That glamorous robot lady gets about, doesn’t she? Frtiz Lang’s awe-inspiring sci-fi epic Metropolis (1927) is still popping up all over the city – even chic West London. On Wednesday 23 March, you’ll be able to see Metropolis at the Riverside Studios, an arts centre in Hammersith. It’s a great place, with lovely views from the balconies next to the cafe-bar. So why not make a date with the new, restored, extended Metropolis this month?
Metropolis screens at 8.15pm on Wednesday 23 March 2011. Tickets are £8.50 (£7.50 for concessions) and they are available here.
Yes, yes, I know, Sparrows is playing at the BFI Southbank on Tuesday 15 March with a live score by Aristazabal Hawkes from the Guillemots. But you may not have noticed this note on the BFI web page for that screening:
Please note, this film will now be projected from high quality video on Tue 15 March as the specially written score has been locked at that speed. For customers who wish to see the film projected from the 35mm print with live improvised piano accompaniment, we have arranged a special screening on Sun 20 March 13:00 NFT2. Ticket-holders should contact the box office via phone or in person for an exchange or refund. We apologise for any inconvenience.
So, for the 35mm fans among you or perhaps those who just couldn’t get tickets for the first (sold-out) screening in NFT3, this is a godsend. It will definitely be a shame to miss out on Hawkes’s score, but it’s great to get the chance to see the film on film, as it were.
Sparrows (1926) is set in a creepy “baby farm” in the middle of a swamp. The collection of orphans who live there are terrorised by the owner, Mr Grimes (Gustav von Seyffertitz). Their only defence against this brute is the oldest among them, plucky Molly (Mary Pickford). But can she lead the youngsters to safety, in such perilous circumstances? Start growing your nails now, because you’ll be chewing on them for sure. Is that a bit gross? Sorry.
Sparrows screens at the BFI Southbank on 20 March 2011 at 1pm in NFT2. Tickets are £9.50 or less for members and concessions. They’re available here. There will be live improvised piano accompaniment at this screening.
Well, this is a heck of a good way to say happy birthday. The Ritzy Cinema in Brixton is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a series of vintage screenings throughout the year. Kicking things off is this double-bill of one of the silent era’s most sophisticated and elegant films, coupled with one of its most violent, strange and difficult. Yes, Un Chien Andalou (1929) is the eye-slashing surreal short film made by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. It’s seriously odd and surely features on all right-thinking people’s must-see films lists. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), on the other hand, is a romance: a story of a young man from the country (George O’Brien) succumbing to the dangerous temptations of the big city, and a bona fide vamp. Which puts his lovely wife (Janet Gaynor) in a very precarious position. This is one of my favourite scenes from the film:
There will be live musical accompaniment for the double-bill, which begins at 8pm on Thursday 24 March. Tickets cost £16.60 or less for concessions and they are available here.
Fancy a drink? Cigarette Burns‘s monthly pub night is back on Monday, with a programme of occult horror. Top of the bill is Equinox, a 1970 American horror film that seems to be a sort of proto-Evil Dead, with a group of teenagers heading into a forest and stumbling across some very hostile demons.
However, we’re interested in the first course, which on this occasion is Körkarlen (1921), also known as The Phantom Carriage. This is a Victor Sjöström film, adapted from a novel based on a spooky legend that the last person to die in any one year, if they are suitably wicked, will have to spend a year driving the phantom carriage, picking up the souls of the dead. It’s a nasty business indeed, and should have you clutching your pint glass in terror.
This was Sjöstrom’s last Swedish film before he went to Hollywood, so if you’re going to see his The Wind at the BFI on Wednesday, you might like to watch this as a point of comparison. And to scare yourself silly, too.
The Cigarette Burns night is the Mucky Pup pub in Islington on the first Monday of every month. Körkarlen starts around 6.30pm, so get there nice and early. I hear there will be pizza.
Another excuse for a trip outside the big smoke, Flatpack Festival is a quirky event, showing “cinematic wonders” of all kinds at venues across Birmingham at the end of March. And there is plenty on the schedule to entice a silent film fan.
