A page devoted to news items, snippets of (mainly) silent film information, unfounded rumours and the occasional moan!
A Soviet Western With Live Music By Hubby. Do you like westerns? Of course you do. Well what about Soviet westerns? If you haven’t seen such a thing then you could be in for a treat this autumn, because By the Law (Po Zakonu) is just such a film and its being screened across Scotland with live guitar accompaniment by Scottish singer/song-writer R M Hubbert (aka ‘Hubby’).
Based on ‘The Unexpected’ a story by Jack London and directed by legendary Soviet film director Lev Kuleshov in 1926, it tells the story of three Yukon gold prospectors holed up in a cabin over the winter– one driven to murder by greed, the other two wrestling with whether to wait for the snow and ice to thaw and go for the authorities or to take the law into their own hands. Its a a claustrophobic drama of raw power, combining naturalism and the grotesque, realism and melodrama. R M Hubbert is a multi-award-winning Scottish performer who will be accompanying the film with his own score, commissioned especially for the film by the the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival in Bo’Ness. The film will be screened in Inverness, Orkney, Shetland, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Anstruther and Dunoon from the middle of September onwards. Full details as always in silentfilmcalendar’org’s listing pages.
A Big Screen Cinema Release for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. After last year’s successful cinema screenings across the country for Abel Gance’s epic Napoleon (1927), followed by the nationwide cinema release given by distributors Eureka Video this year to Fritz Lang’s early but little known work Der Mude Tod (1921) news now comes that Eureka have decided to give Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis its own cinema release to mark the 90th anniversary of the film’s original screening.
With its dizzying depiction of a futuristic cityscape and alluring female robot, Metropolis needs absolutely no introduction and is among the most famous of all German films and the mother of science-fiction cinema (an influence on Blade Runner (1982) and Star Wars (1977), among countless other films). With jaw-dropping production values, iconic imagery, and modernist grandeur – it was described by Luis Buñuel as “a captivating symphony of movement” – the film remains as powerful as ever, and the cinema remains to only place to appreciate it in all its glory.
Screenings announced in England so far include London, Brighton, Manchester, Halifax, York, Norwich, Brighton and Oswestry as well as Bo’Ness and Edinburgh in Scotland. Several of the screenings come with live musical accompaniment. Further screenings are to be announced with full details available here and of course within silentfilmcalendar.org’s listing pages.
First Programme Details of British Silent Film Festival Announced. Details have just been released of the programme highlights for this year’s British Silent Film Festival, due to take place at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester from 13-17 September. The Festival begins with an Edgar Allan Poe programme at the wonderfully atmospheric St Mary de Castro Church with live music played on the church organ. The horror theme is picked up with Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr with Minima performing their highly acclaimed music score live.
Britain’s most popular female star of the 1920s, Betty Balfour features in two comedies A Sister of Six (Die sieben Töchter der Frau Gyurkovics), recently rediscovered in Sweden and Paradise set on the Cote d’Azure. Other comedies include a P.G. Wodehouse golf programme with readings from broadcaster Neil Brand and the rare Cocktails featuring 1920s favourites now forgotten, Pat and Patachon. The hilarious Hand’s Up is a must see comedy set in the American Civil War featuring the fabulous comedian Raymond Griffiths.
The hypnotic and lyrical qualities of silent film with live music are explored in our ‘slow silents’ programme of barge and canal films including the beautiful and touching L’Hirondelle et la Mesange set on two barges as they travel through a France recently devastated by WWI.
All silent films will be accompanied by leading silent cinema musicians including Neil Brand, Stephen Horne, Philip Carli, John Sweeney and joined by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry on Harp.
Full programme details will be included in silentfilmcalendar.org as soon as they are released. Further details of the festival can be found on Twitter @BritishSilentFF and (VERY reasonably priced) tickets can be purchased Here.
The Dark Corners of Weimar in Dublin Wow, this almost slipped under our radar but we’ve just spotted a cracking good silent film season being screened at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin throughout August. Entitled Dark Corners: Cinema of the Weimar Republic, the season comprises an excellent collection of silents (and a couple of talkies) made during the years of the German Weimar Republic from 1919-33. Despite the significant political and economic difficulties Germany encountered during this period it was also a time of great cultural creativity. Cinema in particular flourished, as a generation of film-makers evolved whose technical and narrative innovations marked this as a critical period in cinematic development.
Although nearly all of the most significant directors of this era are represented, it is nice to see that one or two of their lessesr known films are given a somewhat rare outing, rather than just their best known efforts. Thus from Lang we get the excellent Frau im Mond (1929) rather than Metropolis and from Murnau comes Faust (1926) rather than Caligari. There is a chance to see Lotte Reiniger’s feature length animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) and Ruttman’s classic Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). There is a little known Lubitsch, The Wild Cat (1921) and Dupont’s stunning Variety (1925). The talkies include Pabst’s first sound film, the little known but recently re-released Westfront 1918 (1930) and Leontine Sagan’s cult classic Madchen in Uniform (1931).
A number of the films are being shown in 16mm and 35mm versions and several come with live musical accompaniment. There will also be a concluding discussion on Weimar cinema on 27 August, led by Stefan Drößler, the Director of the Munich Film Museum. All in all, a great month to be in Dublin. Full details are in silentfilmcalendar.org’s August listing pages.
Silents at the Scalarama. The annual Scalarama Film Festival, which is due to take place at venues across the country throughout September, includes this year a varied and interesting selection of silent films. There are at least a dozen opportunities in London and nationwide to see director Alex Barrett’s London Symphony, a 2017 addition to the genre of silent ‘City Symphony’ films. If you are lucky to be in West Yorkshire this is being complemented by the screening of two classics from the same genre, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Dir. Walter Ruttman, Ger, 1927) in Leeds and Man With A Movie Camera (Dir. Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1929) in Hebden Bridge. Also in Yorkshire, there is a screening of Pudovkin’s classic The End of St. Petersburg (Dir. Vsevolod Pudovkin, USSR, 1927) in Leeds and Metropolis (Dir. Fritz Lang, 1927) in Halifax. Lang’s dystopian masterpiece will also be screened in Brighton while in Bristol there will be an evening of early colourised silent films together with a bit of a booze up to celebrate film pioneer William Friese-Green’s birth which will be accompanied by a selection of films inspired by his work. Last but by no means least, the epic Indian/German co-production A Throw Of Dice (Dir. Franz Osten,1929) is due to be screened at a railway station in Liverpool!
In another positive development, several of these films are being screened with live musical accompaniment. The final programme for Scalarama has not yet been fixed so there may be some further silent sceenings to be added. Details of all the existing and any further screenings can be found in the September listings section of silentfilmcalendar.org.
