Forever laughing

Poster for The Plank (1967 version), from bbc.co.uk

So farewell then to Eric Sykes, one of Britain’s best loved funny men. He was a natural comic performer, generally playing someone confident that he knew what he was doing while demonstrating time and again that he had no reason to be so, best exemplified by the long-running TV sitcom Sykes. He was also one of the most talented comic writers of his time, writing for Educating Archie, Tony Hancock, The Goons, Frankie Howerd and his own shows.

Like many of his generation of comedians, he had an immense affection and respect for the great silent comedians. Some, such as Bob Monkhouse and Michel Bentine, presented compilations of silent comedies on television to bring them to new audiences. Others, such as Ronnie Barker (with A Home of Your Own, Futtock’s End, The Picnic, By the Sea), Benny Hill (The Waiters, Eddie in August), and in recent years Paul Merton, David Schneider (Uncle Max) and Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) have continued the tradition, with varying degrees of homage to the past – and with varying success.

Eric Sykes made a number of silent, or near-silent slapstick comedies, of which the most famous and still fondly loved is The Plank, of which three versions were made. It started out as a wordless, black-and-white episode of his BBC TV series Sykes and a …, the episode being Sykes and a Plank (tx. 3 March 1964), in which the two protganists were Sykes and regular co-star Hattie Jacques. In 1967 Sykes remade it as a 54-minute colour cinema release, co-starring himself and Tommy Cooper. This was then re-released in 1974 cut to 45 minutes, before a third version (30mins) was made for Thames Television in 1979, with Arthur Lowe replacing Cooper. It is the 1967 film that is the most familiar.

Sykes (who lived in a silent world himself – he was almost completely deaf) made other silent shorts for cinema and television: Rhubarb (1969, remade as Rhubarb, Rhubarb in 1980) in which the characters utter just the one word (guess what it is), It’s Your Move (1969, remade in 1982), Mr H is Late (1988) and The Big Freeze (1993) among them. But it is The Plank that has retained a classic status of a kind. The story is simple – two builders purchase a floorboard for the house they are working on, and encounter all manner of hazards trying to transport it across town. Judged by the standards of the comedy greats of the 1920s, it is average stuff, but Sykes and Cooper have the right deadpan delivery in the face of absurdity, and in its scenario of an inanimate object geting the better of two men it merits some comparison with Laurel and Hardy’s travails with a piano in The Music Box. The simple plank (much like the large plane of glass) is a silent comedy staple in any case. The twist is that here the plank gets star billing (literally so in the 1967 film’s opening credits).

The Plank and its creator show a continuity of laughter down the years. Slapstick itself no longer has the popular appeal that it once enjoyed, but Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd et al (themselves inspired by an earlier generation of theatre comics) inspired the next generation of comedians such as Eric Sykes who flourished on radio and television, whose works then made the next generation laugh when young and inspired them to make others laugh in their own time (as the many affectionate tributes to Sykes from today’s comedians has demonstrate). It’s a continuous process of inheritance and gratitude. Comedy dates, but laughter is eternal. Thank you Eric.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 30

Mural of Lillian Gish on the wall of a pump station at Massillon, Ohio, from http://www.indeonline.com

Hi folks, and welcome to the latest issue of the Bioscope’s erratically published but lovingly composed newsreel, mopping up for you some of the more diverting news stories of the week on silent film.

More on Brides of Sulu
A few weeks we published a post on Brides of Sulu, a supposedly American film from the mid-1930s which probably took footage from an Philippine silent fiction film (possibly two) and added an American commentary. All Philippine silent film production was believed to be lost, so this is an exciting discovery, and it was naturally a highlight at Manila’s recent International Silent Film Festival. If you read comments to the original Bioscope post you can find extra information from the grandson of the film’s lead actor, ‘Eduardo de Castro’ (real name Marvin Gardner). Or there’s an informative piece in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the research involved – though I think the director was not the Philippine José Nepomuceno but rather American silent film veteran Jack Nelson. But the journalist has read the Bioscope, which is grand. Read more.

The day the laughter stopped
A feature film adaptation of David Yallop’s account of the Fatty Arbuckle case, The Day the Laughter Stopped, is in development. The film is scheduled to star Eric Stonestreet and will be a telefilm made for HBO. Will silent cinema’s pre-eminent tragic tale make a successful transference to the screen? With Barry Levinson as director, we must hope at least for a thoughtful interpretation. Read more.

