Tag Archives: silent film

The Phantom of the Opera for Halloween 2011

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Call it a spooky coincidence, but there are three screenings of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) coming up in the London area this month. Could it be that Halloween is approaching?

From the novel by Gaston Leroux, Lon Chaney creates one of his most grotesque performances as the crazed man without a face, who lives in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, and falls in love with the voice of a young opera singer. Infatuated, he kidnaps her, dragging her to the depths below where she will sing only for him.

The Phantom of the Opera is a spectacularly grand horror film – from its Paris Opera House setting, to lead actor Lon Chaney’s gruesome makeup, and the early use of Technicolor in the Bal masqué sequence. You really can’t beat seeing this on the big screen – and with live musical accompaniment, of course. And this month, you have two chances to do.

On 19 October 2011, you can watch The Phantom of the Opera in a very unusual location: the medieval Croydon Minster in Surrey. The screening will be accompanied by David Griggs, who will improvise a score on the church organ. Tickets cost £10 and are available by emailing enquiries@croydonminster.org or calling 020 8688 8104. For more details, visit the Croydon Minster website.

The Phantom of the Opera is haunting the West End too. On 27 October 2011, the Prince Charles Cinema will be screening the film with piano accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulos. The PCC’s silent screenings always have a great atmosphere, so this should be a suitably spine-tingling way to kick off the the Halloween weekend. Tickets cost £11 or £7 for concessions and are available from the PCC website.

And the Phantom can also be found at London’s newest cinema. The box-fresh Hackney Picturehouse hosts a screening of the film, with a live soundtrack by Wirral band the Laze.

 This Halloween they bring Picturehouse their bespoke score for the classic silent horror Phantom of the Opera (1925).  Influenced by a history of horror soundtracks, from Bernard Hermann & Angelo Badalamenti to Goblin & John Carpenter, The Laze implement elements of Progressive Rock, Classical, Jazz, Doom and Electronica in their auteur musical accompaniment.

The band are also performing their score at cinemas in Liverpool, Newcastle and Aberystwyth. Find out more on their Facebook page and click here to book tickets for the Hackney show.

Happy birthday Buster Keaton

Buster ... and Buster
Buster ... and Buster

Everyone loves Buster Keaton, but the readers of Silent London love him more than most. So today, on 4 October 2011, which would have been Buster Keaton’s 116th birthday, let’s pause to celebrate the Great Stone Face. After all, if it wasn’t for Buster Keaton, this blog wouldn’t exist. My first silent film and live music experience was a double-bill of Sherlock Jr and Steamboat Bill Jr accompanied by the Harmonie Band. What a treat. I was already smitten with early film before I went, but that evening turned me into an evangelist for the ‘live cinema’ experience.

I have Buster Keaton news to share, also. In the US, movie channel TCM is celebrating by showing Keaton’s films every Sunday throughout October. Sadly, that pleasure is not available on these shores, but Scottish film blogger Jon Melville isn’t going to let that stop him. He will be rewatching the same films on DVD, and writing them up for his Holyrood or Bust(er) project. Follow his progress on his blog here.

Over in LA, The Kitty Packard Pictorial blog is hosting a month-long Buster Keaton party – and everyone is invited:

Project Keaton will be a month long open forum in which writers, artists, everyday Joes and everyday Janes (like me) from all over the world are being invited to tip their pork pie to Buster. The goal is to foster a month of creative exchange, with Buster as muse, and to celebrate one of cinema’s few, true geniuses. There are no rules as to content: essays, reviews, art, critiques, tributes, prose, poetry, all are welcome. And, since this is a month long project, there are no pressing deadlines: participants may contribute as little or as much as they wish any time at all during the course of October.

Find out more, including how to contribute to Project Keaton, here.

If all this has reawakened your love of Buster Keaton, then you may want to join the Blinking Buzzards – the UK Buster Keaton society, who produce quarterly newsletters and hold regular meetings. They are even working on a clothing range and talking about a festival, too. There is not much information on their website at present, but their next meeting will be held at the Cinema Museum on 22 October. You can follow them on Twitter or Facebook, where they are far more talkative and a regular source of Buster Keaton clips and news.

