A page devoted to news items, snippets of (mainly) silent film information, unfounded rumours and the occasional moan!
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 available here .
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 Mar-Dec 2017 page of silentfilmcalendar.com
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.com as soon as they are confirmed.
Silent Film Listings in Ireland What’s this, silentfilmcalendar.com 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), (see sidneyolcott.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 website here and 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 found here and if you know of any other silent films being screened in Ireland, let us know so we can include them in our silentfilmcalendar.com 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 contributing here.
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 contribute here.
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.com 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 more here.
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.com 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 activities here .
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 (see here) and their own Silent Laughter Weekend (see here) 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 more here or on silentfilmcalendar.com’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.com 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 more here . 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.
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