British silent cinema festival


Chicago (1927)

The first news has been published of the feature films and main events taking place at this year’s British Silent Cinema Festival. As usual, the festival is being held at the Broadway, Nottingham, and runs 3-6 April.

This year the main theme is ‘Rats, Ruffians and Radicals: The Globalisation of Crime and the British Silent Film‘. The festival is a mixture of films, papers and special presentations, and usually pulls of the trick of attracting both an academic and an ‘enthusiast’ audience. Anyway, here are some of the delights on offer:

Chicago (USA 1927), sparky silent film version of the story that later became the musical Chicago. Directed by Frank Urson under supervision of De Mille this is a vibrant telling of the tale of Roxie Hart and her attempts to beat a murder rap in the most cynical city in the world. See the film that inspired the musical that inspired the film of the musical …

Red Pearls (UK 1930), Walter Forde’s psychological drama about a Japanese merchant who tries to drive his victim mad by sending him letters from beyond the grave.

Henry Edwards’ The Bargain (UK 1921) starring Chrissie White and actor/director Edwards in a tale of fraud, deception and family ties as a man purporting to be a long lost son returns from the Australian outback to claim his inheritance from his dying father.

At the Villa Rose (UK 1920), director Maurice Elvey’s classic locked-room murder mystery set in the fashionable and decadent expatriate community in Monte Carlo.

Die Carmen von St Pauli (Germany 1928), German director Erich Waschneck’s brilliant drama set in Hamburg’s dockside gangland featuring German stars Willi Fritsch and the delicious Jenny Jugo – who rivals Clara Bow for sheer screen presence. The film also shows there is more to German film than expressionism.

René Clair’s Le Fantôme du Moulin Rouge (France 1924) combines Grande Guignol, surrealism and playful avant garde film tricks. It’s the tale of a man whose spirit is released from his body to allow him to torment and trick his family but ultimately there’s a race against time when his spirit needs to get back into his lifeless body before the autopsy begins …

The Whip (USA 1917): more horse nobbling courtesy of Maurice Tourneur, based on the famous British stage play by Cecil Raleigh and Henry Hamilton. In the words of the legendary Tallulah Bankhead: “The Whip was a blood-and-thunder melodrama in four acts and fourteen scenes imported from London’s Drury Lane Theatre. It boiled with villainy and violence. Its plot embraced a twelve-horse race on a treadmill (for the Gold Cup at Newmarket), a Hunt Breakfast embellished by fifteen dogs, an auto-smash-up, the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks, and a train wreck with a locomotive hissing real steam. It boasted a dissolute earl and a wicked marquis, and a heroine whose hand was sought by both knave and hero. It was a tremendous emotional dose for anyone as stage-struck and impressionable as our heroine.”

The Hill Park Mystery (Denmark 1923) (aka Shattered Nerves) features a detective trying to clear the name of a woman accused of murder, who finds matters complicated when he becomes romantically attached to his client.

Other highlights will include episodes from The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and tales from The Old Man in the Corner, Luke McKernan’s illustrated presentation to mark the centenary of the 1908 Olympics in the UK, a session on Melodrama along with a packed programme of presentations, screenings and social events.

So, yes, I’m one of the star turns (on Saturday the 5th), giving a glossy show on film and the Olympic Games, 1900-1924, with special attention given to the the London Games of 1908, whose centenary it is, of course. As for the feature films, there’s some fascinating choices there, though the British content seems a bit elusive in places. The festival website doesn’t have any programme details as yet, but further information will get published here in due course.