Tag Archives: September 2012

Win tickets for Aelita: Queen of Mars with Minima at Hackney Attic

Filmphonics presents Aelita: Queen of Mars
Filmphonics presents Aelita: Queen of Mars

You like your silent film screenings with a touch of rock’n’roll? No problem. Filmphonics presents silent movies with live soundtracks in the quirky Hackney Attic venue at the top of the Hackney Picturehouse, and this month they’re showing an out-there Soviet sci-fi classic with a rock score.

Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) is a futuristic fantasy, about a love affair between a Russian man and a member of Martian royalty. But there’s a twist, of course, and some outlandish headgear too. This is a unique and fascinating film, which you can read more about in this feature from The Quietus.

Aelita was an event. The novel, by Alexey Tolstoy, had been the first undisputed classic of Soviet science fiction. The release of the film was preceded by extensive ‘teaser’ campaigns in Pravda andKinogazeta (“What is the meaning of mysterious signals received by radio stations around the world? Find out on September 30!”). Alexander Exter, the film’s designer, was one of the few Russian futurists to have been on good terms with F.T. Marinetti and spent considerable time in Italy. She had taken part in the Salon des independents in Paris and socialised with Picasso and Braque. Special music had been commissioned to be performed by full orchestra in the cinema at screenings of the (silent) film. It was, perhaps, as film historian Ian Christie has argued “the key film of the New Economic Policy period.” Its release was so successful that many parents named their children ‘Aelita’ after the eponymous Martian princess. Years later, it would lend its name also to a Soviet-made analogue synth.

Minima’s score for the film is really excellent, making use of a cello as well as more traditional rock instruments to draw out the best of this wonderful film.

Aelita: Queen of Mars screens at Hackney Attic on Sunday 16 September at 7.30pm. Tickets start at £7 for members. Find out more here.

To win a pair of tickets to the Aelita: Queen of Mars screening simply email the answer to this simple question to silentlondontickets@gmail.com with Aelita in the subject header by noon on Wednesday 12 September 2012.

  • What is the name of the director of Aelita: Queen of Mars?

Good luck!

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Japanese silent films at the Cinema Museum, Zipangu Fest, 15 September 2012

Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)
Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)

This is a guest post for Silent London by Jasper Sharp – scroll down for a chance to win tickets to these events.

Taking place at the Cinema Museum between 14-16 September, the UK’s premiere celebration of cutting-edge Japanese film, Zipangu Fest, returns for its third year, with a number of choice items of interest to silent film fans.

The centrepiece is the screening on Saturday evening of Kinugasa Teinosuke’s classic of the avant-garde, Crossways (Jujiro, 1928) from 35mm, with a new score performed live by Minima. One of the first Japanese films ever shown in the West, Crossways was Kinugasa’s follow up to his better-known Page of Madness (Kurutta ippeiji, 1926). Set in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara pleasure district, Crossways was described by its director as a “chambara [samurai action film] without swordfights” and was heavily influenced by German Expressionism.

This screening will be introduced by a visual presentation on the history of the film by Zipangu Fest director and author of the recent Historical Dictionary of Japan Cinema, Jasper Sharp. The evening kicks off at 7.30pm, and tickets are available from the Zipangu Fest website.

To Sleep So as to Dream (Yume miru you ni nemuritai)
To Sleep So as to Dream (Yume miru you ni nemuritai)

Crossways will be preceded by another very rare screening for those with an interest in Japan’s early cinema, To Sleep So as to Dream (Yume miru you ni nemuritai), the 1986 debut from Kaizô Hayashi (Circus Boys, Zipang, and the ‘Yokohama Mike’ trilogy).

Two private detectives hunt for an actress trapped within a frame of an ancient ninja film in this magical double-handed homage to the movie worlds of the 1910s and 1950s. Predating Michel Hazanavicius’ recent faux-silent work The Artist by 25 years, To Sleep So as to Dream is chockfull of references to Japan’s rich cinematic heritage, featuring cameos from a host of veteran talent including the benshi (silent film narrators) Shunsui Matsui and Midori Sawato, and the baroque sets of Takeo Kimura, the Nikkatsu art designer fondly remembered for his flamboyant work with Seijun Suzuki in the 1960s. Playing for the most part without dialogue, it toys with the conventions of both the silent film and hardboiled detective genres, leading the viewer through a maze of colourful locales such as a carnival fairground and a deserted film set.

The essence of celluloid – Spirit Made Flesh
The essence of celluloid – Spirit Made Flesh

Both of these titles will be screened from film. Indeed, cinema purists might want to also note Zipangu Fest’s Sunday afternoon session, beginning at 4.30pm, Spirit Made Flesh: Works from 3 Experimental Filmmakers, featuring work by Shinkan Tamaki, Momoko Seto and Takashi Makino, all of which interrogate and explore the very essence of celluloid and analogue technologies. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion “Is There Still a Need for Film in a Digitising World?” in what promises to be a lively and fascinating event.

