Tag Archives: March 2012

The Silent Passion of Carl Dreyer, BFI Southbank, March 2012

The Master of the House (1925)
The Master of the House (1925)

Today, Carl Theodor Dreyer is best known for one lost-and-found silent masterpiece, and five subsequent sound films shot many years apart – but the little-mentioned fact is that the 1920s were his most productive decade. The BFI’s forthcoming retrospective, The Passion of Carl Dreyer, offers a chance to to shift the balance. In March, you’ll be able to see all nine of the Danish director’s silent features on the big screen, from 1919’s daring The President to the timeless The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). A closer look at Dreyer’s silents is always rewarding, both for their continuity with the themes of religion and female suffering found in his later films such as Ordet and Day of Wrath, and for the revelation that this serious Scandinavian was also a master of comedy.

Dreyer had been working as a journalist when he was first hired by the Nordisk company in 1913 to write intertitles and to edit and write screenplays. This was a boomtime for Danish cinema: in the teens, Nordisk was not just making hundreds of films a year but exporting them widely too. From writing intertitles, he discovered the strength of distilled, almost elliptical speech – he later talked about how he whittled down the dialogue in Vampyr (1930) until it was almost a silent film, and it was all the more powerful, all the more eerie, for his labours. Dreyer worked on the screenplays of several literary adaptations at this time, which also cemented his opinion that great films should have literary sources – and all his features did.

It was as he grew more confident in his work at the studio, and was working as an editor, that Dreyer developed his signature film-making style too – before he had even stepped on set as a director. As David Bordwell has written, Nordisk’s films at this time were predominantly shot in the “tableau” style, with the actors blocked in sophisticated patterns on a deep stage. When Dreyer got behind a camera he ditched that approach in favour of an edit-heavy style more popular with American film-makers such as DW Griffith. This distinctive, modern, method is apparent in his very first feature, just as it is in the barrage of close-ups that comprise his final silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The purpose of this post is to offer a quick introduction to Dreyer’s silents, which are for the most part much less widely seen than his sound films – and really do draw a different picture of the director. I assume that most of you are familiar with The Passion of Joan of Arc – if you haven’t seen it, you must take this opportunity to do so – but I also highly recommend many of the others, especially The Parson’s Widow and The Master of the House.

Continue reading The Silent Passion of Carl Dreyer, BFI Southbank, March 2012

Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Bo’ness, 16-18 March 2012

William Haines and Marion Davies in Show People (1928)
William Haines and Marion Davies in Show People (1928)

The Hippodrome in Bo’ness is Scotland’s oldest purpose-built picture palace – and it’s a real beauty. This year, the cinema is celebrating its 100th birthday in grand style, with the return of the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema.
The centenary event builds on the success of last year’s festival, and tips its boater to a certain modern silent hit too. The opening night gala will be a screening of Show People, starring Marion Davies as a Hollywood wannabe whose dream comes true – shades of Peppy Miller, of course. It’s a real treat of a film, and it’s packed with cameos from silent Hollywood stars too: you’ll be able to spot Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, William S Hart and Mae Murray, among many others. William Haines is Davies’s co-star and King Vidor directs. Neil Brand will be playing the piano. If you’re attending the gala, don’t forget the dress code: the theme is Hollywood film star, the more glamorous the better.
Other events at the festival include:

  • The fantastic new restoration of British drama The First Born, starring and directed by Miles Mander, with a brand new score by Stephen Horne, performed by Horne and his band.
  • A Jeely Jar Special family screening of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! Bring along a clean jam jar (and matching lid) for a 2-for-1 ticket deal on the Saturday morning. Piano accompaniment by Neil Brand.
  • Two comedy shows: Another Fine Mess with Laurel and Hardy and The Keystone Connection, curated by David Wyatt, with Stephen Horne on the piano. You knew, of course, that Keystone Studios was founded in 1912, the same year that the Hippodrome was built.
  • The Lost Art of the Film Explainer will revive the live film narrator tradition with renowned storyteller Andy Cannon and cellist Wendy Weatherby.
  • Ozu’s poignant comedy I Was Born, But … with musical accompaniment by Forrester Pyke.
  • Flashback thriller A Cottage on Dartmoor, directed by Anthony Asquith.
  • Music and stunt workshops.
  • The closing night gala will be the two-strip Technicolor restoration of The Black Pirate, featuring a swashbuckling lead performance by Douglas Fairbanks, with musical accompaniment by pianist Jane Gardner and percussionist Hazel Morrison.

Tickets are available from the Steeple Box Office, High Street, Falkirk FK1 1NW, the Hippodrome Box Office, by phone on 01324 506850, and online at www.falkirkcommunitytrust.org/silentcinemafest, where you can also read the full schedule for the festival.

