Tag Archives: silent film

Thinking Aloud about Bologna: Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022

It is too hot to think in Bologna in late June. Which means that the best way to digest Il Cinema Ritrovato is always at a later date, back in cooler climes. So this week I was honoured to appear with José Arroyo and Richard Layne on their fantastic podcast Thinking Aloud About Film for a special episode dedicated to all things Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022.

• You can find out more about the podcast and this episode here on José Arroyo’s marvellous First Impressions: Notes on Film and Culture blog.

You can watch the vodcast on Vimeo here.

Or proceed directly to the Soundcloud here:

• The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here and on iTunes here

• Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page.

In Spring (1929): A Kyiv symphony

When I am not on duty at Silent London, I write for less prestigious outfits. Speaking of which, I have a monthly column in Sight and Sound – have done for a year now. I use this column mostly to talk about the places where young cinema and old cinema meet. My last column was a little different. It’s about the most moving cinema experience I had all year: watching Mikhail Kaufman’s In Spring (1929) at the Tromsø Stumfilmdager with live music from Ukrainian musicians Roksana Smirnova on piano and Misha Kalinin on electric guitar.

I thought you might like to read it.

Continue reading In Spring (1929): A Kyiv symphony

Il Cinema Ritrovato: a week in 1922

Three little words of Italian you need to learn if you attend Il Cinema Ritrovato: Cento Anni Fa. This must-see strand of the festival, curated by Bologna’s silent cinema supremos Mariann Lewinsky and Karl Wratschko, dials back the programming clock by a century. The name means simply: a hundred years ago.

So it was that this week, in between blasts of restorative Italian sunshine and shots of iced coffee, I spent a week in the 1922 cinematic universe: a world of gorgeous location photography, penetrating psychodrama, impeccable slapstick and to generalise, a healthy number of female-led films (including a handful of nasty women). It was clearly a good year for the movies, so much so that even though I skipped some of the Cento Anni Fa screenings as they were already familiar to me (or outside my days at the festival), that left plenty of room to explore some less well-trod pathways through the year, one massive restoration project and at least one cult classic that I had been saving up for a big-screen viewing. Here are some of those highlights.

Continue reading Il Cinema Ritrovato: a week in 1922

Visit the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum this summer

Summer is here, and term is nearly out. For the readers of this blog I guess this means a few different things. Some of you are packing your bags for Bologna right this minute. Me too, as soon I finish writing this blogpost. Apart from that, the long summer days send a signal to your brain that in one scenario screams: holiday! Or in another, it whispers tactfully: time to get that project done.

Myself, I am very much in the second boat. I have a book to research and write BP (Before Pordenone). More on that anon. But the Silent London blog is about unity and harmony and what not, so I have a recommendation for all of you, whether your summer is all about reading on the beach or at a library desk.

Continue reading Visit the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum this summer

Pordenone calling: Collegium 2022

Are you under 30 and obsessed with silent film? Even a little? Would you like to spend a week at the world’s best silent film festival talking to the best people in the field about early and silent film? And would you like to win a prize?

If that sounds like you, you will probably be interested in applying for the Pordenone Silent Film Festival Collegium in 2022. It’s a fantastic opportunity for young people who are studying cinema (in any form) to meet, learn and expand their cinematic horizons. Succcessful applicants will be hosted by the festival and have access to the full week of screenings and events as well as the special Collegium “dialogues”.

Continue reading Pordenone calling: Collegium 2022

Take Cinema’s First Nasty Women home this summer

Yes, I have been hiding it very well, but I am actually a big fan of the Cinema’s First Nasty Women project. Who knew?

Co-curated by Laura Horak, Maggie Hennefeld and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, the Nasty Women project has trawled the archives for trailblazing examples of female energy, anger, transgression, rebellions and explosive hilarity in early cinema. The films have been shown at festivals around the globe and this summer you can take them home with you, courtesy of Kino Lorber, in the form of an “irreverent” four-disc box set, available in both DVD and Blu-ray flavours. Here’s the official spiel:

Continue reading Take Cinema’s First Nasty Women home this summer

The Women Who Built Hollywood – an online lecture

Here I am again, talking about one of my very favourite subjects: women in silent cinema.

In fact, let’s get right into it – on Monday 30 May I am delivering an online lecture on the very subject. It is called “The Women Who Built Hollywood: A Feminist History of Early Cinema” and I would love you to join me. Here’s the official blurb from the website.

