The Smoking Cabinet

Ballet mécanique

Ballet mécanique, from

I have received a press release from an entertainment entitled The Smoking Cabinet, which is probably best left to explain itself:

The Smoking Cabinet presents:

A Festival of Early Cabaret and Burlesque Cinema 1895-1933
7th – 9th December 2007, Curzon Soho

The Smoking Cabinet presents an exotic array of films that epitomise the flair, eroticism and joie de vire of burlesque, fin de siècle follies, the machine age and modernist cabaret.

Come and celebrate various forms of decadent entertainment from the belle époque to the end of the Weimar Republic, the cinematic history of the subversive! We’ll take a peak into the seductive, sultry and downright bizarre with a series of rarely screened shorts, a well loved classic cabaret feature, and inspiring talks. Revel in the delectable secrets of cabaret inspired early cinema and prepare yourself for the work of Fernard Léger, Man Ray, Percy Smith, Adrian Brunel and Georges Méliès as well as music hall stars, circus performers, early erotic and performing animals.

Friday 7th December: Moody’s Club Follies and Opening Night Soirée, 8.20pm
Bar and performances from 7pm featuring Future Cinema and Bourgeois and Maurice plus interview with writer / broadcaster and author of The Cabaret, Lisa Appignanesi

Saturday 8th December: Electric Women and Additional Oddities, 6pm
Cinematic wonders abound in this series of magic tricks, acrobatics, performing animals and early erotica. Featuring Fred Evans, Adrian Brunel and Georges Méliès; come and join us for a sing a long to Yes We Have No – ! (1923),guffaw at the topsy-turvy world of Vice Versa (1910) and the spine tingling beauty of Electric Women (1927).

– followed by discussion: Burlesque and Cabaret on Film: Screening the Fantastical with Vanessa Toulmin (Mitchell and Kenyon, Admission all Classes) and special guests.

Sunday 9th December: The Blue Angel (1930) Josef Von Sternberg, 12pm
The definitive study of Weimar decay and decadence – Marlene Dietrich stars as the seedy stage starlet who corrupts and then devours an uptight teacher in one of cinema and Europe’s most poignant periods.

– followed by discussion: Women in Burlesque and Cabaret: Empowerment vs Titillation with Amy Lame (Duckie) and special guests.

Sunday 9th December: Tilly Losch in Her Dance of the Hands and Other Rarities, and Closing Night Party, 6pm
Join us for our last shorts programme with live music, cakes and dancing as we wind down with cine dance classic Annabelle’s Butterfly Dance (1895-1897), So This is Paris! (1926) and Tilly Losch in Her Dance of the Hands (1930-1933), and some rampant Dadaism in Ballet mécanique (1923-24).

Call Curzon Cinemas on 0871 7033 988 or visit

Well, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here – the link between Percy Smith’s stop-motion films of plant growth and modernist cabaret seems a bit on the tenuous side – but no one can deny that there are great efforts these days to present silent material (and often unfamiliar silent material) in a new and creative ways.

Those seeking further elucidation can visit, which offers further attractions and, oddly, a cheap deal on Simon Popple and Joe Kember’s book Early Cinema: From Factory Gate to Dream Factory. Or visit the project’s MySpace page, and see clips from Man Ray, Méliès and Josephine Baker dancing.

The Smoking Cabinet, which seems to derive from the ‘smoking concerts’ of the Edwardian era, where some of the fruitier films of the era were shown to men-only audiences, is, they tell us, “four female burlesque/cabaret/cinema fans who enjoy a challenge”.

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