Classic British Silent Comedy Coming to BFI We wouldn’t normally use the news spot on silentfilmcalendar.org to highlight just a single showing of one silent film, preferring instead to leave that to our listings pages. But this has to be an exception. In September, BFI Southbank is showing, for one night only, a true classic of British silent comedy, Not For Sale (Dir. W P Kellino, 1924). ‘But I’ve never heard of that film’ we hear you all cry. Of course you haven’t. Normally it is locked deep in the bowels of the BFI’s National Film Archive, never to see the light of day, not on the BFI-player, not on DVD and certainly not ‘coming soon to a screen near you’! But very rarely this film manages to escape, although you have to be quick to catch it before it is consigned back to its underground lair.
The film tells the story of a spoiled young aristocrat (Ian Hunter), cut off without a penny by his exasperated father and thereby forced to fend for himself. He finds accommodation in a Bloomsbury boarding house run by impoverished but attractive landlady Annie (Mary Odette, image left), who already has to cope with a house full of dysfunctional tenants, not to mention her devilish little brother and stagestruck sister. Will love ever flourish on such a rocky path? We saw this film at the British Silent Film Festival in Leicester in 2015 and it didn’t so much have people chuckling in their seats as rolling in the aisles. But so it should have done given the pedigree of cast and crew.
Screenwriter Lydia Hayward was responsible for adapting many of the W W Jacobs stories directed by her one time husband H Manning Haynes. A regular feature at Kennington Bioscope festivals, these films (such as The Skipper’s Wooing (1922), Head of the Family (1922, image right) and The Boatswain’s Mate (1924)) are just a sheer joy to watch. Not For Sale director Will Kellino was a former circus acrobat but had developed a sound reputation for screen comedy direction well before this film was made. Cast leads Hunter and Odette work well together but it is the supporting cast of silent British character acting stalwarts that make the film such a delight, including a young (-ish) Moore Marriot long before he became the grizzled Harbottle in many of Will Hay’s best films.
Not For Sale screens on 24 September at BFI Southbank’s Screen 3 so book your seats now. It may be the only chance you ever get to see this classic.
Help fund the screening of a Japanese silent classic. How do you fancy helping to fund not only a silent classic but also kick off a whole new Japanese film festival. The Japanese Avant-garde and Experimental Film Festival (JAEFF) is a new venture aiming to draw connections between classic 20th century Japanese Avant-garde Cinema and contemporary Japanese experimental film-making. For its launch event they are hoping to screen Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1926 silent classic Kurutta Ippēji (A Page of Madness)
Considered lost for some 45 years, Kinugasa thankfully found the print in his garden shed in the early 1970s. Set in a psychiatric hospital, A Page of Madness is a visually stunning, and technically dazzling work of surrealism. The film contained no intertitles as it was intended to be exhibited with live narration delivered by a benshi who would stand to the side of the screen and introduce and relate the story to the audience.
The JAEFF hope to screen the film in London on 24 September (the 91st anniversary of the film’s theatrical release) . The plan is to screen a 35mm copy of the film with narration by an authentic Japanese benshi and live musical accompaniment by traditional Japanese musicians. But as with all such projects, funding is an issue. So they’ve launched a modest crowdfunding appeal to raise funds to fly in the film, the benshi and the musicians from Japan. If you’d like to contribute or simply find out a bit more click here.
Classic Silents With Live Music At The Hippodrome. Those good folk at the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness, responsible for bringing us HippFest, Scotland’s only festival of silent film, have put together a short series of classic silent films for the Autumn under the title ‘Taste of Silents’ all of which will be screened with live musical accompaniment. Kicking the series off is Fritz Lange’s science fiction classic Metropolis (Dir. Fritz Lange, Ger, 1927).
This stunning, landmark film is a dark vision of a futuristic city, divided between its upper-class, living luxuriously in skyscrapers high above ground, and a working-class endlessly toiling in squalor below the city. A major influence on Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’, George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’, as well as pop culture – referenced by Madonna, Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe and countless others – Metropolis is amongst the most iconic films of all time, a cinema classic which has more than stood the test of time.
The film will be screened in its fully restored, 2010 version and musical accompaniment will be provided by DJ Vangelis Makriyannakis with a soundscape drawn from the vaults of kraut-electronica, industrial, minimalist electronics & post-rock. The film will be screened on 2 September.
Other films to be shown in this series are the haunting romantic drama Sunrise (Dir. F W Murnau, US, 1927) Harold Lloyd’s breath-taking, clock-face-hanging comedy Safety Last (Dir. Fred C Newmeyer/Sam Taylor, US, 1923) and Hitchcock’s suspenseful thriller Blackmail (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, GB. 1929).
See silentfilmcalendar.org’s listings pages for further details as soon as we get them.
KenBio ‘Silent Laughter Saturday’ and Autumn Programme Make sure that you mark down 11 November in your diaries as that is when the Kennington Bioscope will be staging its second ‘Silent Laughter Saturday’. The disappointing news is that they are reverting to their 2015 format of just a single day, unlike the silent laughter weekend held last year. But the good news is that the programme still looks to be packed with goodies. As usual, acclaimed film historian Kevin Brownlow will be in attendance, introducing some of the screenings, including one said to be amongst Harold Lloyd’s personal favourites from his feature-length films, The Kid Brother (1927). In the film, Lloyd plays mild-mannered Harold Hickory, a feeble boy in an otherwise brawny family. When money goes missing and his father gets the blame, Harold has to use guile rather than muscle to find the real culprits and get the girl. Subject to confirmation, they also hope to present Max Linder’s rare 1919 French feature Le Petit Café in which Max plays a waiter who inherits two million francs. But he can’t quit his job because his uncle’s old servant has schemed with the cafe’s owner to get a cut of the money by binding him to a contract — Max must work at the cafe for 20 years; if he quits, he forfeits the inheritance. Another highlight will be the presence of American author and historian Anthony Slide, giving a talk – with clips – about the brilliant but sadly neglected comedienne Alice Howell, one of only a handful of silent comediennes who ventured into the “men’s terrain” of rough-house physical comedy and whose comedic skill was compared to that of Chaplin and Linder.
As well as their Silent Comedy Saturday, we also now have a first peak (subject to confirmation) at the regular Kennington Bioscope autumn programme. Screenings between September and December will include ; The Goose Woman (1925) a Clarence Brown directed drama with Louise Dresser; Filibus (1915) a fantastic sounding Italian adventure story directed by Mario Roncoroni about a mysterious sky pirate, Cristina Ruspoli, who makes daring heists with her technologically advanced airship; Underworld (1927) a von Sternberg directed crime drama with George Bancroft and Evelyn Brent; The Last of the Mohicans (1920) an early adaption of the Fenimore-Cooper novel directed by Clarence Brown and Maurice Tourneur and starring Wallace Beery; Pavement Butterfly (aka Großstadtschmetterling) (1929) an Anglo-German drama directed by Richard Eichberg and starring the wonderful Anna May Wong and finally, Miss Bluebeard (1925) a comedy directed by Frank Tuttle and starring Bebe Daniels (who was last seen at Ken Bio in the excellent Feel My Pulse (1928)). All in all a pretty high quality programme with some real rarities, almost looking forward to the autumn nights drawing in and the programme kicking off. Further details in the listing pages as soon as we get them.