Today it looks like Hollywood is run by men, but it was built by women. In fact, there were more women working in Hollywood in its first two decades than there are now, or have been at any time since. If Hollywood is ever to achieve gender parity in its studios and boardrooms, it should look back to its beginnings.

Continue reading The Women Who Built Hollywood – an online lecture

Tromsø Stumfilmdager 2022: An Arctic adventure in film and music

All silent film festivals are not the same. Tromsø Stumfilmdager in northern Norway is full of surprises. For one thing, it was the first time I have ever been offered, and gratefully accepted, earplugs before a silent movie screening.

But first of all, as we’re (mostly) Brits here, you’ll want to know about the weather. And boy was there are a lot of it. Tromsø is 69 degrees north, comfortably inside the Arctic Circle and yet in late April they often expect balmy temperatures of 5 Celsius or so, and clear skies. Not this year. As our pilot informed us en route, “winter has returned”, and we spent four days in the Arctic snow. A delightful Christmas-card novelty for us, but something of a drag for the locals who were looking forward to spring.

There was no escaping the weather on-screen either. The movies included the stories of a seasonal thaw, a woman driven insane by the desert winds, a serial killer operating under the cloak of city fog and a demon destroyed by sunlight. Ten points if you guess all of those titles correctly (although you could just check out the programme here).

The Verdensteatret in Tromsø – what a venue!
Continue reading Tromsø Stumfilmdager 2022: An Arctic adventure in film and music

Shakespeare Unlimited: on Asta Nielsen, Hamlet and testing the limits of Shakespeare

This is probably my final Asta Nielsen-related post for a while. I am delighted to be able to tell you that I was a guest on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast, Shakespeare Unlimited, to talk about Nielsen and her Hamlet.

I had a long chat with Shakespeare Unlimited host Barbara Bagaev about the film, and its context in Nielsen’s career. You can access information about the podcast here and listen to my episode and read the transcript here. You can also find Shakespeare Unlimited wherever else you find your podcasts.

Continue reading Shakespeare Unlimited: on Asta Nielsen, Hamlet and testing the limits of Shakespeare

Alim (1926): a taste of ‘Ukrainian Hollywood’

There are so many great silent film screenings in London right now, and I trust you are keeping up with the nationwide listings run by our friends the Silent Film Calendar. But I had to pause a moment and let you know about this event – a real one-off.

The Birkbeck Institute of the Moving Image is showing a newly restored, but rarely shown Ukrainian silent film on 29 April, with a live score by Crimean Tatar folk and jazz guitarist Enver Izmaylov and an introduction by scholar Dr Olena Palko.

Continue reading Alim (1926): a taste of ‘Ukrainian Hollywood’

Reginald Denny and What Happened to Jones? (1926): mischief and merriment

The appeal of What Happened to Jones? is not hard to place – as long as you are in possession of a funny bone. It’s a cheeky, crowd-pleasing gag-fest, adapted from a Broadway farce of the same name that packed houses on Broadway and the West End in the late 1890s, even as it left the critics largely cold. What Happened to Jones? thrived in silent cinema, being adapted in 1915, 1920 and finally in 1926 – starring the fabulous Reginald Denny. It’s a breezy tale of a chap called Tom Jones who goes out gambling with his friend Ebenezer Goodly the night before his wedding. Comic complications ensue, as you would fervently hope!

Reginald Denny, the dapper star of this farce, may now be best remembered as a character actor in talkies, but in the silent era he was a leading man, a comic star. Though in truth his heart belonged to aviation and athleticism as much as it did to acting. He was born into a theatrical family in Richmond, Surrey, and although he had some success as a child actor, he was sent to boarding school aged 11 after his mother died. He ran away from school to London as a teenager – that’s where he took up boxing and eventually became a heavyweight champion.

Continue reading Reginald Denny and What Happened to Jones? (1926): mischief and merriment

Thinking Aloud about Hippfest

You know how much I love the Bo’ness bonanza that is the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival. So this week I was honoured to appear with José Arroyo and Richard Hayne on their fantastic podcast Thinking Aloud About Film for a special episode dedicated to all things Hippfest 2022.

• You can find out more about the podcast and this episode here on José Arroyo’s marvellous First Impressions: Notes on Film and Culture blog.

Or proceed directly to the Soundcloud here:

Here’s a picture of us hanging out online. And can you guess why Richard thought I was wearing pearls?

• The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here and on iTunes here

• Hang out on the Hippfest website and find out more, here.

