British Silent Cinema Festival

The British Silent Cinema Festival hasn’t published its full programme as yet, but there is a guide to screenings and presentations which gives a good overview. The theme of the festival is Underworld: Crime and Deviancy in the British Silent Film, and it is being held at the Broadway, Nottingham, 26-29 April. The festival, co-organised by the Broadway and the BFI, is in its tenth year (time has flown…), and as usual it will feature a mixture of screenings, papers and special presentations in the informal manner which the festival has established so successfully for itself. Anyway, here’s the blurb:

Underworld: crime and deviancy in the British Silent Film

26 – 29 April 2007

Where did the crime film originate? Joseph von Sternberg’s silent masterpiece Underworld (1927) [illustrated] is often cited as the first gangster film and the prototype for the genre, spawning the crime thrillers of the 30s, film noir of the 40s and the more recent mob films like The Godfather and Goodfellas. But what came before that landmark film? This year’s British silent film festival examines the antecedents of the crime film; unearthing rare glimpses of master criminals and serial killers, legendary detectives and international terrorists. Looking at adaptations from some of the best-known crime writers, Conan Doyle, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Wallace, we uncover crimes of passion, politically motivated crime, and crimes concealing Society’s dark secrets. Drawing on the extensive collections of the BFI National Archive, we will also look at both true crime, featuring Nottingham-born villain Charlie Peace and John Lee ‘the Man They Couldn’t Hang’ and crimes of the imagination, from the first ever crime film to Hitchcock’s Ripperesque tale of the London fog, The Lodger.

Screenings and presentations:

  • True Crime on Film: a history of real-life crime films from the earliest days including Mitchell and Kenyon’s The Arrest of Goudie and The Life story of Charles Peace.
  • Crime in silent fiction film: a history of crime stories including the recently discovered first ever crime film Arrest of a Pickpocket (1895) to Hitchcock’s classic The Lodger (1926).
  • Special live cinema event in the atmospheric surroundings of the medieval St Peter’s Church – Hitchcock’s serial killer mystery, The Lodger.
  • British star, Clive Brook in Joseph Von Sternberg’s rarely screened masterpiece Underworld (1927).
  • The First Born (1928) actor/director Miles Mander stars in this society shocker with co-star Madeleine Carroll (39 Steps).
  • Edgar Wallace’s tale of international terrorism The Four Just Men (George Ridgewell, 1921) with introduction by Wallace expert Jeremy Jago.
  • Classic crime series The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Fred Paul’s macabre Grand Guignol stories.
  • Rarely screened fragments of Britain’s only surviving silent serial, Ultus: The Man from the Dead.
  • Secrets and lies in Victorian England cause criminal deeds in a 1920 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.
  • Bulldog Drummond’s Third Round (1925) directed by Sidney Morgan and starring Jack Buchanan in the title role.
  • Ellie Norwood, one of the great interpreters of our most famous detective Sherlock Holmes on film and a screening of Holmes feature The Sign of Four (1923).
  • Early films of the Salvation Army to mark William Booth’s origins in Nottingham and his connection to Broadway.
  • The International Women Pioneer Film Makers’ Project – presentations and discussion around this international research programme.

Excellent stuff. One film in particular to pick out is Miles Mander’s The First Born (1928), a genuine undiscovered classic, mature in theme and sophisticated in style, which hasn’t had the public profile is deserves largely because the surviving print is marginally incomplete. That, and the fact that it doesn’t turn up in any of the film histories. Shame on them, and well done to the festival’s organisers for having unearthed it.

Booking information from the festival website.

Ah, the Nuts and Bolts

One of the long neglected areas of film scholarship has been the technology developements over time. From the earliest days of the industry, cameramen, etc, had to come up with methods to handle film, shoot at different speeds, film from the air, and on and on. When archives first broached the idea of film preservation, for the most part film itself was the object of our affection. It wasn’t until much later that we realized the importance of this cinemachinery in the industry. From early cameras, lighting, and printers, the developments came fast and furious. Some were monsters in size and shape, like the original Mutoscope Camera of A, M & B. Carl Gregory developed a practical optical printer in 1927-28.

These and devlopments like them were one of the things responsible for the technical improvements in film production that made it to the screen. I have always found this period to be a treasure trove of technological development, and look forward to seeing much more research into this area of the early film industry.