June Turning into Der Müde Tod -Fest Month! Full marks to Eureka Video for their bold decision to give a cinema release to the newly-restored version of Fritz Lange’s early work Der Müde Tod (1921). Whilst this film has often been overlooked even amongst Lange’s earlier work, it is a work rich in expressionist imagery and featuring innovative special effects. It has been hugely influential, with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel citing it as a direct influence on their own work. And the good news is that cinemas have not been slow in taking up the opportunity to screen the film, many of them planning to show it over multiple days. The film opened on 4 June at the Curzon Soho in London but goes on wider release both in London and across the country from 9 June.
The result is that we already have over sixty screenings scheduled for Der Müde Tod in June alone with more to come in the following month. And while such a release may not perhaps rival your average Hollywood blockbuster it is nevertheless fairly amazing for a film made almost a hundred years ago. Here’s hoping that it proves a success and, along with last year’s equally successful cinema release for Able Gance’s Napoleon (1927), sets a further precedent for the wider scale cinema release of other silent films.
Full details of these screenings are in silentfilmcalendar.org’s listing pages.
Blue Plaque Unveiling for Charlie (and Sydney) Chaplin. On 14 June, English Heritage will unveil a blue plaque at Glenshaw Mansions on Brixton Road to commemorate the time that brothers Charlie and Sydney Chaplin spent living there between 1908 and 1910. All are welcome at the unveiling at 2pm and are encouraged to dress up as Chaplin’s iconic Tramp character. The unveiling will be followed by a special screening of three of Chaplin’s short films. Comedian Paul Merton will introduce Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), The Pawnshop (1916) and A Dog’s Life (1918) at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. The first two films will feature live accompaniment. Full details of these screenings are in silentfilmcalendar.org’s June listing page
A Couple of Ukrainian Silent Rarities in Town. Ukrainian silent films are a bit like London buses, you wait ages for one and then two show up almost at once. But, hey, who’s complaining when both are rarely seen pieces. Over the next couple of weeks, the Ukrainian Institute in London is putting on events to mark A Century of Ukrainian Revolutions: 1917-2017. Included in these will be the screening of two little known silent films, both made in 1929 in what was then the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR.
The first of these, Shkurnik (aka A Profiteer, aka The Self-Seeker) (Dir. Nikolai Shpikovsky, Ukr/USSR, 1929) is being screened on 30 May. It is virtually unknown in the West and charts the efforts of an opportunistic Kiev resident to avoid the unrest of civil war and yet still prosper under Bolshevik rule. Being a biting satire on the Soviet propaganda the film was quickly banned by the Soviet authorities.
The second film, due to be screened on 7 June, is In Spring (Dir. Mikhail Kaufman, Ukr/USSR, 1929) This was Kaufman’s first solo project after creative differences forced a split with his brother Dziga Vertov following their collaborative work on Man with A Movie Camera (1929). The film takes the form of a cinematic poem to the arrival of spring in nature as well as a new era in society and offers a rare glimpse of everyday life in the Soviet Ukraine during the New Economic Policy era and the Soviet “indigenisation” programme.
Both films will be accompanied by interesting looking lectures. Shkurnik comes with Slavic Studies academic Professor Mark von Hagen speaking on ‘Why the Ukrainian Revolution Matters for Historians of the Russian Revolutions’ while In Spring is accompanied by Stanislav Menzelevskyi, a Programme Director from the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre which is the centre for the preservation and restoration of, and research into, Ukrainian film history.
Full details of both screenings can be found in silentfilmcalendar.org’s listing pages.
That Rare Thing, A Brand New Silent Film. Yes, on 3rd September a brand new silent film is set for release. And not only is the film being released in London but it is also a celebration of London. The film is London Symphony (Dir. Alex Barrett, UK, 2017) and is a contemporary take on the ‘city symphony’, a genre of creative non-fiction film that flourished in the 1920s and that sought to present poetic portraits of city life. Examples include Manhatta (Dir. Charles Sheeler, US, 1921, image left) featuring Manhattan and Rien que les Heures (aka Nothing but the Hours) (Dir. Alberto Cavalcanti, Fr, 1926) focusing on Paris. Such films often took a strongly avant-garde or experimental approach, for example in Rain (Dir. Mannus Franken/Joris Ivens, Neth, 1929, image right) with the depiction of rainstorms in Amsterdam and the unfurling of umbrellas presenting an almost cubist image while Man with A Movie Camera (Dir. Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1929) and its depiction of Moscow and Odessa was a veritable showcase for experimental film-making techniques. For an interesting write-up on the city symphony genre, see sensesofcinema.com. Perhaps the most famous of these city symphonies was Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (Dir. Walter Ruttman, Ger, 1927) and it is in homage to this film that director Alex Barrett has chosen to time the release of London Symphony to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the first screening of Ruttmann’s film.
On the 3rd of September London Symphony will be screened at the Barbican as part of that venue’s ‘Silent Film and Live Music’ series. The film will be accompanied by the premier of a newly composed score by composer James McWilliam, performed by the Orchestra of St Paul‘s led by conductor Ben Palmer. There will also be a screening at the Cinema Museum in Lambeth on 29th September after-which the film will tour around a number of carefully selected venues throughout the UK, including conventional cinema spaces and alternative spaces such as a parish church and a Buddhist meditation centre. The film will also be released internationally later in the year through distributors Flicker Alley.
Full details of all London Symphony screenings will of course be detailed in silentfilmcalendar.org
An Actual Opera House Screening for Phantom of the Opera (1925). Yes, Rupert Julian’s 1925 shocker, Phantom of the Opera, starring that master of disguise Lon Chaney is to be screened later this year in an actual opera house. And not just any old opera house, but at one of the grandest operatic venues of all, the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera. Although not the first film adaption of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (that honour goes to a 1916 Danish version directed by Ernst Matray and now considered a lost film) Julian’s 1925 version remains the standard by which others are judged. Forget the tepid Lloyd Weber musical, the laughable 1962 Hammer reworking with Herbert Lom or even the hopelessly un-scary 1943 Hollywood effort with Claude Rains, it is Chaney that gives the phantom real menace. Universal producer Carl Laemmle was apparently hooked on first reading Leroux’s novel during a visit to Paris and immediately brought the rights. No expense was spared during the film’s production, including the construction of a 5000-seat opera house on the Universal set (which survived until 2014). But despite the big budget, the film suffered not one but two disastrous preview screenings, each resulting in a change of director, re-shooting of scenes and re-editing, with Lois Weber eventually having a major input to the final look of the film which subsequently proved a box-office and critical success.