First up is an evening at Birmingham Town Hall called Digging for Gold. This event is a tribute to film historian Iris Barry and features a screening of Buster Keaton’s magnificent Sherlock Jr along with some European shorts. Music will be provided by Nigel Ogden and Alcyona Mick
On the final day of the festival you can enjoy The Keystone Cut Ups at the Electric Cinema, which mixes early slapstick film with scenes from surrealist films of the same era.
People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz have been regular collaborators for some time, and when commissioned by Berwick Media Arts & Film Festival last year the result was The Keystone Cut Ups; a kaleidoscopic split-screen voyage through silent cinema which combines celluloid moments both familiar and uncanny with an original score performed live in the auditorium. Striding purposefully into its second century, the Electric Cinema should provide the perfect setting.
Depending on which way your interest in early cinema runs, you may also be interested in a couple more events. There’s a screening of the classic Mae West film She Done Him Wrong (1933) on Sunday 27 March and the spooky Shadow Shows opens the festival on Wednesday 23 March with its Lotte Reiniger inspired silhouettes:
The performance is built around a triple-screen film projection, incorporating techniques of early cinema and a variety of shadow effects. The original music score and sound effects are performed live by Pram as hidden conspirators behind a giant film screen, occasionally also glimpsed as silhouetted figures incorporated into its fractured scheme of images. The musicians employ an eclectic mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments, while the sound effects are created using hand-crafted devices from the theatre of a bygone age.
All this as well as screenings of new and classic films, a vintage mobile cinema, and some very special cakes. More details at the Flatpack Festival website here.
The Prince Charles Cinema has announced its next trio of silent screenings and they are all classics, kicking off with Hitchcock’s best known silent film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927). There’s very little Silent London likes more than a silent film set in London, by a London-born director – and The Lodger is a really fantastic film. This is how the PCC describes it:
Considered by Hitchcock as his first real film, The Lodger is a silent sexual psychodrama set in a foggy, gloomy London terrorised by a killer loosely modelled on Jack the Ripper. As blonde women are murdered around the city, a sinister gentleman takes up lodgings at the house of an elderly couple and is soon showing an interest in their pretty blonde daughter. A real sense of menace pervades the story and the visual inventiveness makes the film a real treat.
Yup, it’s pretty sinister, and Hitchcock is on fine form here – the beautifully designed intertitles are a particular delight, as is Ivor Novello’s wonderfully ambiguous performance in the lead role.
There is some bad news about Hitchcock’s silents though – these great films, including The Ring, The Manxman, Downhill and Blackmail, are in urgent need of restoration. To this end the BFI has launched a campaign called Rescue the Hitchcock 9 to raise funds for the restoration work. So if you go along to see The Lodger at the Prince Charles Cinema, and you enjoy it, perhaps you’d think about making a donation yourself. Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation recently contributed £275,o00, but you don’t have to give as much as that. For more details, look at the BFI website here.
The Lodger screens at the Prince Charles Cinema on 24 March 2011 at 8.45pm. Piano accompaniment will be provided by John Sweeney and tickets cost £10 or £6 for members. More details here.
You want glamour? We got it. on 26 March, the Cinema Museum will host an evening to celebrate the life and work of the beautiful actress Anna May Wong, star of Piccadilly and Shanghai Express.
The night begins with a screening of the biographical documentary Anna May Wong – Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend, and a Q&A session with the film’s director Elaine Mae Woo. Frosted Yellow Willows is the literal translation of Wong’s real name: Wong Liu Tsong. The documentary incorporates interviews with those who knew Wong, and was made with the support of such luminaries as Kevin Brownlow and Leonard Maltin.
From humble beginnings in a Chinese laundry, she went on to star in pictures such as Technicolor’s Toll of the Sea (1922), E.A. Dupont’s Piccadilly (1929) and Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. Never one to rest on her laurels, Anna would utilize her fame to aid her country and the country of her ancestors during times of war. Her body of work establishes her as a true pioneer of early cinema.
For more information about the documentary, visit the official website here. The Q&A will be followed by a screening of the melodrama Song (1928):
After the interval we will be screening a BFI archival 35mm print of the rarely-seen 1928 film Song (Richard Eichberg), an Anglo-German production in which Anna May Wong received top billing. In this her first European film, Anna plays a dancer drawn into a tragic romantic triangle when she meets a cabaret knife thrower (Heinrich George) and his capricious sweetheart. Song is notable both for Anna’s dancing and for the dramatic power of her performance. There will be a live piano accompaniment.