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

The final titbit I’ve been keeping stashed under my pork-pie hat is a date for your diary. You may already know that The Slapstick Festival, an annual orgy of silent comedy in Bristol, will take place from 26-29 January next year. This festival is organised by the fabulous people at Bristol Silents and is always enormous fun, with an enchanting mix of silent film geekery and out-and-out hilarity. Although it’s too early for the full lineup to be revealed, the four galas, the flagship events of the weekend, have been announced.

May I draw your event to the event taking place on Friday 27 January? Comedian Griff Rhys Jones will introduce a screening of Buster Keaton’s masterpiece The General (1926), with a new score written by Günter Buchwald and performed by members of the European Silent Screen Virtuosi and Bristol Ensemble. There will also be a chance to see Laurel and Hardy in The Finishing Touch (1928) and Charlie Chaplin in The Adventurer (1916), as well as a performance by the Matinee Idles, featuring actor Paul McGann. The Gala takes place at Colston Hall in central Bristol, and tickets are available here.

Happy birthday Buster Keaton!

Pêcheur d’Islande at the Institut Français, 11 October 2011

Pêcheur d'Islande (1927)
Pêcheur d'Islande (1927)

Pierre Loti’s novel Pêcheur d’Islande combines realism and impressionism as it explores the hard life of Breton fishermen who risk their lives to catch cod in Icelandic waters. The tragic air extends as far as the novel’s love story, a romance between a sailor, Yann and a young girl, Gaud, who meet at a party. Gaud is in love with Yann, but he is also in love with the sea …

In 1927 the novel was adapted for the screen and directed by the Jacques de Baroncelli, a Frenchman who had made many films in the silent era. Pêcheur d’Islande was shot on location in Brittany, and the landscapes both on land and at sea are magnificent. It’s a rarely seen film, and so you’ll be very happy to know that its forthcoming London screening will be introduced by – Kevin Brownlow. Not only that, but Neil Brand will provide piano accompaniment.

Pêcheur d’Islande screens at the Ciné Lumière at the Institut Français on Tuesday 11 October at 6.30pm. Tickets cost £10 or less for concessions and are available on the Institut Français website here.

Win tickets for The First Born at the London Film Festival

Miles Mander’s edgy, sophisticated silent drama The First Born is one of the most exciting recent rediscoveries of British silent cinema – and it will be presented in style at this year’s London Film Festival.

A philandering politician, the double standards of the upper classes, jealousy, miscegenation and a generation torn between centuries of tradition and a more modern morality… the plot of The First Born feels not unlike a lost episode of Downton Abbey. Sir Hugo Boycott (Miles Mander) and his young bride (a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate relationship, but it founders when she fails to produce an heir. This is a surprisingly ‘adult’ film and made with both elegance and invention. Particularly surprising among Mander’s sometimes Hitchcockian box of visual tricks is a handheld camera sequence that allows the audience to become voyeur as Boycott stalks the marital bedroom to find his wife in the bath. The story is oddly reflected in reality: the ‘first born’ is played by Mander’s own son and it was well known that the leads were involved romantically – well enough known to bring Mander’s wife to the set to demand an explanation. This major new restoration by the BFI National Archive includes reinstated missing footage and the reintroduction of a beautiful range of tints.

This very special film will be screened at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank, with a new score by Stephen Horne, performed by three musicians. You can find out more about the film, and the score, here. The music you can hear on the extract above is not an extract from the new score, but a piece that Horne wrote especially for the clip. I think you’ll agree it sounds marvellous.

So, do you fancy a free pair of tickets to this special Archive Gala performance? To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to see The First Born at the London Film Festival, just answer this simple question:

  • The First Born was co-written by Alma Reville. Which famous film director was she married to?

