Welcome to the long-awaited return of the Silent London Podcast – coming to you straight from Paris. I am at the Toute la mémoire du monde festival of restored cinema and I will be podcasting my reports from the screenings. Today, my first two days at the festival including lots of of Hollywood fare: the good, the bad and the baffling. This podcast tackles a lot of films about war and racism: films by D W Griffith, Abel Gance, Thomas Ince …. But there is plenty of star power too, from Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and Lillian Gish.
I hope you enjoy this first podcast from the festival!
As the nights draw in, the BFI is offering something to keep us warm and purring with satisfaction. The institute’s blockbuster season for 2015 is Love, a celebration of everything sexy, sentimental and swooningly romantic. It’s a capacious theme, but a winning one. For myself, I am never happier than when I am sobbing my heart out at an old film.
You’ll be glad to hear, however, that I managed to restrain myself on Tuesday morning, at the official press launch for the season, which offered a whirlwind romance with the history of love on screen, fromGA Smith’s A Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) to Brief Encounter (1945) to Trainwreck (2015). The BFI’s Rhidian Davis gave the presentation, which was a real joy, but his love train hit a bump when he arrived at the modern romcom. Judd Apatow’s growing influence over the genre was, he said, as if the little boys who wince when film stars start kissing are now directing the love scenes themselves. Modern romance is drowning in irony, and Seth Rogen is no Hugh Grant, he lamented.
That sounds about right – but I hope it’s not true. Perhaps this is just nostalgia, I thought, crossing my fingers. Maybe we never get over our first screen crushes, or could it be that old age knocks the corners off our screen romances, making vintage affairs seem more universal? Romance has been declared dead before, in fact. I have written a chapter for the BFI Love compendium, all about romantic films in the silent era – and believe me, at the dawn of the 1930s, plenty of critics believed that synchronised sound had murdered the art of love on screen.
The question that really made me channel my inner Carrie Bradshaw, with a winsome tilt of the head as I pushed open my laptop, arose at the Q&A afterwards. Jenni Murray was the chair, and her panellists perched on Mae West pout sofas were the BFI’s Davis and Laura Adams, director Mike Newell and screenwriter Tess Morris. It was Murray I think, who asked: where are the new Valentinos? The panel was stumped. Do we even, they pondered, need Rudolph Valentino any more?
For many a silent film fan, that’s a terrible question. Who could live without Valentino? Who would want to? Certainly, when he died young, hundreds of young women famously felt unable to carry on. For many a cinephile full-stop, the thought of a world without a Valentino figure is a glimpse of a hideously barren future. If we agree that the cinema taps into our collective subconscious, then where would our dreams be without a dream lover? Won’t anyone ever seduce us, and leave us breathless again? Continue reading Searching for the new Rudolph Valentino→
There are film stars and then there is Rudolph Valentino. Nicknamed the “Latin Lover”, few screen actors have ever inspired so much devotion – and lust – in their audience. When he died, aged just 31, there was a national outcry from his distraught female fans. Now here’s your chance to see what all the fuss is about.
The Son of the Sheik (1926) is an unashamed star vehicle for Valentino, more or less a remake of his earlier film The Sheik, but with more comedy and action scenes. Ostensibly a sequel, The Son of the Sheik stars Valentino as Ahmed, the adult son of the first film’s hero. As before, Ahmed falls for a beautiful dancing girl, Yasmin (Vilma Bánky), but is convinced by a love rival that she has been unfaithful to him. What happens next is rather difficult to explain, and certainly controversial. If you don’t mind a few spoilers, and want to read all about it, I recommend this very thorough and lively review on the Silent Volume blog.
The Son of the Sheik screens at the Prince Charles Cinema in the West End on 29 September at 8.50pm. Live piano accompaniment will be provided by John Sweeney. Click here for tickets.