Elvey could be seen in the film, waving a handkerchief and appearing to direct the action. Could this be because in these scenes the prime minister was played not by Norman Page but by Lloyd George himself? It’s an enticing thought.

Another famous British director was under the spotlight – one even more renowned than Elvey. Charles Barr presented on what we do know, and what we don’t, about the first film that Hitchcock ever shouted action on: Always Tell Your Wife. It’s an adaptation of a stage comedy starring theatre veterans Seymour Hicks and Ellaline Terriss and it seems the director fell out with his inflexible actors and therefore a “fat youth” from the props room was elevated to the job. You may struggle to see bold Hitchcockian strokes in what we have left of the film (which screened at the Cinema Museum on the Saturday), but we do have the director’s handwriting, unmistakably, in an insert shot of a telegram.

Jackeydawra Melford (trom thebioscope.net)
Jackeydawra Melford (trom thebioscope.net)

Far less well known than Hitchcock, but fascinating to hear about, was showman-turned-film director Mark Melford. His name, just like most of his films, may be lost to time, but Stephen Morgan attempted to flesh out his story, taking his cue from a Bioscope blogpost of 2007 that posed the pertinent question: “Who needs films to write film history anyway?” We did see a clip from the recently rediscovered romp The Herncrake Witch, directed by and starring Melford (amended, see comments) as well as being based on one of his own comic operas and also featuring his daughter (Jackeydawra, named thus due to her parents’ love of Jackdaws. True story). The story of the Melfords was hugely entertaining, but Morgan concluded by making the hugely important point that the study of lost films and forgotten film-makers is vital to a full understanding of the silent film era as a whole.

And of course, one never knows when a lost film will suddenly become an un-lost film. It happened to The Herncrake Witch and The Life Story of David Lloyd George after all. And it wasn’t so long ago that a treasure trove of Mitchell & Kenyon works was unearthed, giving us an invaluable glimpse of (mostly working-class) Edwardian Britain. In one of the day’s most diverting 20-minute segments, Tony Fletcher played a selection of Mitchell & Kenyon’s fiction films, while explaining a little more about them. The films were comedies, often chases and knockabout stuff, all with a backdrop of industrial northern England – factory gates, brick kilns and terraced streets. I particularly liked the mischievous snow comedy and the animated intertitles in a short called (I think) Driving Lucy.

The Battles of the Coronel and Falkand Islands (1927)
The Battles of the Coronel and Falkand Islands (1927)

More comedy, but this time of the you-couldn’t-make-it-up school: Alex Rock put recent Leveson revelations in the shade with a paper on the Metropolitan Police’s tangled relationship with the film industry. Its rather heavy-handed Press Bureau, founded in 1919, was popularly known as the Suppress Bureau. You can guess why. Rock’s paper traced the development of an official documentary film, supported by the Met, called Scotland Yard, and the squashing of another, based on the memoirs of a former detective.

The correspondence of public servants baffled, outraged or simply dismissive of the “movies” is unexpectedly entertaining, and never more so than in Jo Pugh’s paper on the official military response to Walter Summers’ The Battles of the Coronel and Falkland Islands. I could barely keep up with the information he was imparting, partly because I was giggling so much. Really. The good news is that we should hear more from Jo’s research and more about the film too as a little bird tells me a full restoration (possibly in time for next year’s Great War centenary) is in process.

Continue reading The British Silent Film Weekend 2013 – reporting back

The Silent London podcast: Maurice Elvey, City Lights and unsilent films

City Lights (1931)
City Lights (1931)

It’s podcast o’clock once more. This time I’m joined in the studio by the marvellous Pete Baran, and in the pub by Lucie Dutton, who tells us all about British silent film director Maurice Elvey. All that, plus a guest appearance by Otto Kylmälä, film-maker and festival organiser, praising the “subtle brilliance and mature beauty” of his favourite silent movie, Chaplin’s City Lights.

Is City Lights a silent film? Perhaps it’s an “unsilent film” – we’ll be talking about them, as well as discussing your suggestions for the best silent films for small children and taking a look at the listings too – including the British Silent Film Festival’s 2013 incarnation and not forgetting Napoléon.

There’s also a lot more Robocop than you may expect. Don’t ask.


The Silent London Podcast is available on iTunes. Click here for more details.  The music is by kind permission of Neil Brand, and the podcast is presented in association with SOAS radio.

If you want to get in touch with us about anything you hear on the podcast tweet @silentlondon or leave a message on the Facebook page: facebook.com/silentlondon.

News for 2013 from the British Silent Film Festival

Cocaine (Graham Cutts, 1922)
Cocaine (Graham Cutts, 1922)

If my email inbox is anything to go by, several of you have been wondering when we would hear details of the 16th British Silent Film Festival. After last year’s trip to Cambridge, many of you will have been anticipating the festival’s return to London, for one thing…

Well. There’s bad news – but happily there’s far more good news.