Email your answer to silentlondontickets@gmail.com by noon on Monday 10 October. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!

To find out more, and to book tickets, visit the London Film Festival website.

Terms and Conditions

  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative available.
  • Recipients must be 16 or over and able to attend the screening at 19:30 on 20 October at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The Wheels of Chance at the Barbican, 9 October 2011

One of the many things that Silent London loves about the Barbican’s Silent Film and Live Music strand is the way it crosses over other with film festivals taking place at the venue. There are silent screenings coming up that are part of the Portuguese and Czech Film Festivals, for example. The Portuguese silent, The Wolves (1923), looks particularly interesting – but more of that in a future post.

The film festival we’re concerned with today is the Bicycle Film Festival, now in its 11th year and packed full of cool documentaries about urban bikers and BMX stunts. The Wheels of Chance (1922) is rather more genteel, though: an adaptation of an HG Wells novel by American director Harold Shaw. The hero of this caper is an awkward draper’s assistant, who falls for a cycling beauty while on holiday in the home counties. We’re told that the story is a “metaphor for the revolutionary effect of the bicycle on Edwardian society”, but it also sounds like a good deal of fun. This is how the Bioscope reported a screening of the film at Pordenone two years ago:

Filmed, as is seemingly usual with Shaw, largely on location with strong emphasis on pictorialism. Wheels of Chance is a comedy with a plot borrowed from a melodrama, with George K. Arthur, back from Shaw’s Kipps, as a draper’s assistant on a cycling tour foiling the machinations of a foreign-named cad – Bechamel – trying to elope, also by bicycle, with a naive suburban girl thereby trapping her into compromising situations in Home Counties pub/hotels, while her mother and her entourage set off in pursuit. Charming but never cloying, the happy ending here is not the unlikely riding off into the sunset – socially impossible in those times – but a recognition by all parties of the lessons learned; she is less naive, and she and her elders have learned respect for their ‘social inferior’; he gains self-respect, and has had his horizons broadened just a little bit … it’s a well-made film, with its heart in the right place, and those evocative shots of 1920s Surrey and Hampshire …

Music for the screening will be provided by Robin Harris on piano and the feature will be accompanied by two early shorts: Thomas Edison’s Bicycle Tricks (1899) and the hypnotic Ladies on Bicycles (1899), shown above.

The Wheels of Chance screens at the Barbican Cinema at 4pm on 9 October 2011. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Barbican website.

Neil Brand’s score for Underground: a preview

Underground (1928)
Underground (1928)

After months of work on his score for Undergound (1928), Neil Brand is still, happily, a big fan of the film. In fact he’s enthusiastic, and generous, enough to offer Silent London a preview of the music ahead of the world premiere next Wednesday and to chat about the film, and the process of scoring it too. Anthony Asquith’s film is set in London, but borrows its visual style from the European and Soviet art cinema that he loved so much: expect dark shadows, quickfire editing and geometric compositions. “Asquith was never again so bold as he was with Underground,” Brand says, and this score represents Brand’s attempt “to make music as bold as the film is”.

It hasn’t been an easy task. At first, he says, he was intimidated by the task ahead: the difficulty about writing for Underground, as opposed to Blackmail, which Brand scored for the BBC Symphony Orchestra last year, was that Asquith’s film requires snatches of lighter music. Blackmail is like an “icicle to the heart”, but Underground has wry, comic moments, at least towards the beginning of the film, before the characters make some disastrous decisions, and the film’s romantic triangle becomes an “Expressionist nightmare”. “Those first 20 minutes were horrendous to write,” he says. But four months later he has a complete score, which will be played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Brock, at the Barbican Concert Hall next month.

Brand is of course known for his piano scores, often improvised, for silent films, and here he has incorporated a piano into an orchestra score for the first time. He tells me this is partly because he wanted to use the love theme he had written for the film when he accompanied it at the London Film Festival with the Prima Vista Social Club two years ago. He also wanted to use the piano’s percussive bass sound and he enjoys the sound of a solo piano, at moments, over a quiet orchestra. “It’s almost a Morricone effect.”