Lillian at the pump station
Massillon, Ohio artist Scot Phillips has created a mural featuring Lillian Gish at the junction between Lillian Gish Boulevard and Route 21, unromantically painted on a west-facing wall of a pump station next to the Tuscarawas River. The silent film star grew up in Massillon, hence the mural and the road. It took him all summer. Read more.

Telluride coup
What are the two most discussed silent films of 2011? They must be Michel Hazanavicius’ modern silent The Artist, and the colour restoration of George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. So hats off to the Telluride Film Festival for bringing the two together in one of the more imaginative programming coups of the year. And they are playing at the Abel Gance Open Air Cinema … Read more.

The story of film
Mark Cousins’ book The Story of Film (2006) is a pretty good and impressively wide-ranging generally history of the medium. It’s now been turned into a 15-part television series showing in the UK on Channel 4’s offshoot channel More4 from tomorrow. Expect to see silent films given their fair due (says the press release of episode one, “Filmed in the buildings where the first movies were made, it shows that ideas and passion have always driven film, more than money and marketing”). What you don’t expect to see is a UK television channel go so far as to show a silent film itself, but – incredible to relate – Film4 is showing Orphans of the Storm on 6 September to accompany the Cousins series. Read more.

‘Til next time!

The story of British Pathé

Bioscopists in the UK will certainly not want to be anywhere other than in front of their television sets on Thursday 18 August at 9pm, when episode one of the fourt-part series The Story of British Pathé is broadcast on BBC4.

This is to be a series not so much on the history of a newsreel, but rather of a collection (there never was a newsreel called British Pathé, but there is an archive of that name which includes the newsreels Pathé Gazette, Pathé News, and much else besides). The four episodes will cover the birth of the news, the voice of Pathé, Pathé’s cinemagazines, and the travelogues and docuentaries in the collection. Dates have not been given for the second, third and fourth programmes, but let’s assume that they will be broadcast on succeeding Thursdays.

All of the archive footage to be featured in the programmes can be found on the British Pathé site itself, one of the great treasure troves of archive film to be found online (both silent and sound), already trumpeted by the Bioscope on more than one occasion. It going to be very interesting to see what the programme makers make of a collection which has so often supplied essential content for television but has never been (to my knowledge) the subject of a programme itself (the celebrated Granada Television series All of Yesterdays used mostly Pathé footage but wasn’t about Pathé). It won’t be a regular history, I suspect, but I’m hopeful of seeing new insights from a production team that was largely new to this sort of material. And you may get a glimpse of two of your scribe, unless everything they shot ended up on the cutting room floor (not an impossibility, given my usual tongue-tied performance whenever anyone has the nerve to point a camera at me).

As usual, the programmes will be available for a week afterwards on iPlayer, for people in the UK only. Do let us have your thoughts about the programmes.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 25

Paul Merton, a sign, and an orange

Another week has gone by, and silent films continues to make the headlines – almost literally so in the case of our first news story. Read on.

The continuing story of Zepped
Silent films made it through to the popular consciousness this week with the widely-publicised news of the upcoming (June 29th) auction of a curious 1916 film called Zepped (previously reported on by the Bioscope in detail). Amazingly the story made it to the main BBC news, plus a wide number of newspapers. The film, found on eBay, combines routine animation of the period with clips from Chaplin films. The ignorant claims being made in the press for what is a minor of work of passing interest to Chaplin experts and early animation buffs are frankly embarassing, though I dare say its owners will have the last laugh if they really do get the six-figure sum they are hoping for. Only if the figure includes pence, that’s what the Bioscope thinks… Read more.

Merton’s Hollywood
However, another instance of the popularisation of silent films has been surprisingly successful. Paul Merton’s earlier programmes on silent film comedy have been a bit of a mixed bag – enthusiastic but muddled. Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood, however, started off rather well last week, with an opinionated but informative and generally disciplined account of Hollywood’s formative years. We have quite high hopes of this evening’s second episode, which covers the Fatty Arbuckle scandal. Read more.

Napoleon’s maps
We have already enthused about The Cine-Tourist, a website on the mysterious and poetic connection between films and maps. Just up on the site is a page on the use of map imagery in Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (1927). It’s an engrossing and illuminating piece of close visual analysis, warmly recommended. Read more.

The balancing bluebottle
Those in the UK might like to listen out on Radio 4 this Sunday at 13:30 for a repeat of The Balancing Bluebottle, the engaging programme from 2009 on naturalist filmmaker F. Percy Smith, one of the great obscure filmmaker of the silent era. It’s presented by the Science Museum’s Tim Boon and the Bioscope makes a brief appearance, interviewed in a windy corner of Leicester Square. Read more.

