Tag Archives: February 2012

Silent films at the Prince Charles Cinema, January-March 2012

Silent films at the Prince Charles Cinema
Silent films at the Prince Charles Cinema

There’s nothing like a night out at a West End cinema. The bright lights, the excitement, the hustle and bustle of the Theatreland crowds … So don’t ruin your fun by watching a talkie. Check out the silent film programme at the Prince Charles Cinema, where they’re packing in the punters for a diverse range of silent movies, month ofter month. There’s always live music and a lively atmosphere – and the films aren’t bad either.

The Cameraman, Thursday 26 January 2012, 8.50pm

Hilarious, but rarely screen Buster Keaton comedy. After becoming infatuated with a pretty office worker for MGM Newsreels, Buster trades in his tintype operation for a movie camera and sets out to impress the girl (and MGM) with his work. Piano accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulos.

Tickets for each show are £10 or £7.50 for members. Book online here.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wednesday 22 February 2012, 8.50pm

Don’t miss this chance to see Lon “Man of a Thousand Faces” Chaney on the big screen. In 15th-century Paris, the brother of the archdeacon plots with the gypsy king to foment a peasant revolt. Meanwhile, a freakish hunchback falls in love with the gypsy queen. Piano accompaniment by John Sweeney.

Tickets are £10 or £7.50 for members. Book online here.

Nosferatu, Thursday 29 March 2012, 8.50pm

One of the silent era’s most influential masterpieces, Nosferatu‘s eerie, gothic feel – and a chilling performance from Max Shreck as the vampire – set the template for the horror films that followed. Hutter, a real estate agent, pays a visit to the mysterious Count Orlok, who seeks to relocate from his lair in the Carpathian Mountains and buy a residence in town. The Count becomes infatuated with Hutter’s young wife, and embarks on a journey to find her, while the town becomes infected with a strange plague.

Rock band Minima are a favourite on the silent film circuit, playing atmospheric, sophisticated guitar music to a wide repertoire of silent classics – and Nosferatu is one of their most acclaimed scores. Don’t miss this.

Tickets are £12 or £8 for members. Book online here.

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Silent films at the Glasgow Film Festival, February 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Just a quick post to let you know about the silent film offering at the rather wonderful Glasgow Film Festival, which runs from 16-26 February 2012. If you include the Glasgow Youth Film Festival and the Glasgow Short Film Festival, which precede it, it all adds up to three weeks of movies – some of which are silent. Here goes:

The Loves of the Pharoah, Friday 17 February, 3.30pm, GFT 2

Ernst Lubitsch was a master of sophisticated romantic comedies but The Loves of Pharaoh reveals that he was also a filmmaker to rival the scale and ambition of DW Griffith or Peter Jackson. The Loves of Pharaoh  is notable for its spectacular production design, gorgeous costumes, beautiful chiaroscuro cinematography and crowd scenes involving thousands of extras in an age before the convenience of computer generated effects. Future Oscar-winner Emil Jannings is the Egyptian Pharaoh who rejects the beloved daughter of the king of Ethiopia in favour of his infatuation with slave girl Theonis. It is a recipe for conflict, heartbreak and epic drama. A stunning digital restoration heralds the return of a major silent production. Buy tickets.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Saturday 18 February, 3pm, CCA theatre

Walter Ruttmann’s groundbreaking documentary captures the pulse of Berlin in a single day in the late 1920s. It is a moment of calm between the nightmare of the Depression and the horrors of the Nazi era. Inspired by Dziga Vertov (The Man with a Movie Camera), he compiles an impressionistic portrait of a bustling metropolis from the first light of dawn to the last gasp of the city’s neon-lit nightlife. Cameras hidden on vehicles and in suitcases capture an authentic picture of children hurrying to school, factories billowing smoke, rush-hour traffic and even the President Paul von Hindenburg. It is a wonderful time capsule made all the more poignant by the city’s virtual destruction in the Second World War. This special screening is accompanied by a live improvised performance from Scottish Jazz Trio AAB as musicians Tom and Phil Bancroft and Kevin Mckenzie rock the house with a unique fusion of bop, folk, house and indie rock. Buy tickets.  Screening in combination with the ‘live’ film Glasgow: Symphony of a Great City.

Continue reading Silent films at the Glasgow Film Festival, February 2012

An Italian Straw Hat, Barbican, 19 February 2012

An Italian Straw Hat (1927)
An Italian Straw Hat (1927)

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.