Other than that though, Brand tackled the score as he always does, from the beginning to the end. This means that every morning, before starting work on the next segment of the film he would play through the existing score from the start. So he has heard the opening of the score, on his home computer setup, many, many times.

Continue reading Neil Brand’s score for Underground: a preview

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans at Screen 17, 20 October 2011

Sunrise (1927)
Sunrise (1927)

Walthamstow wants a cinema. In fact, Walthamstow has a cinema, but it is in a terrible state of disrepair at the moment, and its owners want to use it as a church. So the campaign fights on, but meanwhile the cinephiles of E17 are starved for local entertainment. Which is where Screen 17, a local ‘microplex’ cinema comes in.

Based in a Regency villa in the heart of Walthamstow Village, Screen 17 is a new, but very welcome, addition to the local arts scene. They’ve been showing children’s films on Saturday mornings and movies for grownups on Thursday evenings for a few weeks now, but they wanted to offer something a little different – to give people a chance to try another flavour of cinema. So Screen 17 is showing a silent movie with live music in October, and the film they have chosen is the beautiful Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927).

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Sunrise, directed by FW Murnau, is one of the greatest films of all time, and a masterpiece of late silent cinema. The story concerns a pair of newlyweds from the country, and a vamp from the city who tries to come between them. It’s beautifully photographed, with stunning fluid camerawork, and touching lead performances from Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien. It’s by turns comic, romantic and as in this scene, thrillingly melodramatic:

I’m really excited about this. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m a proud Walthamstow resident, and it’s wonderful to see a silent film shown in my local area. The guys who run Screen 17 are also behind the popular Vintage Cabaraoke evening, so they know how to put on a great night’s entertainment too. There will be a live improvised piano accompaniment for the film, just like in the good old days, and DJ Roxy ‘Moonshine’ Robinson will be spinning some 78s as well. If you want to dress up in your best 20s gear for the occasion – go ahead!

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans screens at Screen 17 on 20 October 2011. Doors open at 7.30pm and the film begins at 8.30pm. There will be a licensed bar, hotdogs and popcorn. Over 18s only. Tickets cost £8 and are available on the door or on We Got Tickets. For more details, visit the Screen 17 website.

Not So Silent Movies at Kings Place

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last (1923)
Harold Lloyd in Safety Last (1923)

This is a silent film screening, a concert, an experiment and lunch, all rolled into one. Not So Silent Movies will happen on the first Sunday of every month at the Kings Place arts centre in Kings Cross. It’s the brainchild of composer and cellist Philip Sheppard and puts a range of leading musicians to the ultimate test of their improvisational skills – accompanying silent films. The films will be a complete surprise to the musicians, who will have had no opportunity to watch the movies in advance, or heaven forfend, rehearse. This is what Sheppard says about the project:

‘I love throwing caution to the wind and creating a spontaneous composition, and I have absolute confidence that these musicians can pull it off. There’ll be as much slap-stick on stage as on screen; we get such a buzz from taking the risk with no safety net – it’s the adrenalin that makes it work, and when it’s over you can’t repeat it – it’s a one off!’

The choice of films will be a surprise for the audience too, of course. But a little bird tells me we can expect plenty of Buster Keaton (from the shorts to the features), some Harold Lloyd, maybe even some Chaplins in the future. Sheppard is huge fan of silent comedy and keen to show a broad range of films. He has something very special planned for Christmas, too, hopefully involving a special guest. But he’s keen to hear suggestions from Silent London readers. So if you want to nominate some silent comedies that you would like to see with a spontaneous score, comment below.

The roster of musicians involved is very impressive, and changes from month to month. Here are the line-ups for the first three Sundays.

