Tag Archives: December 2013

Hauntology weekend at the BFI: Häxan and silent treasures – win tickets

Legende du fantôme (1908)
Legende du fantôme (1908)

Next weekend is spookier than most at BFI Southbank – which is saying something, since the BFI Gothic season rolled into town. The Hauntology weekend takes over, with a screening of the majorly creepy drama-documentary Häxan on Friday 13 December, and on Saturday night, a collection of gothic treasures soundtracked by a group of seriously talented musicians – Sarah Angliss and the Spacedog ensemble. Here’s a little more about what you can expect from the shows – scroll down for a chance to win tickets to see Häxan.

The ensemble was put together by Sarah Angliss, a composer, automatist and theremin player, whose singularly unsettling music was recently heard at the National Theatre as a tense underscore to Lucy Prebble’s The Effect. Angliss’ music for Gothic film will be performed by her band: recent Ghost Box guests Spacedog. They’ll be joined by Exotic Pylon’s Time Attendant (Paul Snowdon) who will be supplying a new work on simmering, tabletop electronics. There will also be some extemporisations from Bela Emerson, a soloist who works with cello and electronics. Fellow Ghost Box associate Jon Brooks, composer of the haunting Music for Thomas Carnacki (2011), will also be creating a studio piece for the event.

Sourced by Bryony Dixon, the BFI’s curator of silent film, many of the short films inspiring these musicians were made in the opening years of the twentieth century. The Legende du fantôme (1908) and early split screen experiment Skulls Take Over (1901) are on the bill, along with the silent cubist masterpiece The Fall of the House of Usher (US version, 1928) and more.

“There is undoubtedly something uncanny about the earliest of these films”, said Angliss. “Many are stencil-coloured in vibrant hues, adding to that sense of the familiar taking on a strange cast. They seem to demand music that suggests rather than points up the horror, a motif that discomforts as it soothes, or a sweet sound that is somehow sickly, as though heard in a fever.”

Brooks added “the visuals suggest aural textures reminiscent of painted glass, to strange derivatives of stringed instruments. Hopefully I’ve conjured some playfulness amongst the macabre too.”

Adding to the strangeness are Angliss’ automata, who will also be performing live. These include a polyphonic, robotic carillon (bell playing machine) and Hugo, the roboticised head of a ventriloquist’s dummy who is of the same vintage as some of the films. The event will be directed by Emma Kilbey. After the BFI Southbank performance there are plans to take Vault to Gothic revivalist buildings around the UK.

Sarah Angliss is grateful to PRS for Music for financially supporting her new work. Vault: Music for Silent Gothic Treasures is part of the BFI’s Hauntology Weekend, in association with The Wire magazine (Fri 13 Dec – Sat 14 Dec)

To book tickets for Vault: Music for Silent Gothic Treasures, click here http://bit.ly/bfivault. The screening takes places a 8:45pm NTF1, BFI Southbank, Saturday 14 December.

Häxan (1922)
Häxan (1922)

On the Friday night, the Häxan screening will also be accompanied by live music: a specially commissioned score from Demdike Stare.

This 1922 documentary-horror masterpiece explores the effect of superstition on the collective medieval consciousness. Presented for the first time with a BFI-commissioned score by electronic artists Demdike Stare. The duo base their music on samples from old recordings, twisted into new sonic shapes. The blend of Demdike Stare’s resurrected aural phantoms and Christensen’s Satanic horror promises to be a singularly modern yet arcane live experience.

Häxan is a thrilling movie, and an amazing thing to experience on the big screen – an effect that will surely only be enhanced by those “aural phantoms”.

To book tickets for Häxan with Demdike Stare, in association with Wire Magazine, click here. The screening takes place at 7pm in NTF1, BFI Southbank, Friday 13 December. Tickets cost £15 full price – concessions are available.

Win! Win! Win!

To win a pair of tickets to Häxan with Demdike Stare, email the correct answer to this question to silentlondontickets@gmail.com with “Haxan” in the subject line by noon on Wednesday 11 December 2013.

  • Which American writer provided the voiceover for Häxan’s jazzy 1968 re-release?

The winner will be chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!


A history of silent films at the Royal Albert Hall: from Faust to The Artist

The Blackguard at the Royal Albert Hall
The Blackguard at the Royal Albert Hall

This is a guest post for Silent London by Amy Sargeant, author of British Cinema: a Critical History (BFI, 2005). 

Followers of Silent London intending to attend the London Symphony Orchestra’s live accompaniment to Michel Hazanavicius’ 2012 The Artist, in December this year, might care to know about Royal Albert Hall screenings of “the genuine article” in the 1920s.

The end of the first world war was marked with a variety event, including films, at the hall. Subsequent presentations, running from October to December 1919, celebrated Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia. Antarctic and Everest expeditions were commemorated in benefit screenings. In 1926, the RAF band contributed to a programme including a lecture by the aviator Alan Cobham, the film recording his arrival back in London after his flight to Australia, and an address from the prime minister of Australia: of course, the Imperial Institute was a close neighbour, perhaps influencing the selection of items recorded in the archive. European films screened included Murnau’s 1926 Faust and Turzhansky’s 1926 adaptation of Jules Verne’s Michel Strogoff. A lavish souvenir pamphlet (above) was published to accompany the trade show of Graham Cutts’ 1925 The Blackguard, an adaptation of Raymond Paton’s novel, featuring a romance between a Russian princess and a violinist. A special attraction at the event was a dance performed by Serge Morosov “of the Imperial Russian School of Ballet”.