The Bray Animation Project
A fine new website has been published by Tom Stathes dedicated to research into the 1913-1927 output of American animation studio Bray, producers of such series as Colonel Heeza Liar, Happy Hooligan and Krazy Kat, and featuring the work of Pat Sullivan, Max Fleischer, Pat Sullivan and John Bray himself. There is a studio history, filmography, ample illustrations and a discussion board. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Being Bean

The Trouble with Mr Bean (1992) (you will have to go to the Mr Bean YouTube site to view the video)

Rather by accident, I saw the feature film Mr Bean’s Holiday yesterday. Catching the opening credits while channel-hopping, I imagined that I’d stay with it for a few minutes and ended up, well, almost captivated. It’s a well-constructed comedy about Mr Bean’s haphazadous trip through France in the company of a lost child. It adroitly develops its situations with logical illogicality, and boasts a great comic turn by Willem Dafoe as a film director of stupendous pretentiousness. I’ve never been a particular fan of Bean, though given his position as the leading modern silent (or semi-silent) figure on the screen today, I have felt before now that the Bioscope should devote some space to the phenomenon. Because Mr Bean has been a worldwide phenomenon, and the interesting thing is to try and work out why.

There can be few who have not been exposed to Mr Bean in one form or another, but just to recap: the character is played by British comedian Rowan Atkinson, and has antecedents in various gauche figures that Atkinson has played in comedy routines throughout his career. Mr Bean was originally a television series in the UK, broadcast by ITV. The first episode was broadcast 1 January 1990, and there were thirteen half-hour episodes made 1900-1995, a fourteenth being released on video only. They attracted considerable audiences at home as well as being sold to nearly 250 territories worldwide, the word being spread in part by exposure on airlines. Two feature films, Bean (1997) and Mr Bean’s Holiday (2007), have been made, and a spin-off 26-episode animated series (2002).

Mr Bean himself is a social misfit. Habitually dressed in tweed jacket and tie, he is like some figure from an earlier age – the dingy, repressed 1950s – somehow thrust into our modern times (the TV series opens with Bean falling to ground down a shaft of light, as though an alien figure or someone who has time-travelled). He approaches the challenges of the modern world with resourceful ignorance. The simplest of activities, like going to the shops or a trip to the dentist, become extraordinary challenges through Bean’s stubborn obliviousness to the obvious, coupled with his ingenious (though completely unnecessary) tactics for getting round such obstacles. Unaware of the social niceties, Bean is pure selfishness. He will always take advantage of others and is wholly insensitive to anyone else’s situation. There is a nasty side to him.

Bean’s approach in life is to proceed in a straight line where anyone else would turn corners. This is exemplified literally on two occasions in Mr Bean’s Holiday. Firstly Bean, having arrived in Paris, gets a wrong taxi and finds himself on the outskirts at La Défense rather than the Gare du Lyon. So he gets out his compass and walks back in a straight line, through shops and restaurants, over busy crossroads, causing mayhem along the way while never looking up from his compass. And of course he gets to his destination. Then, at the end of the film, when he sees the beach at Cannes he has been trying to get to all film, he walks in a straight line, again head down, concentrating solely on his compass, and avoids falling from his first storey position by walking down a line of vehicles arranged side by side which conveniently have formed themselves into steps. It’s a gag worthy of Keaton.

But should Mr Bean be mentioned in the same sentence as Buster Keaton? He is a silent comedian, for the most part, occasionally reverting to some mumbled words. The Bean programmes and films are weakest where they require dialogue to explain situations (which makes the 1997 feature film Bean particularly poor, because it spends so much time trying to explain Bean and the situations he creates). Mr Bean’s Holiday succeeds because almost all of the gags are visual ones, not least because the action takes place in France and Bean only knows three words of French (Oui, Non and … Gracias). So it is silent comedy, and with a worldwide appeal to a degree built on that form of comedy that needs no translation and can appeal to all.