But the screening of Phantom of the Opera at the London Coliseum is just half the story. The film is also to be accompanied by the world premiere of a new score, written by jazz musician and composer Roy Budd and performed by the Docklands Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by Spencer Down. Roy Budd was a world-renowned composer with some 40 film scores to his name including Soldier Blue (1970), Get Carter (1971), Man at the Top (1973), Wild Geese (1978). Producing a new score for Phantom of the Opera was a long-cherished project which also saw him acquire and restore a 35mm print of the film. He completed a full orchestral score for the film using an 84-piece orchestra and recorded this with the Luxembourg Symphony Orchestra. In 1993, with five weeks to go before a London premiere and European tour, Roy Budd suffered a brain haemorrhage and passed away at just 46 years of age.
Now, 24 years later The London Coliseum will host the first ever live performance of the new score accompanying the film. According to those that have heard it, it is arguably Budd’s greatest achievement: a grand soundtrack for full orchestra with several themes and leitmotifs that pay tribute to the great composers of the concert hall and screen, while at the same time unmistakably the work of its inspired creator.
You will be able to judge for yourself when the Phantom of the Opera and its new score are premiered on 8 October this year (Details here). Our only niggle is that screening the film in an opera house is inevitably accompanied by opera house pricing. So, for those unable to afford £112 for a seat in the stalls, it is to be hoped that this screening will eventually be followed by a release on disc.
Half Time at The Yorkshire Silent Film Festival. It looks like this year’s Yorkshire Silent Film Festival is shaping up to surpass last year’s inaugural event. The opening night screening of Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1926, left) featuring the world premiere of a new score composed by Neil Brand got excellent reviews (see here) as did the rest of the first weekend of screenings at the Abbeydale Cinema in Sheffield (see here). Other notable screenings during the first half of the festival included Boris Barnet’s superb comedy Girl With A Hat Box (1927) with the sublime Anna Sten (right), the somewhat more bizarre Man Without Desire (1923) with Ivor Novello, that original Hollywood epic Ben Hur (1925) and the one I really regretted not being able to get up to Yorkshire to see, Dragnet Girl (1933), Japanese director Ozu’s film noir gangster classic (left) screened with a new harp score by Elizabeth Jane Baldry.
The second half of the month offers a second chance to catch up with some of these classics (but sadly no second chance for Dragnet Girl!) as well as offering some superb new screenings including another classic Barnet comedy, The House on Trubnaya (1928), the rarely screened British thriller The Four Just Men (1921), and the equally rare Danish melodrama The Golden Clown (1926) before concluding with The Woman Men Desire (1929), with Marlene Dietrich (right) perfecting her femme fatale persona well in advance of her appearing in Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930).
Full details of all Yorkshire Silent Film Festival screenings can be found here
Der Müde Tod (1921) – Screening Details Revealed Back in February, we reported that restoration of the 1921 Fritz Lange film Der Müde Tod (aka Destiny, aka Behind the Wall) had been completed and, as well as a DVD/Blu-Ray release, the film was going on release at UK and Irish cinemas. Details of the cinema screenings have now been released. The film will be screened at the Curzon Soho for one night only on June 4 and will then go on wider release on 9 June at the BFI Southbank (for 14 days), Curzon Bloomsbury (for 7 days), Home Manchester (for 7 days), Filmhouse Edinburgh (for 4 days) and at the Film Theatre, Glasgow and the Irish Film Institute, Dublin (for a period to be confirmed).
Although Lange is probably better known for his later cinematic masterpieces such as Metropolis (1927), Spione (1928) and M (1931), while Der Müde Tod has often been overlooked even amongst his earlier work, it is a film rich in expressionist imagery and featuring innovative special effects work. It has been hugely influential, with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel citing it as a direct influence on their own work. As a result, this release provides a welcome opportunity for a wider audience to catch up with what has until now been a little seen but important example of Lange’s work. The only somewhat disappointing aspect is the BFI Screening. Although the film will be shown some 30 times over 14 days, all of the screenings will be in the smaller NFT2 or 3 screens or in the tiny Studio screen. Its a shame that they couldn’t have found even just a single slot in NFT1 to show the film on a big screen or even laid on at least one screening with live musical accompaniment rather than having to rely on the recorded soundtrack for every showing. Something of a missed opportunity!
Full details of all the screenings are in silentfilmcalendar.org‘s listings pages.
London’s Hollywood E17 – Blue Plaque Unveiling 1st May Just a quick reminder that if you want to be a part of some film history in the making then head along to Walthamstow on 1st May when actor Paul McGann (Withnail & I, Doctor Who, The Monocled Mutineer) will be unveiling a blue plaque at the site of the former Precision Film Studios. The unveiling will take plae at Noon on 1st May in Wood Street Walthamstow, now Beuleigh Court, Wood Street E17 3PA and situated on the junction of Wood Street and Lea Bridge Road, close to the Whipps Cross roundabout.
Precision Studios was a pioneer of the British film industry in the early part of the last century. Between 1910 and 1926, 400 silent films were made by four film studios in Walthamstow , including the 1916 classic The Battle of the Somme. Many important actors first appeared in Walthamstow films including Victor Mclaglen, a John Ford stalwart who went on to win an Oscar for his role in The Informer and the famous Hollywood star Ronald Colman also launched his career was at Broadwest films.
KenBio Silent Film Weekend – Programme Details The third annual Kennington Bioscope Silent Film Weekend is scheduled to take place on 10-11 June at the Cinema Museum in Lambeth, London. Details of the provisional programme have just been released and as is the KenBio’s tradition the line-up focuses upon the rare, the unusual and the infrequently screened.
Highlights of the Saturday programme include; Are Parents People (Dir. Mal St. Clair, 1925) a Betty Bronson comedy in which she tries to prevent her parent’s divorce by giving them something bigger to worry about; Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (Dir. Cooper/ Schoedsack , 1925) a Nanook of the North style anthropological/travelogue documentary about rural life in Iran; Maria Marten (Dir. Walter West, 1928) an oft-filmed story based upon the real life Red Barn murder case of the 1920s; and The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (Dir. Hanns Schwarz, 1929) a little-seen German romantic melodrama with Metropolis star Brigitte Helm (left). Also being screened are French shorts from Renoir, Clair and Dulac, together with an early Walt Disney cartoon The Four Musicians of Bremen from 1922.