Charles Dickens on silent film: part three, BFI Southbank, March 2012


One of the great strengths, at least as far as this blog is concerned, of the BFI’s ongoing Dickens on Screen programme, is that the silent films on offer have been spread out across the season, rather than all lumped into the first month. Witness: the impressive range of silents screening in January and February.
More silents appear in March, including another programme of pre-1914 shorts and a rare sighting of a Danish film, AW Sandberg’s Our Mutual Friend (1921). The Nordisk films is one of four Dickens adaptations by Sandberg, which were all well received in Denmark at least. Our Mutual Friend, or Vor Faelles Ven, is the least seen of the quartet, and indeed the restoration work on this print has been going on for quite some time. Now, 90 years after it was released, we can see it as it should be seen.
Our Mutual Friend screens at NFT3, BFI Southbank at 6.20pm on 6 March 2012 and at 8.45pm on 9 March 2012 with live piano accompaniment. Buy tickets here.

Seymour Hicks as Ebenezer in Scrooge (1913)
Seymour Hicks as Ebenezer in Scrooge (1913)

The shorts programme kicks off with Thomas Bentley, who went on to direct several Dickens films, in front of the camera taking on a number of roles in Leaves from the Books of Charles Dickens (1912). American comedian John Bunny starred in three films based on The Pickwick Papers – but the two shown here are the only ones to survive. Two versions of A Christmas Carol finish the programme, with Seymour Hicks playing the miser in 1913 version and Charles Rock being visited by spectres in 1914.
Pre-1914 Short Films (Programme two) screens at 9.30pm on 9 March at NFT3, BFI Southbank (with introduction by Michael Eaton) and at 6.20pm on 23 March 2012 in NFT2, BFI Southbank. Both screenings will feature live piano accompaniment. Buy tickets here.

Decasia and The Fall of the House of Usher at BFI Southbank, March 2012

Decasia, Bill Morrison’s haunting 2002 tribute to film and its fragility, screens at the BFI Southbank in March, in an expertly matched double-bill with the terrifying, elusive The Fall of the House of Usher (Jean Epstein, 1928). Don’t miss.

The double-bill screens at 8.30pm on Sunday 4 March 2012 and at 6.10pm on Tuesday 6 March. Both screenings are in NFT2. The Fall of the House of Usher will have live piano accompaniment. The Tuesday screening will be introduced by Dominic Power, the head of screen arts at the National Film and Television School. Tickets will be available here.

Mary Pickford: Sound and Silents, March 2012

Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford is one of the most fascinating figures in Hollywood history. She was “America’s sweetheart” with long blonde curls and a fairytale marriage to handsome Douglas Fairbanks. But she was also the co-founder of United Artists and producer, star and director in all but name on some of her most successful pictures. More than just a pretty face indeed. Pickford knew exactly how the movies worked, and having grown up in terrible poverty as a child in Toronto, she knew what life was all about too, which you can see clearly in her finest screen performances.
Therefore, it’s a pleasure to learn that this year’s Birds Eye View Sound and Silents commissions will celebrate Mary Pickford with a triple-bill of her films at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre. The New York Hat (1912), The Female of the Species (1912) and Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (1918) will be screened, accompanied by new scores by three very different musical talents:

Bouncing off Pickford’s on-screen radiance are three contemporary female artists. Anna Meredith is an in-demand composer/performer of acoustic and electronia, Welsh-born Roshi absorbs Iranian influences in her experimental folk. And multi-instrumentalist Tanya Auclair merges British, Rwandan and Canadian roots.

The New York Hat and The Female of the Species are both short films directed by DW Griffith, featuring Pickford in wildly different roles; the first of them was written by a young Anita Loos. Another legendary Hollywood screenwriter, Frances Marion, wrote the scenario for Amarilly, which is closer to feature-length and features Pickford as a young woman from a poor family who meets an upper-class sculptor but falls foul of his snobbish and cruel aunt.

The Mary Pickford Revived event is part of the Women of the World Festival and takes place at 8pm on 9 March 2012 at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre. Tickets cost £15 and are available here.

Also as part of the Sound and Silents programme, the magnificently gothic and strangely comic Sparrows (1926), one of Pickford’s greatest films, will be shown at Hackney Picturehouse on 11 March, with a live score by Aristazabal Hawkes from the Guillemots. You may remember that the score was commissioned by BEV last year and was due to be performed at the BFI Southbank, but the performance was cancelled. Sounds like a must-see to me. You can buy tickets here.

To find out more about the Birds Eye View Film Festival, which returns next year, visit the website.

The General with orchestral score, Farnham, Surrey, 17 March 2012

Buster Keaton in The General (1926)
Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

The Farnborough Symphony Orchestra begins its 90th anniversary year by performing the live accompaniment to two screenings of the 1927 comedy classic silent film The General at Farnham Maltings on Saturday 17 March.
The General, directed by and starring Buster Keaton, was recently listed in The Independent as one of the 10 best silent films, and features some of the most dangerous (and explosive) stunts with steam trains ever filmed. Carl Davis’ score includes every famous civil war song, as well as a tender folk song the composer’s grandmother used to sing him when he used to sit on her knee. The General was described by Orson Welles as “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made” and this unique performance, conducted by the FSO’s charismatic musical director Mark Fitz-Gerald, will delight young and old alike.

The General screens on Saturday 17 March at at 3pm & 7.45pm. Tickets are priced at £10 for adults or £5 for children or students in full-time education and are available from the FSO Ticket Secretary on 07775 789477, Farnham Maltings Box Office on 01252 745444 or online at www.farnboroughsymphony.org.uk

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.

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.