• Might be sharing another guest podcast appearance here soon, maybe… watch this space.

Nasty Women at Hippfest: The Night Rider and Rowdy Ann

This blogpost is a version of the introduction I was honoured to give at the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival on Friday for the Nasty Women: Gender Rebels double-bill. The films were brilliantly accompanied by Meg Morley, and the festival continues all weekend.

Welcome to the world of Nasty Women. Cinema’s First Nasty Women is a curatorial project from two American academics, Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak. The name is taken from Donald Trump’s notorious remark about Hillary Clinton, and for the past five years, Hennefeld and Horak have been screening films that reveal women being transgressive, riotous and unbiddable on the silent screen at festivals around the world.

This May you will be able to take the nasty women home with you on a four-disc DVD and Blu-ray box set, containing 99 films, dating back to the very beginnings of cinema, sourced from a dozen international archives. It will be crammed with “feminist protest, anarchic, destructive slapstick, and suggestive gender play”.

Continue reading Nasty Women at Hippfest: The Night Rider and Rowdy Ann

Earth Spirit (1923): Asta Nielsen as Leopold Jessner’s Expressionist ‘man-eater’ Lulu

This blogpost is based on the introduction I gave to a screening of this film in the BFI Southbank season that I curated, In the Eyes of a Silent Star: The Films of Asta Nielsen. The season continues until 16 March.

This irresistibly grotesque German silent is an adaptation of a play that was hugely popular in Germany and around the world, in the early 20th century, and has been subsequently adapted many times, loosely or otherwise, for the screen. The play is Erdgeist/Earth Spirit, the first part of Frank Wedekind’s Lulu cycle, which silent film viewers may be more familiar with in the form of GW Pabst’s Pandora’s Box of 1929, starring Louise Brooks. The later, iconic film has overshadowed this adaptation, which has been harder to see. And indeed, Brooks wrote rather scathingly about the film in Lulu in Hollywood: disparaging the film for its lack of lesbianism and incest (a questionable complaint for two reasons), and accusing Nielsen’s Lulu of performing “skippity-hops” and appearing to suffer from an attack of indigestion at the crucial moment. Nielsen’s Lulu was, she said, a “man-eater” who “devoured her sex victims”, whereas her own portrayal of the femme fatale was much more innocent…

Continue reading Earth Spirit (1923): Asta Nielsen as Leopold Jessner’s Expressionist ‘man-eater’ Lulu

The Decline (1923): Asta Nielsen’s star falls to earth

This blogpost is based on the introduction I gave to a screening of this film in the BFI Southbank season that I curated, In the Eyes of a Silent Star: The Films of Asta Nielsen. The season continues until 16 March, including a screening of this very special film.

We are referring to this film as The Decline. It is also known as Downfall. The original German title is Der Absturz, which is perhaps something more like The Crash. The Dutch title, and this film survives in a partial Dutch print, was “The Penalty of Sin”. The subtitle was A Drama From the Artist’s Life. The film was and written and directed by Ludwig Wolff and it was made in 1922, by Asta Nielsen’s own production company, Art Film, in Berlin – she described the existence of that company as “three glorious years”. So it is a star vehicle of sorts, but without the vanity that you might expect from such a project.

Continue reading The Decline (1923): Asta Nielsen’s star falls to earth

The ABC of Love (1916): Asta Nielsen bends the rules in top hat and tails

This blogpost is based on the introduction I gave to a screening of this film in the BFI Southbank season that I curated, In the Eyes of a Silent Star: The Films of Asta Nielsen. The season continues until 16 March and there are many great films yet to see.

Asta Nielsen was one of the first truly international film stars, mobbed by crowds when she made personal appearances and beloved by audiences all over the world. Was she the first? You might call it a tie between her and the French comedian Max Linder, who made his name with a dapper, high-class comic character in a dress suit. When they burst on to the scene, Charlie Chaplin was four years away from making his debut. Although acclaimed as a tragedienne, the melancholic counterpart to Linder’s slapstick sensation, Nielsen proved often that she could do funny, too. And in tails as well.

In fact she had needed a little encouragement to play humorous scenes at drama school. “It all went wrong when I had to try my hand at comedy,” she wrote in her memoir. “Every type of humour was utterly foreign to me.” But in many ways the seriousness and commitment she brought to drama was her secret weapon as a comedienne. And as Robert C. Allen has written, perhaps the confidence boost of global stardom gave her the freedom to be silly.

