What’s better than a silent film screening eh? A free silent film screening of course. The Barbican is camping out at Canary Wharf this August to stage three outdoor screenings of feature-length silent comedy classics and you won’t have to pay a penny to attend.
Neil Brand will be accompanying on the piano while the assembled crowds enjoy Monday night screenings of Buster Keaton’s The Navigator and The General and Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last. There’s nothing like watching silent comedy with a large, lively audience and Neil Brand is always on top form, so these shows should be inked in your diary already.
Monday 8 August
6.30pm – The General (U) (US 1926 Dir. Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman 89 min)
Set during the Civil War and based on a true incident, The General is considered to be the one of the greatest comedies of all time. Buster Keaton plays Johnnie Gray who loves his steam train The General. When Union soldiers penetrate Confederate lines and steal his locomotive, Johnnie sets off in hot pursuit – and seven of the film’s eight reels are devoted to the nail-biting chase.
Monday 15 August
6.30pm – Safety Last! (U) (US 1923 Dir. Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor 73 min)
In Safety Last!, Harold Lloyd’s most famous comedy, he plays a sales clerk in a department store who finds himself hanging off the hands of a collapsing clock on the side of a skyscraper high above the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Harold’s legendary building climb is breathtaking and hilariously funny at the same time. A sequence achieved without any special effects.
Monday 22 August
6.30pm – The Navigator (U) (US 1924 Dir. Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton 60 min)
Keaton’s biggest box-office success tells the story of inept millionaire Rollo Treadway and Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire), his rich, pampered girlfriend, who find themselves on a huge deserted liner adrift in the ocean. The Navigator is one of Buster Keaton’s finest films.
Hopefully some of the financiers of Canary Wharf will be tempted to leave their offices and join in the fun – it’s got to be more of a laugh than banking.
Paul Merton is probably the most high-profile silent film fan in the country, with a book, a stage show and a series of documentaries on comedy under his belt. And now he’s back, on BBC 2 no less, with a three-part series of programmes about the early days of the American films industry – Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood.
The first programme will focus on DW Griffith, the beginnings of the star system and the relationship between music and silent film. There’s a very jolly introduction to the series on Paul Merton’s official website here, and some musings about making the documentaries on the BBC site here. You’ll be pleased to know that Neil Brand is involved too – he’s written the title music
Merton clearly has a great passion for the subject, and I couldn’t be more pleased to see documentaries on early cinema airing on one of the major channels. What would be great, of course, would be a screening of a silent film or two after the programme, but it looks like that is not to be. Better luck next time, chums.
Merton appeared on Danny Baker’s radio show on Saturday to promote the show and their 10-minute chat is well worth a listen on iPlayer, if only for the infectious enthusiasm the pair have for the subject. Follow the link here, and fast-forward to an hour and five minutes into the programme.
Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood begins on BBC 2 at 9.30pm on Friday 27 May 2011.
The time is right for a little rock’n’roll – and who better to rock our world than Louise Brooks? The British Silent Film Festival is putting on a screening of Beggars of Life (1928), which stars Brooks as a young runaway who dresses as a boy and falls in with criminals, “riding the rails” across Depression-era America. It is known as the best of Brooks’s American silents, thanks to her fresh lead performance and the film’s fast-moving pace. If you’ve read Lulu in Hollywood, you’ll know from Brooks’s own account that between the stuntwork, the bitchiness and the practical jokes, the cast and crew had a hell of a time making this film, too.
The aforementioned rock’n’roll comes from the musical accompaniment for the screening: the Dodge Brothers, featuring film critic Mark Kermode and joined on this occasion by silent film pianist Neil Brand. The Dodge Brothers are a skiffle band, and play in a retro rockabilly style. They’ve worked on silent films before – soundtracking White Oak at the Barbican in 2009 and playing along to Beggars of Life at the British Silent Film Festival in Leicester last year. Here, Mark Kermode talks about what it’s like to work on a silent film project:
This promises to be a fantastic show – and tickets for the screening are likely to be very popular. Beggars of Life screens in NFT1 at the BFI Southbank on Sunday 10 April at 6pm. Tickets are £13 or £9.75 for concessions and £1.50 less for members. Tickets go on sale to BFI members on 8 March, and on general sale on 15 March. For more details, visit the BFI website.
So, make sure you’re in town on Wednesday 5 October, which is when the score is due to premiere at the Barbican – and then keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming DVD featuring the new soundtrack.
This short video offers some technical details about the BFI restoration of Underground, and offers a snippet of the score that Brand performed at the Queen Elizaebeth Hall when the new print was first shown in 2009.