The BSFF is taking a break this year – but there will still be a BSFF, of sorts. And yes, some of the events will be in London, but festivalgoers will also be packing their buckets and spades for a trip to The Suffolk coast – and the historic Aldeburgh Cinema.

The centrepiece of the events, according to my insider sources, will be the screening of Hobson’s Choice (Percy Nash, 1920), starring Arthur PittJoan Ritz and Joe Nightingale – a very, very rarely seen film and a magnificent adaptation of the play by Harold Brighouse. You’ll also have a chance to see the full surviving fragment of Graham Cutts’s Cocaine (1922) and the only surviving reel of Monkey’s Paw (Manning Haynes, 1923). Speaking of Haynes – you’ll be able to feast on his delightful WW Jacobs comedies down in Suffolk – a treat for any British silent film fanatic. If you linger by the seaside, you’ll also catch the Dodge Brothers accompanying the Louise Brooks film Beggars of Life (1928), which is well worth sticking around for.

Over to the official announcement on the British Silents website.

There will be no British Silent Film Festival this year while the team regroup – however, we are organising three fantastic one off events , with three enthusiastic new hosts:

19th April One day British Silent Symposium courtesy of Lawrence Napper at King’s College, University of London –incorporating the Rachael Low lecture. A ‘Call for Papers’ will be coming soon.

20th April – All day event at the Cinema Museum – a programme of sensational London related film – The Yellow Claw, full surviving fragments of Cocaine, Monkey’s Paw, and rare shorts from other collections. Also the 21st century premiere of the 1920Hobson’s Choice a genuinely good silent adaptation of the Harold Brighouse classic made famous by David Lean.

4th May – join us by the sea as the BSFF are guests of the glorious Aldeburgh Cinema for an all-dayer, with a coastal theme, including the ‘east coast’ films of Manning Haynes and Lydia Hayward based on the W W Jacobs stories, a programme of Lifeboat films and others. The fabulous Dodge Brothers will be playing ‘Beggars of Life’on the 5th for those who want to make a weekend of it!

Full programmes and further details to follow.

The Silent London podcast: the British Silent Film Festival, Hitchcock and Greed

Greed (1924)
Greed (1924)

The podcast returns – we love the talkies don’t we? This time around, I’m lucky enough to be joined by Matthew Turner from viewlondon.co.uk and podcaster extraordinaire Pete Baran. We’ll be hearing what you thought of the recent British Silent Film Festival, anticipating the forthcoming silent Hitchcock screenings in London and Matthew will be talking about his favourite silent film. If you haven’t seen Greed (1924), be warned: here be spoilers. There is plenty of suspense, however, in discovering whether we fail The Artist Challenge – and if we do, who the culprit will be.

The Silent London Podcast: the British Silent Film Festival, Hitchcock and Greed

The Silent London Podcast is also on iTunes. Click here for more details.  The music is by kind permission of Neil Brand, and the podcast is presented in association with SOAS radio.

If you want to get in touch with us about anything you hear on the podcast, email silentlondonpodcast@gmail.com, tweet @silent_london or leave a message on the Facebook page: facebook.com/silentlondon.

The British silent film festival 2012 – reviewed by you on Twitter

  1. Share
    Hello Twitter! Yes we are now tweeting for #BSFF15, starting this Thurs in (currently very) sunny Cambridge as the Good Dr M Kermode says
    Mon, Apr 16 2012 07:28:35
  2. Share
    Saturday’s #BSFF dilemma: Livingstone or Mist in the Valley. Any thoughts?
    Wed, Apr 18 2012 10:19:02
  3. Share
    @britishpictures Mist in the Valley because it has GH Mulcaster who played Dr Scudamore in Will Hay’s last film My Learned Friend. #BSFF
    Wed, Apr 18 2012 10:35:47
  4. Share
    So today is the start of the British Silent Film Festival in Cambridge. Do drop in if you’re passing. #BSFF
    Thu, Apr 19 2012 01:24:06
  5. Share
    #bornonthisday 1890 Herbert Wilcox. Director/producer. His version of Tale of Two Cities, The Only Way, is at the #BSFF today.
    Thu, Apr 19 2012 02:15:18
  6. Share
    Bright and early and off to Cambridge for the British Silent Film Festival – I’ll be tweeting using the #BSFF15 tag I reckon

Win tickets to the British Silent Film Festival

The Ghost That Never Returns (1929)
The Ghost That Never Returns (1929)

This year’s British Silent Film Festival has an extraordinarily full schedule of films, talks and gala screenings. Whether you favour Soviet gem The Ghost That Never Returns with the full-throttle rockin’ blues of the Dodge Brothers (featuring Mark Kermode), Miles Mander’s sophisticated drama The First Born with Stephen Horne‘s elegant, haunting score, or some much-loved but little-seen favourites from the archives, there should be something to tempt you. And the whole thing takes place in the beautiful city of Cambridge this year (just 45 minutes from the Big Smoke by train).