The Return of Mr Bean (1990) (you will have to go to the Mr Bean YouTube site to view the video)

But is he as good as Keaton, or Chaplin, or Lloyd or any of the 1920s master of the art? Well, no and yes. He is not the same as Keaton and his ilk, but then he is not of their age and he is doing different things. The fact that he is different does not mean that he is unworthy of consideration as ‘silent’ comic figure of importance. There is not the craft that one sees in the finest of the silent era comedians, a craft built up through years spent on the variety stage and then honed through the studio expertise of Keystone, Roach et al. But there is craft there, and the gags are not pastiches of 1920s comedies (the failing of many a would-be modern slapstick comedy) but of their time – and skilfully so. Take a look at The Return of Mr Bean above. Watch the brief, single-shot sequence (at 4.34) where Bean goes up an escalator and see with what skill the camera is in just the right place to makes his ascent feel funny even when he seems to be doing something entirely normal; then, when they have got us laughing at the obvious, we are caught by surprise as Bean is held up at the top of the escalator by the heels of his shoes.

This is a great visual gag, but it’s a gag that comes out of a present-day situation and is grounded in character. Someone else wouldn’t be so funny in the same situation. It is his innocence of any of the lessons of common experience that makes us laugh as soon as we see him approach any common situation, because we know that he will be unable to face the ordinary in an ordinary way. There is laughter in the anticipation, and then laughter at the surprise of the execution.

So there is craft there, and some real if variable visual wit. But another issue is human appeal. The great silent comedians were both misfits and Everyman figures at the same time. They were beset by misfortunes that could happen to any of us. Bean’s misfortunes are his own. They usually, and credibly, get the girl. Bean lives alone, and the occasional appearance of a girlfriend in the TV series leaves us flummoxed by the sheer unlikelihood of it (still more the attraction that he may have for Emma de Caunes in Mr Bean’s Holiday). Bean is not like us but rather the complete opposite of us (or at least we hope so). Keaton, Lloyd et al are sympathetic characters; Bean is wholly unsympathetic. We never feel sorry for him, even if we are happy enough for him to win in the end.

Proceeding in a straight line, from Mr Bean’s Holiday, image from http://www.screenrush.co.uk

What is this the secret to his worldwide popularity? There seems to be more that such audiences recognise than simply his obtuse reactions to the everyday. It may lie in his Britishness – Mr Bean certainly has become associated by many non-British audiences with a certain supposed type of uptight Englishman abroad: over-dressed, inhibited, and as inept with people as he is with any language other than his own (see Patrick Barkham’s 2007 article on this in The Guardian). But Mr Bean was initially a huge hit on UK television, and we’re not that fond of laughing at ourselves in a way that others may be laughing at us.

Instead I think it’s got something to do with Mr Bean being perversely smarter than us. He is unfettered by the habits and mores that control our lives, making us laugh at ourselves just as much as we laugh at him. His lateral approaches to life’s hazards (such as the scene in The Trouble with Mr Bean where he dresses himself while driving a car because he is late for an appointment) mock us for being so constrained by lack of imagination when faced with everyday problems. In an odd way, we would all like to be like Mr Bean for his absence of social constraints – while at the same time hugely grateful that we are not anything like him at all.

Rowan Atkinson has noted the influence of Jacques Tati on the character (a gag when Bean cycles past a bunch of racing cyclists in Mr Bean’s Holiday is lifted from Jour de fête). There are certainly some parallels between two. They are both innocents abroad devising their own ways of overcoming modern life’s complexities. Both are silent comedians in a sound world, caught out of time. But Bean has nothing of Tati’s grace. This may have something to do with the televisual nature of his comedy, or simply that we live in a graceless age. Whatever the reason, there is craft but not art in Mr Bean; it does not uplift us, or make us feel that there is a better life out there somewhere. Yet equally it does not operate much as satire. It is hard to say what it is, if we do not learn from it.

Yet there are lessons to be learned. I’ve been scouring Google Scholar for academic papers on Mr Bean and I can find none that consider the films or programmes as art, but several that use the series as illustration of social situations, to measure responses to humour, or to study cognition. Mr Bean clearly serves as something that is emblematic of the human condition. This, however, is where I have had a problem with Bean up til now. He does not seem to be one of us. Not just his eccentric behaviour, but Atkinson’s taste for face-pulling take the character beyond a point where he can be recognisable as a human being. And yet the key to laughter is recognition, and Mr Bean makes the world laugh (Mr Bean’s Holiday grossed $230 worldwide). Mr Bean is what we become when we lose our humanity. The cause of our laughter may be relief.

There is an official Mr Bean website and a Mr Bean YouTube channel with full episodes of the live-action television series and the animated cartoon series.

