Last week, I recommended a new Buster Keaton box set. Well, there’s an evergreen sentiment. I remain a devotee of physical media (and in the interests of full disclosure, also make part of my living from it), but I realise it’s getting a little trickier for people to get hold of news discs right now, whether that’s because of distribution difficulties or lack of funds. I hear you.
The weekend is nearly upon us and it promises to be cold and damp. Normally I would advise you to go to the cinema, wouldn’t I? I stand by that. There are plenty of shows on in Scotland this weekend, and Londoners can go to see Stephen Horne and Martin Pyne accompany Alraune at the Barbican this Sunday.
But if you can’t find a silent film screening near you and instead you’d rather curl up inside with a hot water bottle and your broadband connection, there are some silent films playing inside your computer that you won’t want to miss.
- The Danish Film Institute has done a wonderful thing – digitised its entire surviving silent film heritage and put it online at Stumfilm.dk, where you can stream it for zero krone. Yes, and many of the films have music and English subtitles too. There is so much here to enjoy, including Pat & Patachon. I was quite taken with the copious amounts of Asta Nielsen available, and AW Sandberg’s The Golden Clown from 1926 – but then I barely scratched the surface.
- Consider this one of your semi-regular reminders to check out the BFI Player again, because it seems like new silent films arrive there all the time. In particular, may I draw your attention to the new Robert Paul collection, celebrating his 130th anniversary, which includes some of his less well-known works. Not to mention the rest of the epic Victorian collection. If you’re a Paul fan (and of course you are), don’t miss the opening of the RW Paul exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford on 22 November. Another date for your early film diary: the Ernest Lindgren lecture on 10 December at BFI Southbank remembers the pioneering film preservation work of Harold Brown.
- Of course there’s always the Orphan Works on the BFI YouTube channel for all you international readers.
- Pop over the the Eye Film Museum YouTube channel to check out the Jean Desmet Collection – currently containing 370 films, many with English subtitles. New titles are added every Thursday!
- Highlights of the fantastic Kino Lorber Women Film Pioneers box set curated by Shelley Stamp are on Netflix in the UK, and many other countries too.
- US readers can find a variety of silents, including Chaplin features, when they subscribe to the Criterion Channel
- And next month, from 14 December, you’ll be able to see the lustrous new restoration of Maurice Tourneur’s The Broken Butterfly (1919) on the Film Foundation website.
Where else do you – legally – watch silent films online? Archive.org? Kanopy? Feel free to share any great finds in the comments.
- 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
I love early cinema in all its wild and strange glory, but there is a special place in my heart for Shakespeare adaptations, especially those earliest examples from the 1900s and 1910s. The British Film Institute produced a video, many moons back, called Silent Shakespeare, featuring wonderful examples of films adapted from Shakespeare’s plays from around the world, dated between 1899 and 1911, with gorgeous scores by Laura Rossi. I loved it. The VHS tape was subsequently rereleased on DVD and is still available from the BFI shop, priced £19.99.
Now there is another way to watch these truly gorgeous films – they are streaming on the Globe Player, an online service from the people who run Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank in London – just a few yards away from the venue formerly known as the National Film Theatre, but several centuries away in spirit. You can rent the bundle of seven films for £5.99 or buy it outright for £9.99. Here’s the link.
The films in the Silent Shakespeare set are:
- King John (GB 1899 2 min) the first Shakespeare film ever made, released both as a film in variety theatres and as a peepshow Mutoscope on the same day as Tree’s production of the play opened at the Her Majesty’s Theatre, London.
- The Tempest (GB 1908 12 min)
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (USA 1909 12 min)
- King Lear/Re Lear (Italy 1910 16 min)
- Twelfth Night (USA 1910 12 min)
- The Merchant of Venice/Il Mercante di Venezia (Italy 1910 10 min)
- Richard III (GB 1911 23 min) a condensed version of one of the Stratford productions mounted by the F.R. Benson Company.
The glimpse of Herbert Beerbohm-Tree as King John is really something, and the hand-stencilled colours of Re Lear are sumptuous, but I must confess I do have a favourite: the charming, ingenious version of The Tempest, directed by Percy Stow for the Clarendon Company in 1908. It’s just sublime – and Michael Brooke calls it “comfortably the most visually imaginative and cinematically adventurous silent British Shakespeare film”, so I am in good company. Try another of my favourites, the 1911 Richard III on for size.
Frank Benson had been playing Richard III for decades at this point, and his ease in the role really shows, especially during these haunting scenes from Bosworth field.