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.
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.
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.
Modern silent films. They’re the hottest thing since 3D, but far more popular in this neck of the woods. One film we’ve had our eye on for a while is the fantasy short Dogged (2011), written and directed by Jo Shaw and starring Lucy Goldie in all nine roles. The sinister premise of the film is summarised thus on IMDB: “In a world where bogeymen roam freely, devouring people randomly and the only creatures they fear are dogs, old dog does her best to defend the family home.” I think this dog is a very different breed to Uggie.
Dogged was described as “intriguing and insightful” by the judges at the Aesthetica film festival in York, who awarded it the prize for Best Experimental Film (read more here), but now, happily, you have the chance to see it in London and make your own mind up. Dogged is playing as part of the Making Tracks night programmed by Whirlygig Cinema at the London Short Film Festival. This event is especially notable because all the soundtracks for the short films being screened will be played live, by The Cabinet of Living Cinema. It’s a treatment that should particularly suit Shaw’s spooky silent film.
Want to know more about Dogged? There’s a trailer, which you can see on the IMDB page here and a regularly updated Facebook page.
Making Tracks is at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green on 14 January at 7.30pm. Tickets are £8 on the door or book them in advance for £6 at the Rich Mix website.
You’re all over Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Roscoe Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy too. But there’s more to silent comedy than those big, big names, and this January, the Barbican offers a chance to get to know another fantastic funnyman from the early days of cinema, the dapper, charming Charley Chase – a comic as hilarious as his moustache is thin and elegant.
Charles Parrott started out in vaudeville, like so many silent comedians, but he went to work for Mack Sennett at Keystone in the early teens. While there, he appeared in a few films with Mr Chaplin and moved into directing as well. He directed several more films at Hal Roach’s studios, and after Harold Lloyd deaprted those premises he began starring in his own short films, under the name Charley Chase.
Chase’s silent movies were generally two-reelers, and the most famous of them were directed by Leo McCarey – three of which will be showing at the Barbican. Chase’s speciality is the comedy of embarrassment – character-driven farce as much as pure slapstick. In His Wooden Wedding, Chase is tricked, by a love rival, into believing his bride has a wooden leg. Mighty Like a Moose features a married couple who both undergo extreme makeovers courtesy of a plastic surgeon and then subsequently fail to recognise each other. Oliver Hardy takes a small role in Crazy Like a Fox, in which Chase pretends to be mad in order to avoid an arranged marriage. In each case, of course, mortifying complications ensue.
Crazy Like a Fox (1926), His Wooden Wedding (1925) and Mighty Like a Moose (1926) screen at the Barbican on 22 January at 3pm. Piano accompaniment will be provided by John Sweeney. Tickets start at £7.50 and are available from the Barbican website here.
There will also be a chance to see some Charley Chase classics at the Slapstick Festival in Bristol next month – so check that out too.
I hate to admit it, but there are good reasons to leave London sometimes. Bristol, for example, can lay a good claim to being the capital of silent cinema in this country, thanks mostly to the year-round efforts of the marvellous people at Bristol Silents. Indeed, come January there is nowhere finer for the discerning silent comedy fan to be. The annual Slapstick Festival is a four-day, multi-venue extravaganza of comedy, mostly of the silent era, presented by comedians and experts – and accompanied by live music.
The 2012 Slapstick Festival will take place from 26-29 January 2012, and the full lineup has just been announced. Yes, there will be some more recent comedy courtesy of gala screenings featuring Dad’s Army, Monty Python and the French film-maker Pierre Étaix. But Slapstick Festival is noted for its passionate endorsement of silent comedy, and it’s here in spades.
Kevin Brownlow will be talking about Buster Keaton and showing footage from his documentary A Hard Act to Follow, while Griff Rhys-Jones will introduce a night of silent comedy including a screening of The General at Colston Hall with music from Günter Buchwald and performed by The European Silent Screen Virtuosi and Bristol Ensemble. On the last day of the festival, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Ian Lavender and Barry Cryer will also introduce their favourite Buster Keaton shorts.
Historian David Robinson will give an illustrated lecture, with clips, on Charlie Chaplin and also discuss his work with fan and comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar; Barry Cryer will present a Harold Lloyd double-bill and Graeme Garden will make a case for the debonair Charley Chase. David Wyatt will give two presentations: one talking about lesser-known silent comics such as Max Davidson and Larry Semon and the other on the spoofs and parodies rife in silent-era comedy.