The Sunday programme includes; The Safety Curtain (Dir. Sidney A. Franklin, 1919) a romantic melodrama of epic proportions starring Norma Talmadge; Kipps (Dir. Harold Shaw, 1921) an early adaption of the H G Wells novel; The Three Lovers (Dir. Curtis Bernhard, 1929) starring Marlene Dietrich (right) at her femme fatale best; Feel My Pulse (Dir. Gregory La Cava, 1926) a sparkling comedy about an inherited health sanatorium and rum-runners starring Bebe Daniels and William Powell; and The Unholy Three (Dir. Tod Browning 1925) a seriously odd film about a crime trio (left) comprising ventriloquist, circus strongman and midget who set about selling parrots, it naturally stars Lon Chaney! Also being screened are a series of comedy shorts featuring female stars Florence Turner, Henny Porten and Viola Dana.
As always with the KenBio, the emphasis will be on 35/16mm projection, with films coming from both the BFI and Kevin Brownlow’s own collection. Kevin will also be providing the introductions along with Tony Fletcher and the BFI’s Bryony Dixon. The films with have live piano accompaniment by the country’s leading silent film musicians. All in all, a weekend to look forward too. Watch out for full details appearing shortly on our listings pages.
Yorkshire Silent Film Festival – 2017 Programme. Full programme details have now been released for the second annual Yorkshire Silent Film Festival. Building on the success of last year’s event, this year’s programme features 37 screenings spread across the county throughout the month of May. The various screenings include both British and international pictures, comedies, melodramas, thrillers and animation. As well as popular classics, there are a number of little seen titles getting a rare outing. British thrillers Blackmail (1929) and The Lodger (1927) are to the fore. Hollywood gets a look-in with the likes of Ben Hur (1925), Chicago (1927) and 7th Heaven (1927) while Gilbert and Garbo also feature in Flesh and the Devil (1926) and Buster Keaton is represented by Sherlock Jr (1924) and The Cameraman (1928). But of perhaps more interest are some of the rarities. Japanese master director Yasujiro Ozu’s classic crime drama Dragnet Girl (1933) gets a rare screening as do two simply delightful comedies from Russian director Boris Barnet, Girl With A Hat Box (1927) and House on Trubnaya (1928), both of which are just a joy to watch. A little known but apparently well-regarded Danish melodrama The Golden Clown (1926) looks particularly intriguing while a newly re-edited and restored print of Behind The Door (1919), possibly the ‘darkest’ silent film you will ever see, gets only its third UK screening. And there is much else besides.
As with last year the emphasis will be on screenings of 35mm prints and all of the films come with live musical accompaniment from a range of top-notch accompanists. So clearly May is a great month to be in Yorkshire but even if you can’t get to see everything there is at least something to see for everyone here. Full programme details can be found at the festival website here or on the silentfilmcalendar.org May listing page here.
A Silent Marathon At The Flatpack Festival Details have now been revealed of further silent film screenings scheduled for this year’s Flatpack Film Festival in Birmingham, running from 4-9 April. Screenings already announced include a look at the work of Spanish film pioneer Segundo de Chomon whose quite brilliant films have been largely overshadowed by those of his better known contemporary Georges Méliès as well as Around China With A Movie Camera, a compilation of some of the oldest surviving film shot in China – much of it unseen for 115 years. Newly announced additions to the programme include that rarity, a modern silent called The Red Turtle, a beautifully drawn wordless animation. Also being screened is the Frank Borzage directed drama Lucky Star with Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. Long thought lost a copy of the film was rediscovered in the 1990s. There is also a modern documentary, entitled Minute Bodies, on the work of Percy Smith an early nature documentary film-maker who from 1909 pioneered the use of time lapse and micro cinematography. But the most intriguing event is a screening of the 1923 French film serial House of Mystery, all 383 minutes of it. The plot is pure melodrama: a mill owner is framed for murder, escapes from a penal colony, and spends years trying to clear his name, while the real killer woos his wife. As well as all of the usual action and suspense, the serial has the time to delve into sophisticated character development and is also beautifully shot. It stars silent movie hunk Ivan Mosjoukine, probably best known for the title role in the 1926 epic Michel Strogoff. Live piano accompaniment for the whole six and a half hour marathon will be provided by renowned silent film accompanist John Sweeney. Full details of all silent screenings at the festival can be foundHere
British Silent Film Festival Symposium Details Programme details have just been released for this year’s British Silent Film Festival Symposium, due to take place at King’s College, London on 6-7 April. Intended to complement the Silent Film Festival itself, the symposium presents an opportunity for scholars, archivists and enthusiasts to consider the achievements and the key debates brought to light by the festival, and to discuss the new directions that future research may take. The full symposium programme can be viewed here and speakers will include the BFI’s Bryony Dixon, Silent London’s Pamela Hutchinson, Author Ellen Cheshire and film academics and historians including Laraine Porter, Tony Fletcher and Geoff Brown. As well as shorter film clips used to highlight presentations there will also be three more substantive films screened during the symposium; A Lowland Cinderella (Dir. Sidney Morgan, 1921) starring Joan Morgan in a romance set in Scotland but filmed on the English south coast; The Unsleeping Eye (Dir. Alexander Macdonald, 1928) an adventure film shot by a Scottish production company; and, A Light Woman (Dir. Adrian Brunel, 1928) which was previously thought lost, but has now been discovered in a truncated home-market version. It is likely that the films will be screened with live musical accompaniment but no details are yet available. Further details of the films being screened can be found on silentfilmcalendar.org’s listings pages.
London Film Festival Archive Gala Presentation Announced The BFI’s National Archive announced this morning that the film to be presented as the Archive Gala event at this year’s 61st London Film Festival will be the 1928 Indian/British/German silent co-production Shiraz. The film will be screened on 14th October at the Barbican accompanied by a live performance of a specially commissioned score by the Indian composer and sitar player Anoushka Shankar. The early announcement of this screening is a welcome development and should help avoid a repeat of last year’s LFF gala event which was scheduled late in the year and clashed with the Barbican’s own long-planned principal annual silent film screening.
Based on a play by Indian author Niranjan Pal, Shiraz tells the fictionalised love story of the 17th-century princess who inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal. It was directed by Germany’s Franz Osten, one of at least 17 films he made in India between 1925 and 1939, best known of which are The Light of Asia (1925) and A Throw of Dice (1929). The film was photographed entirely on location in India and all the actors are Indian although the crew were mostly German. Upon its release Shiraz was a considerable critical and popular success. Find out more atsilentfilm.org. The film’s producer and leading man, Himansu Rai, along with Pal and Osten subsequently became major influences in Indian filmmaking with the formation of the Bombay Talkies film studios in 1934.