Sunday 2 October:
Special guests
Guy Pratt bass (Pink Floyd & Roxy Music)
Geoff Dugmore drums

House band
Philip Sheppard cello
Elspeth Hanson violin (Bond)
Pip Eastop horn (London Sinfonietta)
Mark Neary pedal steel guitar

Sunday 6 November:
Special guest
Dame Evelyn Glennie OBE percussion

Sunday 4 December:
Roger Eno piano
Robin Millar CBE
 guitarist/star producer
Steve Mackey bass player, Pulp

Not So Silent Movies takes place on the first Sunday of every month in Hall Two of Kings Place. Tickets cost £9.50-£12.50, or £29.50 with Sunday lunch and a bloody mary at the Rotunda restaurant included. Find out more here.

Which silent comedies would you like to see shown at Not So Silent Movies? Please leave your comments below.

The First Born on the Guardian film blog

Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll in The First Born (1928)
Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll in The First Born (1928)

The London Film Festival‘s archive gala is rapidly becoming a highlight of London’s silent film calendar. This year continues the theme, presenting Miles Mander’s edgy melodrama The First Born in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank, with a new score by Stephen Horne. I spoke to Horne about his composition, and to Bryony Dixon of the BFI about the film, and wrote this short piece for the Guardian film blog.

Win tickets for Underground with the BBC Symphony Orchestra

There’s nothing like seeing a film with a live orchestra – it’s far more exciting than surround sound. That’s why at Silent London we’re so excited about the world premiere of Neil Brand’s score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground (1928), which will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 5 October.

Undergound is set in London, among what Asquith called “everyday” people, but that doesn’t mean that this is an unsophisticated film. Far from it. The director’s appreciation of European and Russian cinema (he was a co-founder of the London Film Society) is betrayed by his use of Expressionist shadows, subjective camerawork and montage editing. This is 1920s London, but not like you may have seen before.

Underground tells the story of four young working people making their way in 1920s London. The parallels with life in the metropolis today are poignant and it is fascinating to see location footage of the Underground network, old London pubs, department stores and of course the climactic chase through the Lots Road Power Station in Chelsea … Asquith had a remarkable ability to portray the lighter and darker aspects of life through staging and cinematography. He was aided by the superb and unusually good-looking cast of Brian Aherne and Elissa Landi as the nice young couple, with Norah Baring and Cyril McLaglen as the unluckier, troubled duo.

The print of Underground that will be shown at the Barbican is the product of many hours of restoration work by the BFI, using new, cutting-edge techniques. The BBC Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Timothy Brock.

To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to watch Underground at the Barbican Concert Hall, just answer this simple question:

  • Cyril McLaglen, who plays Bert in Underground, had an older brother who was also a film actor. What was his name?

Email your answer to silentlondontickets@gmail.com by noon on Monday 26 September. The winner will be picked at random from the correct entries and emailed with the good news. Best of luck!

To find out more, and to book tickets, visit the Barbican website.

Battleship Potemkin on Film4 – and on the big screen

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)

It’s always cause for celebration when there is a silent film shown on UK TV, and, to accompany Mark Cousins’s epic documentary series The Story of Film, Film 4 has treated us to two in quick succession. We saw Orphans of the Storm (1921) a couple of weeks ago and now we can look forward to Battleship Potemkin (1925).

If we tune into The Story of Film for episode Three on More4 tonight, we are promised some glimpses of German expressionism, Soviet montage, French impressionism and surrealism, plus “the glories of Chinese and Japanese films and the moving story of one of the great, now largely forgotten, movie stars, Ruan Lingyu“. How could you pick one film out of that lot? Well, you couldn’t. But clearly Cousins is clearly a huge Eisenstein fan, and you can’t argue with Potemkin’s stature as a landmark in film history.

I really hope the version of Potemkin they’re showing is the recent restored re-release with the original orchestral score, but you can find out for yourself when it is shown just after midnight on Monday 19 September and at 11am on Thursday 22 September.

However, if you really want to see Battleship Potemkin at its best, head down to the Prince Charles Cinema or the Peckham Free Film Festival on Sunday to see this masterpiece on the big screen. You can always watch it on TV as well, after all. The Odessa Steps never get old.  Enjoy, comrades!