You can read the whole schedule here. And buy tickets for individual screenings, as well as day or weekend passes, here.

BUT, very excitingly, the British Silent Film Festival has been kind enough to give away some tickets for free! To you beautiful Silent Londoners. To win a pair of tickets to a screening of your choice, just send the answer to this super-easy question to me, at silentlondontickets@gmail.com.

  • What is the name of the French silent film-maker whose life was dramatised in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film Hugo (2911)?

The winner will be chosen at random from the correct answers at 1pm on Wednesday 18 April 2012, when the competition closes – and then notified by email. Good luck, and see you in Cambridge!

The Silent London podcast: episode one

Josef von Sterberg's The Docks of New York
Josef von Sternberg's The Docks of New York

The coming of sound was always going to be a shock. But bear with me, dear readers, you’ll soon become accustomed to this new-fangled technology. Silent London has branched into the world of podcasting and and the first edition is ready for you to download and listen to now.

Listen now!

Episode one features Ewan Munro and Pete Baran chatting to me in the studio about Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent films, the forthcoming British Silent Film Festival, their favourite recent DVD and Blu-Ray releases and a lot more. Sight and Sound contributing editor Mark Sinker also takes the time to tell us about his favourite silent movie, Nosferatu. You’ll information about pretty much everything we discuss on the podcast somewhere on this site, but you may also want to click here, to see the BFI YouTube channel. The music is by kind permission of Neil Brand, and the podcast is presented in association with SOAS radio.

If you want to get in touch with us about anything you hear on the podcast, email silentlondonpodcast@gmail.com, tweet @silent_london or leave a message on the Facebook page: facebook.com/silentlondon.

UPDATE: The Silent London Podcast is now available on iTunes. Click here for more details.

15th British Silent Film Festival – programme announcement and booking details

Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll in The First Born (1928)
Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll in The First Born (1928)

I’m very pleased to say that more details of the programme for next month’s British Silent Film Festival have just been released. The festival takes place in Cambridge this year, from 19-22 April. Delegate passes for the weekend are now available to buy here, and the full schedule is available to browse here. Screenings will include Graham Cutts’s Cocaine, to accompany the ‘What the Silent Censor Saw’ programme, The First Born, with Stephen Horne’s ensemble score, Norwegian drama Fante-Anne (Gipsy Anne) with a new score by Halldor Krogh, Soviet documentary Turksib with accompaniment from Bronnt Industries, folk films from the ‘Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow’ collection and new restorations from the Imperial War Museum. There will be some British silent cinema highlights from 15-year history of the festival, a Grand Guignol strand of macabre movies and Ian Christie will deliver the Rachael Low lecture.

All this plus the Dodge Brothers will be scoring The Ghost That Never Returns live, there’ll be an outdoor screening on the Sunday night, golfing tales from PG Wodehouse, some classic Cambridge comedies and a couple of WW Jacobs adaptations in the form of The Boatswain’s Mate and A Will and a Way. The full announcement is pasted below.

Fante-Anne (1920)
Fante-Anne (1920)

The British Silent Film Festival will be celebrating its 15th Anniversary in Cambridge at the Arts Picture House. The four-day programme will be packed with rarely-seen films from the BFI and other international archives featuring a wide range of fascinating subjects such as: P.G. Wodehouse’s golfing tales including The Long Holeand The Clicking of Cuthbert; rarities based on the charming coastal stories  of W.W. Jacobs including The Boatswain’s Mate and A Will and a Way; a celebration of the centenary of the British Board of Film Classification with a look at ‘What the Silent Censor Saw’ with the rarely screened and risqué film Cocaine.  We’ll be tracing the origins of Cambridge’s brand of ‘university humour’ before the Footlights with a selection of burlesque films from the 1920s and featuring  A Couple of Down and Outs, the ‘silent Warhorse’ made in 1923 which tells the tale of a WWI soldier who goes on the run with his warhorse to save it from the ‘knacker’s yard’. We are also delighted to  be screening the 1920 classic Fante-Anne (Gipsy Anne), directed by the great Norwegian director Rasmus Breistein; accompanied by a new musical score by composer and music producer Halldor Krogh.