The restoration and screening of Shiraz is part of a wider season of Indian films scheduled for screening at the BFI which is, in turn, part of the UK India Year of Culture, a celebration of the long-standing relationship between the UK and India. As part of this festival, Shiraz will also be released in India including a screening with live musical accompaniment at the Taj Mahal itself. Additionally the BFI will also release some 300 newly digitised films that were shot in India during the early 20th century, including the oldest surviving footage of India on film from 1899, on the BFI player with a highlights collection available for cinema and DVD release as a companion piece to last year’s Around China With A Movie Camera compilation.
Cowgirls at the Kennington Bioscope If you’re a regular reader of our news page you’ll already know of the forthcoming Kennington Bioscope Silent Western Saturday, due to take place on March 11 and featuring films such as Thundering Hoofs (1924), The Narrow Trail (1917) and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). But news comes now of a fascinating additional item on the programme, Women Out West, a look at some early cowgirl stars of the silent era as selected by Michelle from @best2vilmabanky. Featuring prominently in this presentation will be the wonderfully named Texas Guinan. Born in Waco, Texas in 1884 Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan initially found work as a singer, dancer and vaudeville star but, with the arrival of the movies the now self-renamed Texas Guinan achieved national acclaim as “The Queen of the West” or even “The Female William S. Hart” , eventually making some 36 mainly b-westerns. But as her film career faded Texas Guinan was to achieve even greater notoriety as New York’s “Queen of the Nightclubs”, happily flouting America’s prohibition laws with a string of up-market nightclubs and leading to long-running and highly publicised battles with the police and licensing authorities. But much of Guinan’s true life story was obscured by her own self-inflated publicity campaign. So we will leave it to Michelle to try and disentangle the story from the legend. Further details and tickets for the Kennington Bioscope Silent Western Saturday are availablehere .
Remembering Britain’s First Purpose Built Film Studios On 1 May you can have the chance to take part in a bit of film history with the unveiling of a Waltham Forest Heritage Blue Plaque on the site of the first purpose built film studio in Britain. The Precision Film Studio was opened in 1910 on Wood Street in Walthamstow by UK film pioneers the Gobbert Brothers. A number of other studios subsequently opened in the same neighbourhood making this area an important early hub for UK film production and distribution. However it was to be a short-lived presence as newer and bigger rival studios came to dominate and sadly virtually all of the studiobuildings in Walthamstow have long been demolished. A campaign to recognise the importance of this area of London to the early British film industry was championed by local film director and scriptwriter Barry Bliss. The Blue Plaque will be unveiled at midday on 1 May by actor Paul McGann (Withnail & I, Doctor Who, The Monocled Mutineer) at the studio’s former location on the junction of Wood Street and Lea Bridge Road.
Silents at the Flatpack Festival First programme details of Birmingham’s Flatpack Film Festival have now been released. The festival runs at venues across the city from 4-11 April and features a small but interesting selection of silent film events. There are two silent events scheduled so far. The first is a selection of works by Spanish film pioneer Segundo de Chomon. His work has often been overshadowed by his contemporary Georges Méliès, but is arguably just as brilliant. This event has the added bonus of being held in Birmingham’s Grand Hotel. Closed since 2002, this may be the last chance to explore the hotel’s historic Grosvenor Suite before the refurbished Grand re-opens to paying customers. The second event is entitled Around China With A Movie Camera and explores 50 years of Chinese history through an extraordinary collection of rare and beautiful travelogues, newsreels and home movies from the archives of the British Film Institute including what could well be the oldest surviving film shot in China – unseen for 115 years. The footage will be accompanied by a five-piece band brought together by Midlands based composer Ruth Chan. Full details of these screenings and other silent film screenings at the Flatpack Festival can be found on the April 2017 page of silentfilmcalendar.org
Cinema Release For Another Silent Film Classic If the recent theatrical re-release of a beautifully restored version of Able Gance’s epic Napoleon achieved nothing else (other, that is, than giving a lot of people a lot of enjoyment) it may have convinced both film distributors and cinema operators that there is a viable audience for re-released silent films. Because news now comes that Eureka Entertainment have announced not only the release of a newly restored version of Fritz Lange’s 1921 classic Der Müde Tod (aka Destiny, aka Behind the Wall) on BluRay and DVD but also a theatrical release of the film in cinemas across Britain and Ireland. Lange (image, left) is probably better known for his later cinematic masterpieces such as Metropolis (1927), Spione (1928) and M (1931) and Der Müde Tod (literally The Weary Death) has often been overlooked even amongst Lang’s earlier work but it is a film rich in expressionist imagery and featuring innovative special effects work. It has been hugely influential, with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel citing it as a direct influence on their own work
In the film, a young woman (Lil Dagover) confronts the personification of Death (Bernhard Goetzke), in an effort to save the life of her fiancé (Walter Janssen). Death weaves three romantic tragedies and offers to unite the girl with her lover, if she can prevent the death of the lovers in at least one of the episodes. Thus begin three exotic scenarios of ill-fated love, in which the woman must somehow reverse the course of destiny: Persia, Renaissance Venice, and a fancifully rendered ancient China.
The new restoration of Der Müde Tod by Anke Wilkening on behalf of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung preserves the original German intertitles and simulates the historic colour tinting and toning of its initial release. The film is accompanied by a recently-composed score by Cornelius Schwehr as a commissioned composition by ZDF / ARTE which was originally performed by the 70-member Berlin Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Frank Strobel, at Berlinale 2016. Der müde Tod will be released in selected cinemas nationwide (UK & Ireland) and on Digital HD from 9 June 2017. There are already plans to screen the film in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin. Full details on these and further screenings will appear in silentfilmcalendar.co.uk as soon as they are confirmed.
Silent Film Listings in Ireland What’s this, silentfilmcalendar.org going all international? No, not really, just expanding our borders a little to include listings of silent films being screened in the Republic of Ireland. We don’t often get to hear about silent film screenings in Ireland but one we recently came across looked particularly fascinating which is what prompted us to expand our coverage just this little bit. On 19 March St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is hosting a presentation by the Irish Film Institure of silent films with an Irish theme made by the Kalem Film Company of New York , including The Lad From Old Ireland, the first film made by a US company outside America. The company, fondly referred to as The O’Kalems, first came to Ireland in 1910 and during several visits over the following years made almost 30 films there. An excellent introduction to the story of the Kalem Company in Ireland can be found at irishamerica.com . Most of Kalem’s films in Ireland were directed by Toronto-born Sidney Olcott (image below, right), (seesidneyolcott.com– in French), using a small, stock cast usually centred around Gene Gauntier (image left) and Jack J Clark. The films being screened on 19 March include The Lad From Old Ireland (Sidney Olcott, 1910) , You Remember Ellen (Dir. Sidney Olcott, 1912) and The Colleen Bawn (Sidney Olcott, 1911) Details on all of them can be found at an excellent Trinity College, Dublin websitehereand all of the films are accompanied by an original score by Bernard Reilly, commissioned for the 2014 Kerry Film Festival, and performed live by the Irish CineTheatre Ensemble. Further details of the 19 March screening can be foundhereand if you know of any other silent films being screened in Ireland, let us know so we can include them in our silentfilmcalendar.org listings.
