Vamps and Vixens


The Bird’s Eye View festival, celebrating women filmmakers and performers, returns to the BFI Southbank and the ICA in London 5-13 March. As with last year, there is a silent film strand, which comes as part of an archive retrospective given the title Screen Seductresses: Vamps, Vixens & Femmes Fatales. The are six silents featured, under Vamps, and I can do no better than give the festival’s own hyper-enthusiastic words about the delights on offer:

Sexy, iconic and controversial: classic cinema, contemporary live music and gorgeous, godless women, in partnership with BFI Southbank.

From Eve to Cleopatra, Salome to Sharon Stone, women have always been able to win men over with their sexual powers. Obviously this is naughty, and a thinly disguised evil plot to render quivering (and probably kill) all otherwise fine upstanding gentlemen.

But BEV is feeling a little rebellious this year. We’re celebrating transgressive women in film, strong and complex seductresses, with razor-sharp wit and unrestrained sexuality. Some say it’s all a product of post-war male anxiety about the changing roles of women, but let’s not forget the crucial role women played in producing and writing these films. And, of course, the stunning talent a host of actresses brought to cinema – so radical for their time and still startlingly good.

We begin with THE VAMP, a fabulous and alluring figure of silent cinema. Louise Brooks, Theda Bara, Greta Garbo and Alla Nazimova shine like the stars they are in six stunning and rarely-screened films, with specially commissioned live music from cutting edge female artists including Bishi, Natalie Clein and The Broken Hearts.

And then to a month-long season of FEMMES FATALES – the (anti-) heroine of Hollywood’s film noir from the 1940s to the present day, including Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and Chinatown from Roman Polanksi, with Faye Dunaway. This is the largest ever collection of this kind screened at the BFI Southbank – so enjoy devouring its delights!

Salome with music from Bishi

7 March 2009

Marvel at mesmeric lesbian Hollywood icon Alla Nazimova, whilst listening to the vamped up sound of award-winning singer, multi-instrumentalist and DJ: Bishi.

A Fool There Was + The Vampire with Broken Hearts DJs and Jane Gardner

9 March 2009

Theda Bara and Alice Hollister fight over the title of cinema’s first sex symbol in this double-bill of bewitching vampires. With new music from Broken Hearts DJs and pianist Jane Gardner.

The Temptress with music from Natalie Clein

10 March 2009

Greta Garbo stars as a melancholy vamp in an emotional rollercoaster with live musical accompaniment from Classical Brit Award Winning cellist Natalie Clein.

Pandora’s Box with music from The Monroe Transfer

11 March 2009

Iconic and capricious Louise Brooks leads this silent classic, accompanied for the first time by 7 piece band The Monroe Transfer.

Alraune with music from Alison Blunt, with Hanna Marshal and Javier Carmon

12 March 2009

Star of Metropolis Bridgitte Helm stars as a lab-manufactured wonder seeking revenge against her creator. With original music from improvisation-based violinist and vocalist, Alison Blunt.

More details from the festival website.

4 responses

  1. (???) A festival featuring vamps and no Nita Naldi??!! Hmmppphhh!! The Daughters of Naldi object…object, do you hear???

  2. Hi, a brief word from the curators of this season: Nita Naldi appeared on our original shortlist (although this wasn’t at all short!) and we would have loved to include her but prints of her films are not easily available to view. Economics unfortunately played a major part in the selection process – we couldn’t travel abroad to view prints and because the project involves a live-music element we had to take into consideration that the musicians needed access to the films well in advance of the screenings as they are not use to improvising to silent film. We’d definitely agree with the above description of the programme as a vamp introduction. The retrospective is taking place in the context of the women’s film festival – Bird’s Eye View – and we wanted a programme that was relatively accessible for those who might be newcomers to silent film; hence some classics such as Pandora’s Box which is of course shown quite extensively, well at least for silent film! However, films such as Salome, Alraune and The Vampire (the latter is the only film in the programme which we ourselves haven’t seen- we hope it’s worth the risk!) are much more rarely screened and we anticipate that silent film enthusiasts will be excited by these titles. Of course the addition of new scores by young female musicians (with the exception of The Monroe Transfer which is not all female) also makes these films new ‘events’. We feel extraordinarily excited about the musicians on board this year to reinterpret the films. It would be absolutely wonderful to have a more all-embracing (and international) season one day with all the vamp Greats: Marlene Dietrich, Chili Bouchier, Pina Menichelli, Asta Nielsen, Olga Baclanova… Thank you so much for drawing attention to the event in this blog and we hope to see some of you at BFI Southbank next month!
    Best wishes,
    Kelly Robinson and Ingrid Stigsdotter

  3. Don’t take the light joshing of hardened silent film buffs too seriously. You are doing an excellent job, and for audiences most of whom will be discovering these films for the first time – and I know are going to be thrilled by what they see. And Chili Bouchier would be so pleased to see her name listed among vamp greats!

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