Most British silent film fans will know Wong primarily for her role in Piccadilly, but this will be a welcome chance to see one of her lesser known films, and the whole evening will be an opportunity to learn more about Hollywood’s first Chinese American leading lady.
Tickets in advance are £6.50 available from www.wegottickets.com or 0207 840 2200, and they will also be for sale on the door at £8. Doors will open at 6.30pm and refreshments will be available. The event is due to start at 7.30pm and finish at 10.30. For more information, visit the Cinema Museum website or the event’s Facebook page.
• UPDATE: This event will also be held at Liverpool John Moores University on 22 March 2011. More details here.
This is one of London’s more unusual venues for a silent film screening: the Musical Museum in Brentford, Middlesex, which is just down the road from Chiswick. The museum boasts a magnificent Wurlitzer and regularly shows films with organ accompaniment – every so often we get a silent film in the mix, too. The silent film they are showing next is Carmen (1915), and although the online programme sports a very sultry picture of Theda Bara in the role, I have it on very good authority that they are showing the version directed by Cecil B DeMille, featuring opera star Geraldine Farrar.
Carmen, which was based on the novel by Prosper Mérimée rather than the opera, was a huge hit at the time, first prompting a rival studio to produce the version starring Bara and then inspiring Chaplin to make A Burlesque on Carmen (1916). Was that one of the first spoof movies?
Farrar plays Carmen, a beautiful Gypsy who seduces a soldier in order to distract him from his post and allow her fellow smugglers to sneak contraband into the city of Seville. Well, it all ends rather messily as you probably know, but it’s a classic tale – and the bullring sequence is fantastic. Also, I’m very pleased to see the Musical Museum showing such an early film, rather than the more familiar 1920s fare.
The Wurlitzer, which was originally installed in the Regal cinema in Kingston Upon Thames, will be played by Donald Mackenzie. Carmen (1915) will screen at the Musical Museum, Brentford, on 26 March 2011, at 7.30pm. Tickets, which are £10, are available here, along with all the information you need.
If you’ve been walking past the Victoria and Albert Museum late at night recently, and you weren’t too distracted by the roadworks, you’ll have seen that the cupola of the museum is lit up by a moving 3D animation of moths. “That looks like a zoetrope,” I thought when I saw it. And I was very pleased to find out, when I looked it up at home, that it is indeed a zoetrope of sorts. The artist Mat Collishaw was commissioned by the V&A to make a work for circular space right at the top of the museum – and he chose to produce a vast (10m wide) version of the animated 3D zoetropes he had made before on a smaller scale.
Magic Lantern is a beautiful spectacle – and I would advise you to pay a late-night visit to South Kensington before it is taken down on 27 March, if you haven’t done so already. For me, the way that it combines a Victorian invention and Victorian architecture to create something that looks so 21st-century brings an endearing whiff of pre-cinema magick. As Collishaw says: “I’d like to have created something that’s very beautiful and beguiling and brings people in to look at it but I’d also like to smuggle in a little bit of doubt in there about what it is they’re actually becoming engaged with when they’re looking at the work.”
For a closer look, you can visit the museum garden to see a smaller model of Magic Lantern between 10am and 5.45pm. Magic Lantern will be in situ at the V&A until 27 March 2011.
It’s back! You may have thought that Metropolis (1927) was dead and buried for 2011, but no – you still have the opportunity to catch the restored, longer “complete” Metropolis on the big screen. The independent Rio Cinema in London’s groovy Dalston is screening Metropolis on a Saturday afternoon in March. So if spring has still failed to spring by that point and you fancy hiding away from it all, let Fritz Lang’s vertiginous sets and glamorous robot lady ease your seasonal pain.
You may have seen the neon blue lights of the Rio before. It really is a very elegant cinema, and although the current curved facade dates back to the 1930s, there has been a cinema on that spot since 1909. So it’s a fine vintage.