Festivals, Festivals and More Festivals There are plenty of opportunities coming up to see silent films at festivals across the country. First up, the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Film (HippFest) at Bo’Ness in Scotland has just released full details of its programme. The festival runs from 22-26 March. Highlights include the little-seen Nell Shipman wilderness drama The Grub Stake (1923), the BFI’s recently restored print of The Informer (1929), Conrad Veidt in the classic Hands of Orlac (1924), the little known Chinese silent superstar Ruan Lingyu in The Goddess (1934), a Soviet ‘western’ By The Law (1926) and a cracking good Marion Davis comedy The Patsy (1928). There are also some interesting looking illustrated discussions on women in silent film, both in the West and in China as well as the usual cache of silent comedies. The festival finishes with that old favourite Chicago (1927). Familiar faces providing film accompaniment include Stephen Horne, John Sweeney, Frank Bockius and Gunter Buchwald while musicians making their festival debut include Netherlands’ Filmorchestra The Sprockets and multi-award-winning, post-rock, Scottish composer and song-writer R.M. Hubbert (aka Hubby). Oh, and remember that the Hippodrome Cinema is still looking to purchase a new piano for its silent screenings. You can help by contributinghere.
Next up is the Fashion in Film Festival, a biennial event now in its tenth year, which takes place across London from 11-26 March. The festival features a number of silent films including Soviet science fiction classic Aelita (1924) with its visually stunning sets and costumes and the recently rediscovered Beyond The Rocks (1922) featuring two of the biggest stars of the silent screen, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino in what remains the only film where the pair appeared together. She plays a habitual clotheshorse, showcasing numerous glamorous gowns, while he cuts a picture of elegance in a wardrobe designed by his then-lover Natacha Rambova. Both films feature live accompaniment from Stephen Horne. Also of note is a linked exhibition featuring a number of short, silent films made between 1909 and 1920 to highlight aspects of fashion and dress. In order to meet all of its festival targets, Fashion in Film has launched a fund-raiser on Kickstarter and in return is offering some excellent gifts including various subscriptions to MUBI, the curated online cinema, showing cult, classic, independent, and award-winning movies. You can contributehere.
Last but not least, the fifteenth annual Borderlines Film Festival runs in the Shropshire, Hereford and Marches areas from 24 February to 12 March. Silent films being screened at the festival include the Keaton classic The General (1926), Danish silent screen superstar Asta Nielsen in Hamlet (1921), probably the best (albeit rather loose) silent screen adaption of a Shakespeare play, and Shoes (1916) a key film from little known female silent film pioneer Lois Weber. Live musical accompaniment for these screenings will be provided by Paul Shallcross, Lillian Henley and John Sweeney respectively. There will also be another chance to catch up with Able Gance’s classic Napoleon (1927) featuring Carl Davis’ recorded score.
Full details of all of these screenings can be found in the silentfilmcalendar.org monthly listings pages.
First Re-Discovered Silent of the Year? The EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands has announced the rediscovery of what is thought to be one of the oldest extant Hungarian silent films, A Munkászubbony(aka The Work Jacket). Directed by Istvan Brody and originally released in 1915, the film had been thought lost for decades. The re-discovery is particularly important given that only a tiny handful of films from Hungary’s silent film era survive, many of which are incomplete or damaged. Little is known of the plot of A Munkászubbony but it will now be sent to the Hungarian National Film Archives’ collection, where, once restored and digitalized, it will be re-released. Find out morehere.
British Silent Film Festival 2017 Dates have just been announced for the 19th British Silent Film Festival which is due to take place on 14th – 17th September. The venue will once again be the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester which is great news given their superb hosting of the last festival in 2015. There are no details yet as to the programme but, based on previous festivals, we can expect some real treats, all screened with live musical accompaniment from the foremost national and international silent film accompanists. We’ll be adding full details to our listings as soon as we hear more.
Silent Films Down Under Although we’re primarily a UK focused listing site its always nice to see silentfilmcalendar.org picking up a few more followers overseas. In Australia there certainly seems to be a bustling silent film scene, in the Sydney area at least. The Australia’s Silent Film Festival group are responsible for screening a broad range of mainstream as well as lesser known silent films in the city, throughout the year. For example, on 4th February they are putting on a day of silents including Chaplin’s Dough and Dynamite (1914), Harold Lloyd’s Number Please (1920), Charley Chase in Innocent Husbands (1925) and the Max Linder classic Seven Years Bad Luck (1921). The highpoint of the evening is the Australian premier of a new, digitally restored version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925). All of the films are screened with live musical accompaniment. On 12th February they are putting on a trio of Chaplin shorts, on March 8th (International Women’s Day) they’re showing Lois Weber’s Where Are My Children (1916) and further screenings include Berlin: Symphony For A City (1927), The Moth of Moonbi (1926) and The Ghost That Never Returns (1930). Find out more about their activitieshere .
Silent Western Saturday At The KenBio Those bad hombres at the Kennington Bioscope are certainly getting the New Year off to a great start. Not content with their own Silent Film Festival (seehere) and their own Silent Laughter Weekend (seehere) they have now decided to put on a Silent Western Saturday. Put Saturday 11th March in your diaries because on that day they aim to screen at least four westerns all with top quality live musical accompaniment. The main evening event is a showing of Henry King’s classic rip roaring horse opera The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), with the popular romantic pairing of Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky, together with Gary Cooper in his first major screen role. Get set for romantic rivalry, backstabbing, an epic flood and last minute rescue. Also showing are Thundering Hoofs (surely ‘Hooves’, ed.) (Dir. Albert Rogell, 1924) with Fred Thompson and Silver King the horse and The Narrow Trail (Dir. Lambert Hillyer, 1917) starring William S Hart. But the one I’m really looking forward to seeing is The Devil Horse (Dir. Fred Jackman, 1926) in which star Yakima Canutt has to take second billing to Rex the Wonder Horse. But by all accounts Rex really was more devil horse than wonder horse, supposedly the biggest, baddest horse in Hollywood, known variously as mean … ornery … dangerous … vicious … a killer and not averse to attacking his co-stars, even attempting to drag one out from beneath the car under which he was hiding! Sort of Russell Crowe of the equine world! So this looks like a great way to spend a Saturday. Hope Silent Western Saturday becomes a regular feature at the Ken Bio. Find out morehereor on silentfilmcalendar.org’s regular listing pages.