Sherlock Jr and Sing for Joy, Exmouth Market, 13 October 2011

Sherlock Jr (1924)
Sherlock Jr (1924)

There are few things more joyous than watching a Buster Keaton classic with live music, but this event might be one of them. It’s a fundraiser for the Sing for Joy Bloomsbury choir, incorporating a concert by the group themselves and a screening of Sherlock Jr, with piano accompaniment by the marvellous John Sweeney.

Sing for Joy is made up of singers who have Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions, and their friends and carers. Singing as a group isn’t just fun, it boosts confidence and helps with the speaking and breathing exercises that people with Parkinson’s do to keep tremors under control. You can find out more about the choir, and their director Carol Grimes, here.

If you’re not familiar with Sherlock Jr, it’s one of Keaton’s most inventive and charming films. Keaton plays a projectionist who fantasises about being a detective hero in a movie. When he falls asleep in the projectionist’s booth one night, he dreams that he walks through the cinema screen and into the heart of the action. You may have seen some clips of it if you watched The Story of Film on Saturday night.

The Sing for Joy Sherlock Jr event will take place in the hall of The Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer (full disabled access) 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE (nearest tube Farringdon) on 13 October 2011. Tickets cost £18, which includes a buffet dinner. They are availale from Mike Blackstaffe on 07584 471 104  or tickets@blackstaffe.demon.co.uk. Doors open at 7pm, which is when dinner will be served. The programme begins at 7.45pm and there will be a licensed bar.

The Lost World with John Garden – on tour

The Lost World with live score by John Garden
The Lost World with live score by John Garden

As previously reported with breathless excitement on this very site, composer and Scissor Sister John Garden has written an electronic score for The Lost World (1925). This is marvellously enjoyable silent film pioneered the use of stop-motion special effects, and brought us the unforgettable images of a brontosaurus running riot around the streets of London.

Now, Garden is taking The Lost World on tour. He’s going to Brighton, Manchester, Southampton, Exeter and performing two dates in London: one at the Barbican Centre, and one, among the real-life dinosaur (skeletons) at the Natural History Museum.

Here are the dates in full – check with the venues for exact times and ticket prices:

September
Saturday 24th – Duke of York’s, Brighton – CANCELLED
Sunday 25th – Barbican Cinema, London

October
Thurs 13th – Phoenix Cinema, Exeter
Friday 14th – Turner Sims, University of Southampton
Sunday 16th – Cornerhouse, Manchester
Friday 21st – Natural History Museum, London

If you want a sample of the film, and Garden’s score, check this out:

The Lost World tour is brought to us by the excellent people at Bristol Silents. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark their shiny new blog right now.

Laurel and Hardy at the Brentford Musical Museum, 25 September 2011

Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy

Wurlitzer organs were once a familiar sight in British cinemas but that was a very long time ago. Happily, there are some places, such as the Musical Museum in Brentford, which maintain these fantastic instruments and put on concerts and film screenings to show them to their best advantage.

The next event on the Musical Museum’s “silent” schedule is a Sunday afternoon compilation of Laurel and Hardy films. There will be two silent shorts before the interval: Flying Elephants (1928) and Putting Pants on Philip (1927). Donald Mackenzie will accompany both films on the museum’s Regal Wurlitzer, and after the break he will give a short performance before a screening of the sound film The Music Box (1932).

The Laurel and Hardy screening takes place on Sunday 25 September at 3pm, at the Brentford Musical Museum, near Kew Bridge Station. Tickets cost £10 and you can find out more details on the museum’s website here.

Silent films at the 55th London Film Festival – a preview

Berenice Bejo in The Artist (2011)
Berenice Bejo in The Artist (2011)

• This post was updated on 30 September 2011

Stand by for 15 days of non-stop film-film-film in the capital – the London Film Festival approaches. High-profile events such as this are renowned for attracting the best new films, but increasingly they offer a space for freshly restored classics as well. Happily, this year, silent films fall into both of those categories.