An Italian Straw Hat screens at the Barbican on 19 February 2012 at 4pm. Piano accompaniment will be provided by Andrew Youdell. Tickets begin at £7.50 and you can buy them here.

Salomé (1923) at the Purcell Room, 9 February 2012

Salomé (1923)
Alla Nazimova in Salomé (1923)

A rare screening of a much-gossiped-about silent film, made by one of Hollywood’s most controversial stars, presented in a unique way. Well, that tickles our fancy just fine.

Alla Nazimova was born in what is now Ukraine in 1879. She made her stage debut in Moscow as a teenager and swiftly became a big star. She then moved to New York to work on Broadway, winning plaudits with roles in plays by Chekhov and Ibsen and made her first movie, War Brides, in 1916.

Nazimova is best remembered for her colourful life in Hollywood: her several affairs with women, the rumoured wild parties at her mansion and her position of influence in the industry, helping many a young actress to get a start, including Anna May Wong, Patsy Ruth Miller, Natacha Rambova and Jean Acker. The last two were married to Rudolph Valentino, but were also romantically linked to Nazimova.

Her most famous film, Salomé, was also fodder for the rumour-mill. An adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play, it was said that the cast comprised only gay and bisexual actors, in homage to the author. It’s impossible to say whether this was really true, but the idea has certainly stuck. Nazimova takes the title role, Charles Bryant directs and the whole thing is just over an hour of extravagant Aubrey Beardsley-inspired design, sexy costumes and decadence. Salomé slumped at the box office, bankrupting Nazimova’s production company, but continues to intrigue audiences, becoming something of an art nouveau cult sensation.

This February, Salomé will be screened at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre, with live music composed by Charlie Barber, which is inspired by ” the evocative sounds and intricate rhythms of traditional Arabic ensembles”. Instead of sitting in front of the screen, the musicians will perform on two towers on either side of it, which sounds like a fantastic idea.

This clip shows the famous “Dance of the seven veils” from Salomé, with a taster of Charlie Barber’s score:

Salomé screens at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre on Thursday 9 February 2012 at 7.45pm. Tickets begin at £12 and are available here.

• We’ll see more of Nazimova when the silent Rudolph Valentino biopic Silent Life is released later this year. Nazimova is played by Galina Jovovich.

Charles Dickens on silent film: part two, BFI Southbank, February 2012

Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist
Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday party continues in formidable style with the second part of the BFI’s Dickens on Screen season. Happily, the silents were not confined to the first run of screenings and February brings much to get excited about. First off is the famous 1922 adaptation of Oliver Twist. Frank Lloyd directs, while The Kid star Jackie Coogan plays the young orphan and Lon Chaney contorts his features into a suitably grotesque Fagin. With Coogan’s winsome pluck and Chaney’s gift for playing a villain, this was always going to be a classic Twist. It’s a spirited romp through the novel and a particular treat as this is one of the famous “lost” films of the silent era, which was found and restored in the 1970s, with some input from Coogan himself. To learn more, read Silent Volume’s appreciative review here or watch this clip, featuring one of the novel’s most melodramatic flourishes. Why not do both?

Oliver Twist screens at 6pm on Friday 3 February and at 8.45pm on Wednesday 8 February 2012 at NFT2, BFI Southbank. Both screenings will feature live piano accompaniment. Tickets are available from the BFI website.

The Only Way (1925)
The Only Way (1927)

The final silent Dickens film and the next screening in the season is The Only Way, a lavish and rather free adaptation of The Tale of Two Cities. This is a British production and John Martin Harvey reprises his stage role as Sydney Carton, despite his advancing years. His wife Madge Stuart plays Mimi his maid. Don’t remember Mimi from the novel? That’s cinematic licence for you. The famous director and producer Herbert Wilcox is at the helm and The Only Way was a smash hit, taking more than twice its £24,000 budget at the box office.

The Only Way screens at 3.50pm on Saturday 11 February and 8.40pm on Monday 27 February 2012 at BFI Southbank. Tickets are available from the BFI website.

• Don’t forget that there will be an exhibition to accompany the Dickens on Screen season in the Mezzanine at BFI Southbank from 12 January to 25 March. Also, during February, BFI members can watch The Pickwick Papers, an Anglo-American co-production from 1913, free online. The 15-minute fim stars the comedian John Bunny.