The Brand Blackmail

Blackmail

Last year Neil Brand‘s orchestral score for the silent version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail was premiered (and much acclaimed) at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna in July 2008. Happily there is going to be a further outing for the score, as film and music are to feature at the Barbican in London on 31 October 2010. The BBC Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Timothy Brock, and tickets can now be booked from the Barbican site. As said before, this is probably the first full orchestral score to be written for a British silent fiction film since the 1920s (The Battle of the Somme, a documentary feature, received the orchestral treatment at the Royal Festival Hall in 2006).

For an extract from the score, photos of the Bologna screening, and extracts from reviews, see the Blackmail page on Neil’s personal site.

And there’s more. As regular readers will know, Neil is progressively building up a further reputation as a radio dramatist, and on 27 and 28 May (each at 14:15) BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting Waves Breaking on a Shore, a two-part play about early cinema, Jewish culture, nationalism and radical politics in London’s East End, co-written by Neil and Michael Eaton. The two parts will be broadcast in the Afternoon Play slot and will be able to be heard live on the Radio 4 site and – one trusts – for a week thereafter on iPlayer (if you are in the UK).

I’ve read it and I warmly recommend it (and if it ends up mentioning Walter Gibbons’ Phono-Bio-Tableaux, then I contributed three words to it as well).

Flickers

Does anyone remember seeing this? Flickers (“A Kinematographic Comedy in Six Parts”) was a 1980 UK television series set in the early days of the silent film business in Britain, produced by Thames and directed by Cyril Coke.

It was written by Roy Clarke (as in Last of the Summer Wine and Keeping up Appearances) and starred Bob Hoskins and Frances de la Tour. It received a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Limited Series in 1982. Now it is to be released on DVD (from 7 June) by Network, a two-disc set lasting 300mins. This is the company blurb on the background story:

Forty-year-old Arnie Cole is a movie pioneer, showing films in makeshift cinemas during the first quarter of the twentieth century – a long way ahead of the golden age that will be more glittering than his wildest dreams. But opportunities are opening up all the time, and Arnie’s true ambition is to produce films of his own. Financial backing is, inevitably, the stumbling block. But it comes his way in unexpected form when he is introduced to Maud, the snobbish, rather plain sister of a well-to-do acquaintance; at first, Maud finds Arnie brash and vulgar, and he is equally unimpressed with her – but having discovered that she is pregnant, she makes him an offer that he finds hard to refuse…

I don’t remember seeing it at the time – in 1980 I was at university, barely watched TV, and had no thought for silent films or their social history. It sounds like a soft-edged version of Pennies from Heaven without the songs. The New York Times called it “marvellously wacky”, adding:

one of the daffiest and most hilarious original screenplays written for television. As Arnie and Maud stagger through their unusual relationship, ”Flickers” provides representative samplings of types involved in the motion picture business, from short and alcoholic comedian stars to corrupt lawyers, from aging child stars to lazy cameramen.

I’m intrigued. Anyone out there with long memories?

Paul Merton’s Weird and Wonderful World of Early Cinema

A quick reminder in case those in the UK hadn’t spotted it, but tonight BBC4 is showing Paul’s Merton Weird and Wonderful World of Early Cinema. Merton continues on his mission to reveal the wonders of silent cinema to a general audience by going in search of the origins of screen comedy, revealing a “forgotten world of silent cinema – not in Hollywood, but closer to home in pre-1914 Britain and France”.

Revealing the unknown stars and lost masterpieces, he brings to life the pioneering techniques and optical inventiveness of the virtuosos who mastered a new art form. With a playful eye and comic sense of timing, Merton combines the role of presenter and director to recreate the weird and wonderful world that is early European cinema in a series of cinematic experiments of his own.

It should be interesting to see what is revealed. Such programmes – which are rare enough in themselves – not only open up largely hidden films to new audiences, but should be a lesson to those of us who may know these films well to see them in a fresh light, not least as a television commissioner sees them. The programme will be available on iPlayer for the usual week after transmission, and it would be interested to read people’s thoughts on it.

Merton also takes on early film in his interactive guide Paul Merton on Early British Comedy for the BFI’s Screenonline site. It’s a useful tour of the basics, well-illustrated with clips, covering Early Days, Fantastical Films, Fantasy & Realism, Cars & Robots, Facials, Stars, and Bad Boys & Girls; filmmakers such as James Williamson, Cecil Hepworth, Robert Paul, and Charles Urban; and performers such as Florence Turner, Fred Evans (Pimple) and Little Willy Saunders.