The Loop Collective is a group of jazz musicians and the Loop Festival is their annual four-day event, which this year will take place in the Forge music venue in Camden. On the Friday night a trio comprising Alcyona Mick (piano), Geoff Hannan (violin) and Jon Wygens (guitar) will perform their score for FW Murnau’s sublime film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). The film tells the story of The Man (George O’Brien) who is tempted, by a seductress from the big city no less, to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor). It is one of the most beautifully photographed Hollywood silents you could hope to watch, with stunning mobile camerawork – I often recommend to people who haven’t seen a silent film before.
The group’s score was commissioned last year and has previously been performed at the Flatpack Festival in Birmingham. It combines improvisation with pre-written music. You might be interested to know that when the score was performed at the Flatpack Festival they used a print of Sunrise that had recently been found in Czech Republic, which is a little shorter than the better known Movietone print, the one that is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
That is just the start of the evening’s entertainment: the Risser/Duboc/Perraud trio will play later, and the headline act is Andrew Plummer’s World Sanguine Report, described as:
Part demonic vaudeville, part psychotic big band, vocalist Andrew Plummer revels and writhes in the macabre as he heads his jazz noir project World Sanguine Report through visceral tales from the dark side of life, love and death. Propelled by demented carny rhythms, Plummer’s bruised, gruff vocals and darkly-enthralling lyrics are enveloped in a tide of swirling tones and textures, with the constant threat of breaking into waves of cacophony.
Sounds too good to miss!
Sunrise screens at The Forge, Camden on 18 March 2011 at 8pm. Tickets are £15 for the whole night of music or more for a festival pass. More information is available from the Loop Festival website here. And you can buy tickets at the Forge website here.
The Forest Row film society in East Sussex are discerning and enthusiastic cinephiles, who show heaps of exciting films, old and new, every week. Like all people of taste, they love silent films, and so I am pleased to say that their forthcoming comedy festival will feature some slapstick delights. Top of the silent bill is a screening of Buster Keaton’s magnificent The General on Saturday 19 March, with musical accompaniment by award-winning composer Terry Davies.
And the following day, Sunday 20 March, there will be a programme called Silents, Please, which is still slightly TBC, but this is what they have to say:
Many of the great silent comedies of the 20s were two-reelers, lasting around twenty minutes. The festival will also screen a programme of these, including Buster Keaton in Cops, maybe some Harold Lloyd, Chaplin and other gems. Screened with live music from Terry Davies and Anna Cooper.
Cops is hilarious. This should be great.
For more details about the festival, check out the website here, or find the Forest Row film society on Facebook. Forest Row is easily accessible from London. Simply catch a train from Victoria to East Grinstead, then a bus or cab three miles to Forest Row itself, I am told.
Silent film comedy is perfect family viewing – the slapstick of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd is pure live-action Tom & Jerry, and recent animated features from WALL-E to Shaun the Sheep have been upfront about drawing inspiration from the early days of cinema. So screenings such as this one at the Barbican, purely for the youngsters, have their heart in exactly the right place. The film showing on this occasion is Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928), which I have to say slots pretty neatly into the Barbican’s current “City Symphony” series, but that’s not important right now. This show is part of the Family Film Club, which takes place every Saturday morning.
Harold Lloyd stars as Speedy (his real-life nickname) who has all sorts of adventures during one day in New York, including a trip to Coney Island and an encounter with Babe Ruth – culminating in a campaign to save the city’s horse-drawn trolley bus. And well he might. Judging by this clip, riding the New York subway in 1928 was not dissimilar to hopping on the Central line in 2011 (ignore the voiceover):
Speedy is on 12 March at the Barbican. The film starts at 11am, but the art activities will begin at 10.30am. “No unaccompanied adults will be admitted”, says the website, so if your children will allow you to come in with them, you can book tickets here.
The Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness, Falkirk, beautifully restored to match its 1920 heyday, will host Scotland’s first silent film festival – and it promises to be an event with a real ‘vintage’ feel. The programme incorporates some enduringly popular silents, from a rare chance to see It (1927), starring Clara Bow, to FW Murnau’s influential vampire film Nosferatu (1922) and Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), plus a handful of comedies from Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and Harold Lloyd.
Neil Brand will provide musical accompaniment to several of the films, and he will also perform his acclaimed one-man show The Silent Pianist Speaks. David Allison of The Island Tapes will reprise his score for Nosferatu at the festival’s closing night gala, and another of the films will benefit from a specially commissioned soundtrack performed by local schoolchildren.