Faust at the Royal Festival Hall, 27 February 2012

Faust (1926)
Faust (1926)

This is wonderful news. Next year, at the Royal Festival Hall, the Philharmonia Orchestra will accompany a screening of FW Murnau’s masterpiece Faust (1926). The orchestra will be playing a brand new orchestral score, written by composer Aphrodite Raickopoulou, and unusually, there will also be live improvisation from the renowned classical pianist Gabriela Montero. The film will be introduced by the world-famous actor and scourge of the tabloids Hugh Grant.

If you’re not familiar with Faust, then allow me to introduce it to you. Murnau’s film is an adaptation of the Faust legend, in which a doctor sells his soul to Mephistopheles in return for a cure for the plague epidemic that has struck his town. The doctor is played by Gösta Ekman, and Mephistopheles by the always wonderful Emil Jannings, in an outstanding performance that is by turns charming and grotesque. As in so many of Murnau’s films, the real story is an epic struggle between love and hate, and the visuals are as epic as the themes. Faust may be shot in monochrome, but it is kaleidoscopically beautiful. Special effects sequences such as the summoning of Mephistopheles and the cloak ride are still impressive – and the clouds of black smoke that represent the plague visiting the town are as haunting as they were technically difficult to pull off. Ekman’s transformation from an old man to his younger self is fantastic as well.

But Faust is more than the sum of its technical achievements. It’s a hugely moving film, with a melodramatic finale, and as unforgettably brilliant as Murnau’s other much-loved classics, Nosferatu and Sunrise. This new score has been a real labour of love for Raickopoulou, who was moved to tears after watching the film for the first time. She told me: “Being a dreamer has its great risks but true passion and true love will always prevail.” A sentiment very much in tune with the spirit of the movie, I’m sure you’ll agree.

This project has benefited from the advice of Patrick Stanbury from Photoplay Productions – and you’ll be pleased to know that the Royal Festival Hall will be showing a 35mm print of the domestic version of the film.

Faust screens at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday, 27 February 2012 at 7.30pm. Tickets begin at £10 and you can book them here, on the Southbank Centre website.

Birds Eye View Sound & Silents on tour

Imogen Heap
Imogen Heap

Disappointing news this week, as Birds Eye View announced that it will not be putting on a festival in 2012, due to a cut in its public funding. You can read more about the announcement here. This is a real shame for many reasons, not least the festival’s track record of commissioning cutting-edge scores for silent films from some wonderful musicians.

To tide us over while we wait for the festival’s no-doubt triumphant return in 2013, Birds Eye View will be staging some one-off events, including a touring programme of highlights from its fantastic Sound & Silents strand. You’ll see these popping up on the Silent London calendar, and on Facebook and Twitter as they are announced, but here are a couple for your diary straight away.

  • Blue Roses will perform her score for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the Arnolfini in Bristol on 18 February 2012. Tickets will be on sale soon.
  • Imogen Heap and the Holst Singers will present their soundtrack to The Seashell and the Clergyman at the Roundhouse in London on 26 February 2012 and at the Sage, Gateshead on 27 February 2012. Tickets for the London show are on sale now.

For more information, visit the Coming Soon section of the Birds Eye View website.

The Battle of the Somme – on tour

However many big-budget war films come and go, real footage of frontline combat is still shocking. How much more powerful would such images have been 95 years ago, when The Battle of the Somme (1916) was released, and watched by 50% of the British population? JB MacDowell and Geoffrey Malins’s documentary was intended to boost morale, but its scenes of wounded and dead soldiers, not to mention the contentious “over-the-top” sequence, make it a more complicated, thought-provoking and mournful piece of work. One of the “over-the-top” scenes was staged, but so much else is horribly real here – and the film was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2005.

The Battle of the Somme‘s footage may be familiar to you as it has been mined for many a first world war documentary, but it is an entirely different experience to watch it all, in one sitting. This upcoming short UK tour offers a very special opportunity to do just that. Composer Laura Rossi’s orchestral score for the film will be performed at four special screenings of The Battle of the Somme in 2011 and 2012, by four different ensembles:

For more details, and to listen to clips of the score, visit Laura Rossi’s website. To find out more about the film, read this post from The Bioscope. Also, the Times reviewed the premiere of the score, when it was performed in the Queen Elizabeth Hall with the film in 2006. The Battle of the Somme is also available on a DVD produced by the Imperial War Museum, with two scores, both Rossi’s and a recreation of a likely contemporary soundtrack, by Stephen Horne, based on cue sheets.

If you want to contribute to the the tour, you can do so here, on the crowdfunding website, We Did This.

Hat-tip to the Bioscope for alerting me to this one.