Slapstick Festival events will take place in Colston Hall, the Watershed Cinema and the Arnolfini Arts Centre, Bristol from 26-29 January 2012. See the Slapstick Festival website for more details and to book tickets.
And don’t forget, the Slapstick Festival has its own real ale, brewed locally, especially for the event. The launch of the Slapstick Beer takes place at the Victoria Pub, Clifton on Friday 9 December at 7.30pm. Details on Facebook.
2012 marks the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth and a festival of events has been organised to celebrate – including the reopening of the Charles Dickens museum and an exhibition at the Museum of London. The lion’s share of the audiovisual strand of Dickens 2012 begins with a three-month season of screen adaptations at BFI Southbank, which will then tour both nationwide and internationally.
The Dickens on Screen season has been curated by Adrian Wootton and Michael Eaton and the first tranche features some heavyweight adaptations such as David Lean’s masterful Great Expectations (1946) and a wealth of 1930s films, including George Cukor’s 1935 David Copperfield, starring WC Fields, Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O’Sullivan and Thomas Bentley’s 1934 The Old Curiosity Shop.
It’s the early films that interest us the most, though, and two programmes with live piano accompaniment offer opportunities to watch Dickens adaptations made between 1901 and 1913, some of which are very rarely seen.
Pre-1914 Short Films commemorates a period of film history in which literary adaptations were rife – even if they were mostly no longer than a couple of reels. It is often claimed that Dickens’s use of parallel action inspired DW Griffith’s experiments with cross-cutting – and there are two Griffith films here, only one of which (The Cricket on the Hearth, 1909) is a straight Dickens adaptation. There are two lively versions of A Christmas Carol, one British (directed by RW Paul, 1901, pictured above) and one American (by Thomas Edison in 1910 and posted below).
The Vitagraph company is well represented, as would be expected, with J Stuart Blackton’s Oliver Twist (1909), starring a teenage Edith Storey as the winsome orphan and William Humphrey as Fagin. Humphrey appears again in Vitagraph’s A Tale of Two Cities (1911), which runs to an epic 30 minutes and makes great use of crowd scenes and bona fide stars such Maurice Costello, Florence Turner and briefly, Norma Talmadge.
There are two Thanhouser films in the programme: The Old Curiosity Shop from 1911 and a 20-minute version of Nicholas Nickleby (1912) with Harry Benham in the lead role, a fragment of which can be seen below. It’s not the only Nickleby on offer, though. You can also see a three-minute film called Dotheboys Hall from 1903, directed by the English comic Alf Collins and featuring some knockabout corporal punishment.
Pre-1914 Short Films screens at BFI Southbank on Tuesday 3 January 2012 at 8.30pm and Saturday 7 January 2012 at 3.50pm. The first screening features an introduction by screenwriter Michael Eaton and both screenings will have live piano accompaniment.
David Copperfield (1913) is a British adaptation, one of the first feature films made in this country and shot in the actual locations named in the novel. This is one of director Thomas Bentley’s six silent Dickens adaptations, but the only one to survive, and it is noted for both its elegant composition and naturalistic performances. Bentley himself started out at a stage comedian and was celebrated for his impressions of Dickens characters. The film stars Alma Taylor, one of British silent cinema’s most popular actresses thanks, at first, to her “Tilly the Tomboy” films, as Dora. The Eric Desmond credited as the young David is really Reginald Sheffield, father of Johnny Sheffield who played Tarzan’s Boy in the Johnny Weissmuller films.
David Copperfield screens with a three-part adaptation of the same novel, made by the Thanhouser Company in 1911-12. You can watch the films on Sunday 8 January 2012 at 3.30pm and on Tuesday 10 January 2012 at 6pm at BFI Southbank. There will be live piano accompaniment.
That’s not all, dear reader. There will be an introductory talk called Dickens on Screen on Tuesday 3 January 2012, at 6.20pm, given by Michael Eaton and Adrian Wootton, just before the first programme of shorts, and there are also several more silent Dickens adaptations to be seen in the BFI Mediatheque. Plus, we are promised, later in the season, Frank Lloyd’s 1922 Oliver Twist, starring Jackie Coogan and Lon Chaney.