Competition

Zipangu Fest is generously offering a pair of tickets to all three of these events. All you have to do is sign up to our mailing list, and tell us which of the films in our 2012 lineup interests you. On submission you will be signed up to our responsibly-managed mailing list, and three names will be selected at random for a prize. The first gets a pair of tickets to the Crossways event, the second to To Sleep so as To Dream, and the third to Spirit Made FleshClick here to enter.

Zipangu Fest was established in 2010 to shatter existing preconceptions about what ‘Japanese cinema’ is, and to celebrate one of the most vibrant and dynamic moving image cultures anywhere in the world. The third Zipangu Fest, hosted by the Cinema Museum in Kennington from 14-16 September, looks set to be our most ambitious and exciting yet.

Website: zipangufest.com
Facebook.com/zipangufest
Twitter: @zipangufest

Jasper Sharp is a writer and film curator.

Win tickets to watch the greatest silent films of all time at BFI Southbank

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Man With a Movie Camera
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Man With a Movie Camera

Sight & Sound’s decennial poll of the Greatest Films of All Time attracted a lot of attention earlier this summer, when the critics toppled Citizen Kane off the number one spot, using Vertigo as a battering ram. Of far more interest to us was the fact that three, yes, three silents made their way into the top 10, with Battleship Potemkin skulking just outside.

This is great news for silent fans in that airy-fairy way that we like to see our best-loved titles acknowledged – and these three films are undoubtedly classics. They are my favourite, Murnau’s sublime Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Dreyer’s unforgettably cathartic The Passion of Joan of Arc and Vertov’s exhilarating experiment Man With A Movie Camera. There is a more substantial reason to get excited though: all the films in the Sight & Sound top 10 will be shown at the BFI Southbank in September – and you’ll find these silents already on the calendar.

The news gets better. You can win a pair of tickets to any of these screenings and all you have to do is tell me how much you want to go. Complete one of these sentences in 15 words or fewer to win a pair of tickets to the screening of your choice – as well as a pair of tickets to the Call it a Classic? panel discussion at the beginning of the month. I’ll pick the best sentences with an independent judge and our decision will be final. So make your answer as wise, witty or profound as possible!

  • I want to see Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans because …
  • I want to see Man With a Movie Camera because …
  • I want to see The Passion of Joan of Arc because …

Email your answers to silentlondontickets@gmail.com with the name of your chosen film in the subject header by noon on Sunday 2 September 2012. For your information, the Passion and Movie Camera screenings will have live musical accompaniment. The Sunrise screening will have a musical score but not live music.

Orochi (1925) with benshi narration at Ciné Iluminé, 2 September 2012

Orochi (1925)
Orochi (1925)

The next screening from the silent film club at central London burlesque bar Volupté Lounge is not to be missed. This is not just because the film in question, a Japanese samurai adventure from 1925, is little seen, but because the method of presentation is a rare pleasure too. Orochi will be screened with live musical accompaniment in the form of a tsugaru-shamisen (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument) played by Hibiki Khikawa – and with benshi narration.

Benshi consists of a narration, lines of dialogue and an introduction to the film, delivered at the side of the screen. The benshi for this screening at the Ciné Illuminé will be delivered by actress Kyoko Morita. While early films were regularly screened with narration all over the world, benshi is a little bit special and is more or less unique to Japanese cinema: it’s a full performance and designed into the structure of the film,  to enhance as well as explain, and it derives from kabuki theatre traditions. It is in part due to the popularity of benshi narrators, some of whom became very famous, that silent cinema lasted well into the 1930s in Japan, providing space for directors such as Ozu, Naruse and Mizoguchi to make so many silent masterpieces.

Orochi (The Serpent) is a film that colours its tragedy with a political subtext and it was very controversial when it was first released. Director Buntarō Futagawa was known for his innovations, but only two of his films, this one and a short, survive to this day. Orochi is about a samurai railing against an unjust world, who is played by the silent film star Tsumasaburō Bandō. The swordfighting scenes play to the star’s natural abilities: they’re fast, frenzied and a step-change from the more sedate kabuki-influenced Japanese cinema of the time. However, it’s the message rather than the mayhem, that resonates here.

