Tag Archives: YouTube

Silent film: coming soon to a laptop near 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

A festive free-for-all: BFI releases silent ‘orphans’ on YouTube

Exciting news from the BFI today – especially for those of us about to break up for the holidays and looking forward to having some spare viewing time on our hands. The BFI has released more than 170 ‘orphan’ films on its YouTube channel – and they can be watched around the world as well as in the UK (unlike the BFI Player, where some of these films are also found). ‘Orphan’ films are those protected by copyright for which rights-holders are positively unknown or uncontactable. The films range from 1899 to 1985, but as you’d expect, there are several silent movies in the collection.

Here’s a short selection of some highlights, although you can see the full playlist here.

The first filmed version of Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice, this is from 1920, directed by Percy Nash and starring Joe NightingaleJoan Ritz and Arthur Pitt:

The Fisher Girl’s Folly (1914), a glimpse of an early two-reel drama directed by George Pearson: Continue reading A festive free-for-all: BFI releases silent ‘orphans’ on YouTube

The AP, British Movietone and YouTube: a million minutes of world history online

British Movietone News
British Movietone News

If there was ever a week to emphasise the power of archive film, this is it. On the weekend, the Sun on Sunday released what appeared to be home movie footage from the early 1930s of Edward VIII apparently teaching the young Princess Elizabeth, and the Queen Mother to make Nazi salutes. Not surprisingly, those few frames of film have caused a media storm – with debates raging over whether Edward was not the only Nazi sympathiser in the family, or the footage should have been released at all. It seems to me that the princess is more interested in showing off her Scottish dancing moves than practising the salute – she is on holiday at Balmoral after all. And her young sister Margaret really isn’t in the least bit involved. But what do I know? This is home movie footage, of course, not intended to be scrutinised by the public, even if it may after all hint at some disturbing information in the public interest.

The fact remains, however, that this film is owned and still guarded, privately. If there is context to this clip, we are denied it, because all that has been released is a silent, heavily watermarked 17-second snatch on the Sun website. In the era of FOI requests (the Freedom of Information Act is 10 years old this year), post-WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, after MPs’ expenses and the Prince Charles letters, full disclosure and open access is where it’s at.

And it is in this climate of free access to information that the Associated Press and British Movietone have decided to release a monumental slice of their archive on to YouTube today, where it can be seen, shared and embedded by the public. There are two news YouTube channels as of today: one for the AP Archive and one for British Movietone. More than a million minutes of newsreel footage has been digitised and uploaded, creating what the archive call “a view-on-demand visual encyclopedia, offering a unique perspective on the most significant moments of modern history”. 

The YouTube channels will comprise a collection of more than 550,000 video stories dating from 1895 to the present day. For example, viewers can see video from the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, exclusive footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Marilyn Monroe captured on film in London in the 1950s and Twiggy modelling the fashions of the 1960s

For silent enthusiasts, the fact that this upload includes the Henderson collection of news footage will be particularly welcome. In effect, this is not a release of footage (many of these films were always available to watch on the AP Archive site), but a way of liberating it. 

Continue reading The AP, British Movietone and YouTube: a million minutes of world history online

Silent Film Maker: an iPhone app

There’s something a little perverse in blogging and tweeting about silent film, using modern technology to write about something that started 116 years ago. After all, these days I can shoot minutes and minutes of colour footage with synchronised sound using a phone that’s small enough to fit in my pocket. That’s something that would probably blow the Lumère brothers’ minds.

What is even stranger is that you can now download an app to your iPhone or iPad that turns your high-tech videos into mockups, some might say pastiches, of old silent films. This isn’t necessarily going to be used for the best of the interesting modern silent films that some people are making. After all I made one myself out of some snapshots, and I edited it together on the tube. Yes, that was me you saw on the Victoria Line, rendering.

A quick search of YouTube, and to a lesser extent Vimeo, reveals that lots of people out there are using the app to turn footage of their cats and babies and basketball matches into silent-style films, with intertitles, scratchy film and tinkling piano soundtracks. But some people are using the app to make something a little more sophisticated. In Capo vs Daddy Episode 2, a couple fight over the affections of their dog, with fatal consequences:

There’s another warring couple, and another dog, in Guitar Affair:

I found a few more sweet shorts, including this record of a plum blossom festival in Japan, a man eating breakfast, and a bad joke about a dog. Obviously. But my favourite by far is called Happy Birthday To Me, and you can watch it at the top of this post. It incorporates slapstick, trick photography and perhaps a little bit of iMovie help. It’s also very charming.

And here’s my video, which can’t hold a candle to any of the others here, but you might recognise some of the locations:

I’d love to know if you’ve found anything better out there, or if you’ve had a go at making one of your own.