Continue reading The ABC of Love (1916): Asta Nielsen bends the rules in top hat and tails

The Abyss (1910): Asta Nielsen’s audacious debut

This blogpost is based on the introduction I gave to a screening of this film in the BFI Southbank season that I curated, In the Eyes of a Silent Star: The Films of Asta Nielsen. The season continues until 16 March and there are many great films yet to see.

You have heard of the face that launched a thousand ships. In this film you will see the hips that launched a very famous face.

Asta Nielsen, a dissatisfied stage actress with little interest in film, had her interest piqued when her friend the set designer Urban Gad offered to write her a role and direct her in it. Nielsen felt that the cinema was silly stuff, cowboys and cream pies. But The Abyss (Afgrunden/The Woman Always Pays, Urban Gad, 1910) was an adult film, a serious story, about a love triangle between a young music teacher, Nielsen, a vicar’s son, played by actor and director Robert Dinesen, and a brutishly sexy circus performer, played by Poul Reumert. All three actors were making their debut in front of the camera, and Reumert and Nielsen would remain friends. In the self-titled autobiographical documentary that Nielsen made in 1968, she is shown in conversation with Reumert – the beginning and end of her career on film is with him.

Continue reading The Abyss (1910): Asta Nielsen’s audacious debut

A century of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror – and it’s back in cinemas

Another quick blogpost from me to note that it is 100 years to the day since the wonderful vampire film and (bootleg) Dracula adaptation Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror premiered! You don’t often get to celebrate a full century of a deathless classic – well you do if you’re a silent film fan, but you know what I mean – so I wanted to celebrate the occasion with some links, perfect for sinking your teeth into.

I have written something about the film to mark its anniversary, but it’s for a print publication and it won’t emerge from his coffin until next month sometime. So here is some reading and listening for your pleasure, right now.

You may want to brush up, as Eurkea is marking the centenary with a series of screenings around the country!

Neil Brand on Nosferatu, for this very site.

My review of the Eureka DVD/Blu of Nosferatu.

• I guested on the Final Girls podcast for a Nosferatu special.

• You can’t beat Kevin Jackson’s excellent BFI Film Classic on the film.

• From the Sight and Sound archive: a 1967 feature on Nosferatu.

Those screening dates in full, but check back for updates.

• Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page.

Asta Nielsen: Siren of the Silent Screen – an online lecture

Yes, more Asta Nielsen news! Just a quick update this time to let you know that I am giving an online lecture about Asta Nielsen on Monday 7 March in the evening – 6.30-8.30pm, UK time, via Zoom. The event is being held in collaboration with the London Drawing Group, as part of its Feminist Lecture Programme, which is full of fascinating subjects.

The lecture will give an introduction to and overview of the life and career of Asta Nielsen. It will be illustrated with imagery and clips and will be an extended version of the lecture that I gave at the opening of the season last month at BFI Southbank. It will be accessible all around the world, and if book but can’t be online at the right time, you can catchup via a recording later in the week.

Click here to find out more and to book tickets.

Hamlet (1921) at BFI Southbank: Shakespeare’s sister

Hamlet (1921) screens at the BFI Southbank twice this week as part of the season, In the Eyes of a Silent Star: The Films of Asta Nielsen. It’s a must-see, although I would say that. You can see the film on Wednesday at 6.15pm with musical accompaniment by Cyrus Gabrysch and on Saturday at 5pm with music by Meg Morley and an introduction by Professor Judith Buchanan.

Hamlet is a woman! At least she is in this German feature film, Hamlet: A Drama of Vengeance (1921). And not just any woman, but the inimitable Danish diva Asta Nielsen.

From Sarah Siddons to Maxine Peake, many actresses have played the Prince of Denmark, and a fragment of Sarah Bernhardt’s stage interpretation of the role was even captured in a short film shown at the Paris Exposition in 1900. However, the distaff twist in this film was prompted, or at least justified, by Edward P Vining’s scholarly 1881 book The Mystery of Hamlet: An Attempt to Solve an Old Problem, which makes the case for Prince Hamlet being so feminine a character that his contradictory nature is best explained by imagining that underneath the black tunic he’s really a woman. The film also draws on Danish history and a German play from 1704 called Fratricide Punished. The gender-swap allows for an intriguing new take on Shakespeare’s text, recasting his hero/heroine’s relationships with Ophelia, Horatio and Gertrude in fresh moulds.

Continue reading Hamlet (1921) at BFI Southbank: Shakespeare’s sister