Trade ad for the scandalous Cocaine (Graham Cutts, 1922)
Trade ad for the scandalous Cocaine (Graham Cutts, 1922)

We’ll also be featuring some 15th anniversary highlights including the legendary Grand Guignol programme of macabre stories with a twist in the tale and we’ll be including a selection of the best of British silent feature films screened over the past fourteen years. The Imperial War Museum will be presenting their latest silent restorations from their fabulous collection and we are very pleased to announce that Ian Christie will deliver the Annual Rachael Low Lecture.

This year’s ‘hot tickets’ will be the wildly popular Dodge Brothers performing their distinctive brand of Americana to The Ghost That Never Returns at the West Road Concert Hall; Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow with live folk accompaniment to silent films of English folk traditions and the Bronnt Industries playing to the stunning Soviet film Turksib. Regular Festival collaborator Stephen Horne will be performing his fabulous new ensemble music score to The First Born, a dizzying tale of sex, death and British politics.

Screenings will take place at the Arts Picturehouse, Emmanuel College and the West Road Concert Hall. The Festival will draw to a close with an outdoor highlights screening on Magdalene Street in the evening of Sunday 22 April.

This post was updated on 22 March 2012.

The British Silent Film Festival comes to Cambridge, 19-22 April 2012

Head of the Family (1922)
Head of the Family (1922)

Save the date: the 15th British Silent Film Festival will take place 19-22 April 2012 at a new venue, the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse. The change of location has influenced the programme too, which will feature some examples of undergraduate humour among a mix that includes adaptations of stories by WW Jacobs and PG Wodehouse as well a tribute to the BBFC. There’ll be a by-now customary performance by the Dodge Brothers too, skiffling along to Abram Room’s The Ghost That Never Returns.

 The programme will include rarely seen silent films from the BFI and other archives around the world  on a wide range of fascinating subjects such as:  P.G. Wodehouse’s golfing tales including The Clicking of Cuthbert; rarities based on the charming coastal stories  of W.W. Jacobs including The Boatswain’s MateA Will and a Way and brand new print of Head of the Family; a celebration of the centenary of the British Board of Film Classification with a look at ‘What the Silent Censor Saw’ and the origins of ‘university humour’ before the Footlights. This year’s ‘hot ticket’ will be the wildly popular Dodge Brothers performing their distinctive brand of Americana to The Ghost That Never Returns.

Tickets are not yet on sale, but watch this space for more updates, including the full schedule and how to book. Click here for a report from last year’s festival, on the Guardian film blog. Below, Dodge Brother and film writer Mark Kermode introduces The Ghost That Never Returns at last year’s New Forest Film Festival:

The British Silent Film Festival: reporting back for the Guardian

Beggars of Life (1928)
Beggars of Life (1928)

The 14th British Silent Film Festival was held at the weekend, in the Barbican, the Cinema Museum and the BFI Southbank. A full report of the films, the lectures, the music and the gossip* will be forthcoming on this blog shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a piece I wrote for the Guardian Film Blog. It’s not quite a roundup of the festival, but it brings together some of the things we learned about silent film and music over the weekend – and I hope you enjoy it. If you were at the festival, let me know what you made of it, too.


The 14th British Silent Film Festival – full programme and ticket details

Twinkletoes (1926)
Twinkletoes (1926) (image from acertaincinema.com)

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 Life screening 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:

Continue reading The 14th British Silent Film Festival – full programme and ticket details

Beggars of Life with the Dodge Brothers at the BFI, 10 April 2011

Beggars of Life (1928)
Beggars of Life (1928)

The time is right for a little rock’n’roll – and who better to rock our world than Louise Brooks? The British Silent Film Festival is putting on a screening of Beggars of Life (1928), which stars Brooks as a young runaway who dresses as a boy and falls in with criminals, “riding the rails” across Depression-era America. It is known as the best of Brooks’s American silents, thanks to her fresh lead performance and the film’s fast-moving pace. If you’ve read Lulu in Hollywood, you’ll know from Brooks’s own account that between the stuntwork, the bitchiness and the practical jokes, the cast and crew had a hell of a time making this film, too.

The aforementioned rock’n’roll comes from the musical accompaniment for the screening: the Dodge Brothers, featuring film critic Mark Kermode and joined on this occasion by silent film pianist Neil Brand. The Dodge Brothers are a skiffle band, and play in a retro rockabilly style. They’ve worked on silent films before – soundtracking White Oak at the Barbican in 2009 and playing along to Beggars of Life at the British Silent Film Festival in Leicester last year. Here, Mark Kermode talks about what it’s like to work on a silent film project:

This promises to be a fantastic show – and tickets for the screening are likely to be very popular. Beggars of Life screens in NFT1 at the BFI Southbank on Sunday 10 April at 6pm. Tickets are £13 or £9.75 for concessions and £1.50 less for members. Tickets go on sale to BFI members on 8 March, and on general sale on 15 March. For more details, visit the BFI website.

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.