Paul Merton on Early British Comedy

The original Neil Brand

Neil Brand is a silent film pianist. That much is known by most enthusiasts for silent film in the UK, and by a good many around the world as well. It may not always be realised that Neil is also a writer, composer, actor and scholar, one whose prodigious energies and superabundant talent make him not far short of a national treasure. Hmm, why that note of qualification? – he is a national treasure. And now, as if accompanying silents live and on DVD, writing radio scripts and musical comedies, acting on film and TV, writing books and educating students were not enough, now he has turned online archivist with his latest venture, The Originals.

The Originals is a new section of Neil’s personal site which brings together original materials relating to the performance of music to film in the silent era. For some while now Neil has been collecting articles, scores, interviews, memoirs and eye-witness accounts which document the experience of seeing or performing to films in the 1910s and 1920s. He has now started to put some of this material online.

http://originals.neilbrand.com

The site is in three sections: Interviews, Archive and Memories. Interviews features a small collection (so far) of interviews and articles which give the point of view of musicians who were employed in cinemas during the silent era. These include a transcription of a 1988 interview with the 94–year-old Ella Mallett, former silent movie musician (carried out as part of the BECTU History Project which records interviews with veterans of the British film and television industries); an extract from Maurice Lindsay’s memoir of Glasgow life, As I Remember; an extract from New Zealander Henry Shirley’s memoir Just a Bloody Piano Player; and a highly evocative piece from novelist Ursula Bloom about her experiences as a teenage silent film pianist in St Albans (contributed by yours truly).

Archive is the section that is going to attract the most interest. This offers PDF copies of various original documents relating to silent film music, including extracts from original music that would have been performed with various films. The jewel here is selected pages from the score for The Flag Lieutenant, compiled by Albert Cazabon, and the only surviving full score for a British silent fiction film in existence. You’ll also find music for the Douglas Fairbanks picture The Black Pirate, an eyebrow-raisingly dismissive article on the profession of silent film pianist, cue sheets for Hell’s Heroes and The Hound of the Baskervilles, and more.

The third section, Memories, presents extracts from the 1927-1930 diaries of Gwen Berry, who played ‘cello in the orchestra pit of the Grand Cinema, Alum Rock Road, Saltley. The extracts, from 1929, show Gwen’s apprehension at the arrival of the “terrible talkie pictures” which were going to throw so many musicians such as her out of work. The diary is presented in a elegant turn-the-pages digital form, which does require that you install a plug-in for DNL ebook software.

All in all, The Originals is an excellent idea, and one that The Bioscope hopes will grow and grow, not least if those interested are able to send relevant materials to Neil so that they might be shared by all.

Meanwhile, here’s a handy survey of other things NeilBrandian…

Bravo, Neil.

Silents old and new

neilgaiman

Neil Gaiman directing Statuesque, from http://blog.amandapalmer.net

Keep the eyes peeled for two different approaches to the silent film on British television in the next couple or months or so. Firstly, comedian Paul Merton is continuing his mission to educate his great following in the art of silent cinema. Following on from his Silent Clowns series and Paul Merton looks at Hitchcock (not to mention his guide to early British comedy on the BFI’s Screenonline site), late 2009 or early 2010 will see Lost Silence (working title), a one-off documentary exploring early European cinema, with a 3x60mins series The Birth Of Hollywood scheduled for 2011 to coincide with what the BBC claims will be the 100th anniversary of the Hollywood film industry. Assuming the programme’s slot has not been decided as yet, they might like to take note of the generally accepted fact that the first film made in Hollywood was D.W. Griffith’s In Old California (shot in February 1910). Anyway, they say the series will “focus on the influence of early US cinema on today’s films“.

And there’s silent film today. Over Christmas Sky 1 will be screening 12 Days of Christmas, a 12-part series of specially-commissioned silent films, each of which will have a different writer and director. They include cult author Neil Gaiman, who has written and directed Statuesque, starring Amanda Palmer and Bill Nighy. Gaiman has blogged about the eight-minute film’s production on his website. Other films in the series (produced by Hilary Bevan Jones for Endor Productions) will include Three Kings, a new take on the Biblical tale written by novelist William Boyd and directed by Richard Eyre, and playwright Jez Butterworth collaborating with director Ian Rickson. Tony Grisoni, Terry Gilliam’s regular screenwriter, is another scheduled contributor. So we must wait and see (or for those like the Bioscope who don’t subscribe to Sky, not see at all, at least until the DVD gets released).

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