The headline news is that Michel Hazanavicius’s hotly-tipped The Artist (2011) is coming to London. This modern silent, a love letter to 1920s Hollywood, has consistently charmed critics since it was first shown at Cannes and the Weinsteins are opening it in America at Thanksgiving, leading inevitably to what the magazines call “Oscar buzz”. There is still no news of the UK release date, so these two London gala screenings, while pricey, are certainly precious. I can’t wait to see it, myself.

Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll in The First Born (1928)
Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll in The First Born (1928)

The next big thing, as it were, is the London Film Festival Archive Gala, which this year will be the BFI’s brand-new restoration of Miles Mander’s The First Born (1928), as I revealed on Wednesday. This stunning film will be accompanied by the premiere of a new score written by the incomparable Stephen Horne when it screens at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. Do not miss.

The Goose Woman (1925)
The Goose Woman (1925)

Stephen Horne will also provide musical accompaniment for two of the other silent film screenings at the festival – in the Treasures from the Archives strand. First up is The Goose Woman (1925), a Hollywood film directed by Clarence Brown (Flesh and the Devil, Anna Christie). This film is a recent rediscovery, which been restored by Kevin Brownlow and Robert Gitt, who will introduce the screening. The Goose Woman stars Louise Dresser as a former opera singer who tries to regain some of her fame by claiming to have witnessed a murder. Unfortunately, her false testimony frames her son, played by Jack Pickford. This movie was a great success at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival, so it’s very exciting to finally be able to see it in the UK. The screening at BFI Southbank will be prefaced by a couple of early Vitaphone shorts  – yes, sound films.

Shoes (1916)
Shoes (1916)

Next, a double-bill of restorations from foreign archives – The Nail in the Boot (1931), from the Gosfilmofun in Moscow, is a piece of Soviet silent propaganda, that was nonetheless attacked at the time for prioritising form over content. When a soldier fails in an assignment because of an injury caused by a broken shoe, a military inquiry is held to find out whether he is a traitor to the cause. The film is partnered an American film, Shoes (1916), directed by Lois Weber. This movie, which was been restored from separate prints by the EYE institute in the Netherlands, focuses on inner-city poverty – as experienced by a young shopworker who wants some new shoes, which of course she can’t afford. This programme screens at NFT1 in BFI Southbank.

Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902)
Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902)

A late addition to the programme, the restoration of Méliès’s hand-tinted, full-colour  Voyage Dans La Lune (1902) will screen twice at the festival, accompanying Roberto Rossellini’s The Machine That Kills Bad People (1952), “a satirical fantasy … about a photographer who discovers that his camera has magic powers: as he develops snapshots in his studio, their subjects expire in another part of the town, inspiring the cameraman to devise a scheme to kill the wicked, the greedy and the corrupt.” Click here for more information and tickets to the screenings, which will be held at BFI Southbank.

Cosmopolitan London (1924)
Cosmopolitan London (1924)

The final silent Treasure from the Archive is a collection of tinted and toned documentary travelogues, showing London in the 1920s. Wonderful London incorporates footage from all across the city, and the screening will be introduced by Bryony Dixon, with piano accompaniment by Neil Brand. Talk about silent London … you can watch these six films in two screenings at BFI Southbank.

I must add a special mention also, to a short film playing as part of a collection called Just Because You’re Paranoid, It Doesn’t Mean They’re Not After You at BFI Southbank. Henry Miller’s A Short Film About Shopping (2011) is described as “a silent study” in which a “a dentist’s mundane routine is radically altered by a trip to the shops. You can watch the trailer here.

The 55th London Film Festival runs from 12-27 October 2011. Everything you need to know about booking tickets for the London Film Festival is explained here.

The Son of the Sheik at the Prince Charles Cinema, 29 September 2011

The Son of the Sheik at the Prince Charles Cinema
The Son of the Sheik at the Prince Charles Cinema

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.