Faust (1926)
Faust (1926)

The novelist Naomi Mitchison, sister of JBS Haldane (a founding member of the Film Society) recalled in her memoirs the long run of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen in the summer of 1924. The London Symphony Orchestra performed a Wagnerian prelude and a sub-Wagnerian score for the film (commented upon by Picturegoer critics as derivative), composed by G Huppertz.

The Sea Hawk (1924)
The Sea Hawk (1924)

In addition to orchestral accompaniments, programmes give details of songs and soloists. Furthermore, for Frank Lloyd’s swashbuckler The Sea Hawk (1924), the prow of a ship was installed in front of the screen, while for Southern Love (Herbert Wilcox, 1924), balcony decorations and special effects were provided.

Indeed, a brief survey of Royal Albert Hall programmes confirms a more general observation to be drawn from the trade and general press: in the 1920s, performance and staging manifestly contributed much to the cinematic experience in London and to British audiences’ enjoyment of films, even outside regular cinema venues.

Amy Sergeant

The Artist screens at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 & 31 December 2013, with the London Symphony Orchestra and composer-pianist Ludovic Bource, conducted by Ernst Van Tiel. There is no official dress code for this event but anyone who wishes is encouraged to celebrate the elegance and style of Hollywood’s Golden Age of Glamour, and not just for the New Year’s Eve performances. 

Silent films at the West London Trades Union Club, 2013 season

The Great White Silence (1924)
The Great White Silence (1924)

We’re back! For the third year running, I will be presenting a series of screenings  at the West London Trades Union Club in Acton, London W3. Silent film fans of west London, come one, come all. And if you’re new to silent movies, you should definitely pop us in your diary: the autumn/winter collection for 2013 contains some stone-cold classics.

The Trades club on Acton High Street offers well-kept, reasonably priced ale and friendly conversation between left-leaning movie fans too. We show films on Saturday afternoons at 4pm, with no entrance charge, a short introduction courtesy of your favourite London-based silent movie blogger* and generally a good free-for-all chinwag afterwards.

This year’s lineup includes a jaw-dropping tale of British exploration, a high-tension thriller, an Expressionist masterpiece and the divine Clara Bow. Interested?

The Great White Silence (1924)

You’ve seen films about Scott of the Antarctic before – but not like this one. Herbert Ponting took his camera (almost) every step of the way on Scott’s final, fatal expedition. It’s an intimate portrait of Scott’s team at work, and a staggering vision of the unspoiled Antarctic landscape. All this, plus a gleaming restoration from the BFI and an unforgettable score by Simon Fisher Turner, incorporating some surprising found sounds. And penguins. Watch this now as the perfect preparation for viewing the BFI’s new restoration of The Epic of Everest in October.
14 September, 4pm

A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)
A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

Did you see Underground when it was released earlier this year? That is just one of Anthony Asquith’s two great silent thrillers. A Cottage on Dartmoor is darker, edgier, artier and altogether murkier than Underground – it’s all about jealousy, frustration and razor blades. There’s even a subplot about the coming of sound. Horrific. A Cottage on Dartmoor deserves to be seen on the big screen, and will be shown at the WLTUC with Stephen Horne’s fantastic score too.
26 October 2013, 4pm

Metropolis (1927)

METROPOLIS_Moroder_300dpi_still_2You may think you’ve seen Metropolis, but think again. If you haven’t seen the new version of Metropolis with rediscovered footage, you haven’t seen it at all. No WLTUC screening of Lang’s sci-fi masterpiece would be complete without a discussion of the labour politics at the heart of the film, it’s true. But equally, you can gaze upon the gothic futurist splendour of it all – and remind yourself where all those other, more recent, sic-fi movies stole all their best ideas.
16 November 2013, 4pm

It (1927)

Clara Bow in It (1927)
Clara Bow in It (1927)

Clara Bow, Elinor Glyn declared, had ‘it’. And you don’t need me to explain what ‘it’ is do you? In the greatest flapper movie of them all, Bow plays a determined, perky working-class girl in pursuit of her dream guy.  A delicious pre-Christmas treat, It will immerse you in the bustle and swing of 1920s New York, and remind you why Bow is still such a revered fashion icon. Watch out for a cameo by Glyn, and an early appearance by Gary Cooper, whom many say was the great love of Bow’s tragic life.
14 December 2013, 4pm

You don’t have to be a member of the club, or even of a trade union, to turn up and receive a warm welcome – and you will find the venue at 33 Acton High Street, London W3 6ND. It’s about five minutes walk from Acton Central train station, and on plenty of bus routes. Visit the club’s website here, or join the Facebook group.

* Actually, it’s me.