Yorkshire Silent Film Festival Happening in May. Word comes that the second annual Yorkshire Silent Film Festival will take place this year in May. Building on last years highly successful event, it is anticipated that there will be thirty plus silent film screenings at various venues across the county during the month, hopefully mixing popular classics with some rarer titles and with an emphasis on live musical accompaniment and 35mm screenings. The first two screenings announced are The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1927) plus a selection of early works from early film pioneers George Méliès and Segundo de Chomón, both events screening at National Centre for Early Music, York. Check back with silentfilmcalendar.co.uk for details of further screenings as they are announced.
Epic Seven Hour Version Of Les Miserables (1925) To Screen In Britain For First Time Ever For those silent film ultra-athletes not content with sitting through a mere 332 minutes of Able Gance’s Napoleon (1927), good news! The Barbican has announced plans to screen a fully restored version of Henri Fescourt’s 1925 version of Les Miserables, running for an eye watering 397 minutes!
Victor Hugo’s epic nineteenth century novel Les Misérables, the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict struggling to redeem himself, with his attempts continually frustrated by the intrusion of the cruel, ruthless police inspector Javert has been the subject of numerous adaptions, on film, radio, stage-play, musical, even manga comic! Amongst film adaptions, the first feature length version was from France in 1912 directed by Alberto Cappellani and much praised in its time. Another much feted French version came from director Raymond Bernard in 1934. Hollywood got in on the act in 1935 with a version starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton. Further French versions followed in 1958 with Jean Gabin and 1995 starring Jean Paul Belmondo, while Hollywood renewed its interest in 1998 with a vehicle for Liam Neeson and a musical version in 2012 with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe (!) But amongst these various adaptions, one has gone virtually unseen in its original form since its first release in 1925. Directed in France by Henri Fescourt it was originally produced in a fully tinted version lasting almost seven hours. Despite being a resounding critical and public success at the time, this original version largely disappeared from view, to be replaced by a much shorter black and white edit. The original version was never ‘lost’; it merely languished in various film vaults. But this all changed in late 2014 when, following a four year restoration process, the film was screened in its original tinted and full length version and in 2015 it got a showing at the Pordenone silent film festival. And now the film is coming to Britain, to be shown in this country for the very first time, being screened at the Barbican in London on 23 April. The screening will be accompanied live on piano by the renowned silent film accompanist Neil Brand (who deserves a medal for even contemplating such a feat).
Fescourt (1880-1956)’s work is generally under-rated and largely forgotten today, a result, it has been argued, of his output being focused mainly on film serials which although popular were scorned by intellectuals. But Fescourt’s experience in turning out multi-episode serials often with complex and long drawn-out plot structures and his willingness to devote sufficient screen time to telling Hugo’s complex story is probably a key reason in ensuring his version of Les Miserables was a success, enabling his seven hour version to follow a lucid and cogent plot which captured the essential spirit of Hugo’s writing and avoided being just a series of largely unconnected tableaux highlighting key points of the book. So, despite the plethora of Les Miserables adaptions around, amongst those who have been lucky enough to see this restored version “…it is not too much to surmise that Henri Fescourt’s 1925 cinéroman is the most faithful in every sense – to the narrative, the philosophy, the humanity, and the morality. This is Hugo.” Find out morehere . No link to the Barbican as yet.
Some Classics Coming Up At The Electric, Birmingham. As part of their ‘Cinematic Time Machine’ programme Birmingham’s Electric cinema will be showing a number of classic silent films over the next couple of months. First up on 21 January is Chaplin’s 1925 classic, The Gold Rush. The film contains many of Chaplin’s most celebrated comedy sequences, including the boiling and eating of his boot, the dance of the rolls, and the teetering cabin. The film was made on location and on a scale that Chaplin had never attempted. The Gold Rush was 17 months in the making with 235 days of actual filming, it cost $923,886.45, making it the most expensive comedy of the silent-film era and 230,000 feet of rushes were edited down to 10,000 feet for release. But The Gold Rush proved to be one of Chaplin’s greatest critical and commercial successes. In complete contrast the following day, 22 January, they are screening Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), one of the most renowned films in the history of cinema. Commemorating the failed 1905 revolution, this was one of a series of films commissioned to tell the full story of the Soviet revolution along with, for example, Strike (1924) and October (1928). The Odessa steps sequence remains one of the most powerful images of politically orchestrated violence ever put on film.
On 29 January Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc is being shown. Focusing on the trial and eventual execution of Joan of Arc after she is captured by the English, and based on the actual trial transcripts, the film is dominated by the little known Renee Jeanne Falconetti as Joan (in her first and only starring role) in what is now widely held to be one of the finest acting performances ever recorded on film. This is a film more to be experienced than enjoyed, with an almost visceral intensity. Finally, on 21 February comes the 1926 Fritz Lang classic Metropolis, one of the greatest science fiction films not just of the silent era but of all time and a powerful influence on film making right up to the present day. Filmed on a colossal scale, actual shooting lasted over a year, the film went almost four-fold over budget and its female lead, Brigitte Helm, apparently regarded making it as the worst experience of her life! After being released in a heavily edited version against Lang’s wishes the film was not an initial success but is now regarded as a classic, particularly with the 2008 re-discovery of 30 minutes of missing footage which has almost restored the film to Lang’s original cut. All screening details can be found here or check out our regular listing pages. For those interested not only in silent classics, The Electric’s ‘Cinematic Time Machine’ series also includes Sunset Boulevard (1950) (incidentally starring silent movie star Gloria Swanson), 42nd Street (1933), The Wizard of Oz (1939), La Grande Illusion (1937) and Duck Soup (1933).
The Electric in Birmingham has the distinction of being Britain’s oldest working cinema, having been opened in December 1909. It pre-dates its namesake, The Electric, Notting Hill by just two months. But since its first opening it has had something of a chequered history. In 1920 it was brought out and renamed The Select. Sound equipment was added in 1930 and the first sound screening was one of the popular Bulldog Drummond detective series. But The Select closed just a year later. After a spell as an amusement arcade, the cinema was largely rebuilt and re-opened in 1937 as The Tatler News Theatre. Further changes of ownership saw the cinema become The Jacey, The Classic and The Tivoli before reverting to The Electric in 1993. That cinema was closed and resold in 2003. Its new owners restored the building as far as possible to its original art-deco style (sadly much of this was irretrievably lost in the 1937 rebuild) and The Electric has since operated successfully as a luxury art-house venue, celebrating its centenary in 2009.