Silent film season at the West London Trade Union Club

Strike (1925)
Strike (1925)

The West London Trade Union Club on Acton high street may be a small venue, but it has won a commendation from Camra for its real ale and it has a dedicated film club too, recently hosting seasons devoted to Joseph Losey and Paul Robeson. What more could you want? Well, the W3 cineastes who meet once a month to watch movies on a 6ft screen and discuss them over a ale or two have now chosen to put together a silent film season.

The club has selected four great silent films, which will be shown at 4pm on Saturday afternoons and followed by a group discussion. I will be around too, to stir the conversation, stick up for my favourite era of cinema history and sample the beer. The four films, and dates are:

  • 17 September: Strike (Eisenstein, 1925)
  • 8 October: Faust (Murnau, 1926)
  • 12 November: Piccadilly (Dupont, 1929)
  • 10 December: Storm Over Asia (Pudovkin, 1928)

So there’s plenty to get stuck into there. A British favourite set in our own fair city, a couple of Soviet classics and even something scary for an early Halloween.

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.

The Story of Film – and Orphans of the Storm, September 2011

Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Mark Cousins’s epic 15-part documentary The Story of Film: an Odyssey begins this Saturday, at 9.15pm on More4. This promises to be an excellent series, with Cousins roaming far and wide to put together a history of cinematic innovations and achievements. The early episodes obviously hold the most interest for us, and people who have seen the first instalment tell me it’s a must-see. Episode one explores the birth of the medium, from the development of techniques such as close-ups to the first movie stars and the early picture palaces. Episode two takes us into 1920s Hollywood and the golden era of comedy, with Keaton and Chaplin.

Filmed in the buildings where the first movies were made, it shows that ideas and passion have always driven film, more than money and marketing.

The series’s scope is wider than just American films, though, and if you had any doubt as to whether Cousins’s heart is in the right place, check out his new tattoo:

I know what you’re thinking – it would be great if Channel 4 could schedule some silent films to accompany these early episodes. What’s the point of telling people about Chaplin, Griffith, Dreyer and Eisenstein if we can’t watch the movies themselves? Well, there is a glimmer of hope. In the week following the first episode, Film4 will be showing Griffith’s French Revolution epic Orphans of the Storm (1921), starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish. The film will be screened at 00.50am on Tuesday 6 September (set your video) and again at 11am on Thursday 8 September.

A little update, courtesy of a helpful commenter below – Film4 will also be showing Battleship Potemkin later in the month – 19th and 22nd September to be precise. More of this please, Film4!

Meanwhile, if you’re enjoying what Mark Cousins has to say about silent cinema, and you live in or near London, watch this space for news of screenings with live music in the capital.

The Story of Film: an Odyssey screens on Saturday nights on More4 and is repeated throughout the week.

I tip my hat to @LondonMovieLoon on Twitter for alerting me to the screening of Orphans of the Storm. Much appreciated.


Mania: the History of a Cigarette Factory Worker at the Barbican, 13 October 2011

Mania: History of a Cigarette Factory Worker (1918)
Mania: History of a Cigarette Factory Worker (1918)

Pola Negri was the first European star to be brought over to Hollywood, and her native Poland is understandably very proud of her. So much so that, to celebrate Poland’s presidency of the EU, the Polish Film Archive will be screening a new restoration of one of her “lost” films, with a specially commissioned orchestral score, at venues across Europe this year.

Mania: the History of a Cigarette Factory Worker is a “movie-poem” about a young woman caught between two suitors and with a terrible decision to make. The film was shot at Ufa in Berlin in 1918, and directed by Eugene Illés with sets designed by the master of Expressionism, Paul Leni. It comes to London on 13 October 2011, with a performance at the Barbican Arts Centre at 7pm. You can buy tickets here. And you can find out more about the film and its restoration here.

Meanwhile, I’ll be attending the “re-premiere” of Mania in Warsaw on Sunday – and reporting back with all the details soon. Watch this space.