The story revolves around the protagonist, Heizaburo Kuritomi, an honorable but low-class samurai who is given an emotional depth, previously unseen in Jidaigeki films, as he battles with inner conflict and the injustices of society. This is especially evident in the closing sequence of the film where the protagnoist is dragged away by his enemies after his tremendous effort to protect his love. In the essay, “Bantsuma’s ‘New Breeze'”, Midori Sawato cites the ending of Orochi as one of the most ‘heroic and heartcrushing’ images she has seen. In the past, the heroes of the films were proud samurai of the upper classes who always triumphed over their evil opponents, upholding what was truly right in the world. However, Orochi was created in response to the national and military fanaticism that was prevailing at the time.

With its now famous opening lines:

‘Not all those who wear the name of villain, are truly evil men. Not all those who are respected as noble men, are worthy of the name. Many are those who wear a false mask of benevolence to hide their treachery and the wickedness of their true selves,’

the film evoked provocative ideologies and rebellious ideas during a time where liberal performers and writers were being repressed throughout Japan. Consequently, the film was severely censored with over 20% of its content being completely cut out and several scenes having to be re-shot. When the film was finally released, the hype around its creation resulted in crowds flocking to theaters all around the country. Bantsuma’s exhilarating new sword fighting style he displayed in the film may have attracted audiences but it cannot be denied that there were many who were also deeply touched by the profound message of the film.

Doors are at 5pm for a screening at 6.30pm. Tickets are £7 in advance or £9 on the door. You’ll find the Volupté Lounge at 9 Norwich Street, EC4A 1EJ. Call 0207 831 1622 or email reservations@volupte-lounge.com to book tickets. Don’t forget to check out the Facebook page or the Twitter feed for future screenings.

Silent films at the West London Trades Union Club, 2012 season

Hindle Wakes (1927)
Hindle Wakes (1927)

The West London Trades Union Club in Acton, London W3 is a welcoming place for those who enjoy a well-kept ale and a natter, and a haven for left-leaning cinephiles too. The venue’s Saturday afternoon film club is friendly, and pleasingly broad-minded: recent seasons have taken a look at the work of film-makers ranging from Joseph Losey to Paul Robeson as well as giving club members the chance to show their own favourite titles, week by week.

Last year I spent four hugely enjoyable, chatty Saturday afternoons in west London showing silent films chosen in collaboration with members of the club. The discussions afterwards were well-informed, not to say boisterous, and one topic we often returned to was: what are you going to show next year?

So, the silent film club is back, with some much-longed for comedy, another British film, some Weimar glamour and French impressionism. Here’s what’s coming up this autumn in Acton:

Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

Comedy double-bill: The General (1926) and The Circus (1928)

Two classic films from the two titans of silent comedy: Buster Keaton’s ingenious civil-war chase film The General and Chaplin’s poignant, hilarious The Circus. These two films offer an opportunity to marvel at the best of silent comedy, but also to compare and contrast the different styles of these two great film-makers. Buster Keaton’s deadpan mechanical inventiveness versus Chaplin’s sentimental appeal and graceful physicality – you decide.
8 September 2012, 4pm

Hindle Wakes (1927)

This adaptation of the much-loved northern melodrama was filmed by Maurice Elvey, a giant of British silent cinema, now sadly all but forgotten. Elvey was a trade unionist himself, and Hindle Wakes is the story of a clandestine romance between a factory worker and an industrialist’s son. It’s gorgeously filmed, with some fantastic “Wakes Week” sequences shot in Blackpool – and the heroine, played by Estelle Brody, is a refreshingly modern woman. Not to be missed.
20 October 2012, 4pm

Louise Brooks Pandora's Box (1929)
Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box (1929)

Pandora’s Box (1929)

Another modern woman, and one of the most famous films of the silent era. Louise Brooks is truly iconic as the liberated, amoral Lulu breaking hearts in swinging Weimar Germany. Erotic, witty and ultimately tragic, Pandora’s Box is a classic that rewards repeated viewing and while coolly received at the time, has subsequently made an international star or its reckless leading lady – it now stands as the definitive portrait of a decadent society.
10 November 2012, 4pm

L’Argent (1928)

When Marcel Herbier announced his intention to adapt Zola’s L’Argent but to place it in the contemporary setting of the 1920s Paris stockmarket, many were horrified that he would take an acclaimed historical novel about ruthlessly greedy, over-reaching bankers out of its context. But Herbier’s passion, “to film at any cost, even (what a paradox) at great cost, a fierce denunciation of money”, proved as pertinent in pre-crash Europe as it does now, in the fallout of the global financial crisis. L’Argent is not just social commentary, it’s an ambitiously innovative film, a masterpiece of poetic impressionism.
15 December 2012, 4pm

Charlie Chaplin in The Circus (1928)
Charlie Chaplin in The Circus (1928)

You don’t have to be a member of the club, or even of a trade union, to turn up and receive a warm welcome – and you will find the venue at 33 Acton High Street, London W3 6ND. It’s about five minutes walk from Acton Central train station, and on plenty of bus routes.