There will be a Slapstick Workshop for over-12s by Scottish theatre company Plutôt La Vie, and a new, specially commissioned soundtrack for one of the films performed by local schoolchildren. Another retro treat for younger viewers is the “jeely jar special” – a revival of a 1920s practice whereby film fans can get a two-for-one deal on tickets for The Kid if they bring along a clean jam jar (with lid). Bargain.
And for a touch more glamour, the Opening Gala screening of It has a 1920s dress code. Dropped waists, long strings of beads and cloches – it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge your inner flapper and give Clara Bow a run for her money. Perhaps you can find some sartorial inspiration here. Festival director Allison Strauss says:
The whole event is designed to celebrate the magic, glamour and pure entertainment of films from the silent era. Our programme and the supporting events include something for all ages and we’ve made sure that the wide appeal will involve a broad range of tastes, from cinephiles to anyone discovering early film for the first time.
For full details and to download a brochure, visit the website here.
BFI Southbank has a busy schedule of silent films in March. All except this one are part of the Birds Eye View festival, and you can read about them here. The odd one out is also a film by a pioneering female film-maker, however, and is screened as part of the Passport to Cinema programme, introduced by Kevin Brownlow. It’s The Blot, directed in 1921 by Lois Weber:
The Blot is a realistic study of genteel poverty among the struggling middle-classes. An underpaid college professor scarcely has the means to support his wife and daughter, who in turn has three suitors, one an impoverished cleric, one the son of a nouveau riche neighbour, and one a playboy. The film is a subtle and compassionate study of the vagaries of society’s rewards.
An early example of “gritty” socially conscious film-making, The Blot was shot largely on location, often using natural lighting and with non-professional actors. The story highlights the plight of low-paid workers and the film’s mesage is sadly still relevant to modern audiences, so this should be a very interesting evening.
The screening of The Blot will be accompanied by the short animation The Country Mouse and the City Mouse as well as the talk by Kevin Brownlow. It will be shown at 6.10pm on Monday 28 March in NFT2. Tickets are available on the BFI website here.
• I updated this post on 8 February with the revised times and dates for the Sound and Silents screenings.
To say that Silent London has a whole lotta love for the Birds Eye View Film Festival would be an understatement. This event, which has grown in size and scope since it was launched in 2005, excels in several areas, but silent film programming has been a particular strength. This year is no exception, with an exciting range of films in its Bloody Women horror strand being screened with live, specially commissioned scores at the BFI Southbank and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The festival, which is set up to celebrate and support international female film-makers, begins on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day – and its Opening Night Gala is a marvellous way to mark the occasion. Over to Birds Eye View:
Carl Davis is back, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, to perform his score for The Phantom of the Opera (1925). You’ll be pleased to know that this film, which stars Lon Chaney, and the score, have nothing at all to do with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
More than 80 years after its première, Lon Chaney’s extraordinary performance as the Phantom – a crazed escapee from Devil’s Island, formerly imprisoned in a torture chamber on the site of the Paris opera – still has the power to shock; and the film is also notable for its sumptuous set-piece scenes, including a masked Ball in which the Phantom appears as the Red Death on the Grand Stairway.
The Phantom of the Opera screens at 3pm on 27 March 2011. Tickets range from £8-£38 and are available here.
Following on from February’s double-bill of Berlin, Symphony of a City and Manhatta, the Barbican brings us a triple-bill of films about French cities. The second City Symphony event comprises À Propos de Nice (Jean Vigo, 1929), Rien Que Les Heures (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1926) and Paris Qui Dort (René Clair, 1923), with piano accompaniment from Neil Brand.
Vigo’s dawn-to-dusk documentary uses montage to celebrate the vitality of Nice, but also to highlight social divides in the glamorous resort. Cavalvanti’s Paris film Rien Que Les Heures is an experimental attempt to paint a real portrait of the city, as opposed to the gloss of paintings and picture postcards. In René Clair’s surreal Paris Qui Dort, a Parisian is shocked to discover that everyone in the city has fallen into a trance – apart from him.
The City Symphony – Part 2 is on Sunday 13 March at 4pm. Tickets are available from the Barbican website and box office on 0845 120 7500. The third event in the strand, a screening of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), will take place on 29 May. Details to follow.