Britain can make it

Spot the Urbanora Dog (not a competition, by the way – ah, the old jokes are the best)

Well, how could I possibly resist publishing this iconic image? Anyone who knows your scribe’s nom de plume or particular interest in the exploits of dogs in silent films will no doubt be cheering, and very probably rushing off to book hotels and transportation at the very thought of the legendary Charles Urban-produced film A Canine Sherlock Holmes (1912) turning up at the British Silent Film Festival, which takes place in Cambridge, 19-22 April 2012.

The festival is in its fifteenth year, and being in celebratory mood it has put together a sort of greatest hits programme, which looks remarkably ambitious for a four day event. It is certainly packed with treasures and diverting oddities. The festival started out fifteen years ago as a quaint mix of academic papers and obscure British silents, appealing to a select if dedicated bunch of people. It hit hard times a few years ago, but a shift in programming to feature films with some special events, combining imaginatively selected British silents with world classics looks to have paid dividends. Among the better-known titles in the programme below, there are Turksib, Visage d’Enfants and The Great White Silence, while the Dodge Brothers accompanying Abram Room’s The Ghost that Never Returns is bound to be popular. But let me recommend also The Blackguard, directed by Graham ‘The White Shadow’ Cutts; the programme of Fred Paul’s proto-horror short films (especially The Jest); the modestly pleasing W.W. Jacobs films (including The Head of the Family, filmed in fair Whitstable, the town where I grew up); another Fred Paul film, Lady Windermere’s Fan (not exactly Lubitsch, but well worth watching) and the What the Silent Censor Saw programme, which should show some of those extant films we recently highlighted as having been rejected by the BBFC for screening in the UK. There are tributes to Charles Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse, and more dog-centred entertainment with the tear-jerking feature film Owd Bob (surely the loyal old sheepdog can’t be a killer…?) and a programme of shorts that includes the heartening Dog Outwits the Kidnappers, with Cecil Hepworth’s Rover driving a car with aplomb.

Here’s the full programme.


09.00 – 17.00 Registration (Arts Picture House)

10.30 The Bachelor’s Baby (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Romantic comedy about a bachelor who discovers an abandoned baby whilst on a motorcycle tour of the Lake District. Uncertain of what to do with the foundling, he hands it to a retired captain living next door to his unrequited childhood sweetheart and her young niece. Meanwhile, assuming it stolen, the child’s mother and an array of interfering busy-bodies set out to look for the child in a series of comic interludes, mistaken identities and baby swaps. Does the mother want the baby back and what of the attractive niece who catches the eye of the eponymous bachelor?

Dir: Arthur Rooke. With: Malcolm Tod, Tom Reynolds, Peggy Woodward, Constance Worth, Haidie Wright. GB 1922, 67mins.


Ordeal by Golf
The first of our P.G. Wodehouse golfing tales about two golfers and their ‘eternal caddy’, a man who supplements his income by stealing ‘lost’ balls and selling them back to their original owners. Inevitably, golf is much more than just a game here and when an elderly boss seeks to appoint a new company treasurer, he challenges the two potential candidates to a golfing match as ‘the only way to judge a man’s true character’. But is beating the boss really such a good idea?

Dir: Andrew P Wilson. With: Harry Beasley. GB 1924, 26mins

13.15 The Only Way (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
The final major Dickens adaptation of the silent era, The Only Way is a lavish adaptation of the popular stage play of the same name, itself a rather free adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Produced and directed by the ambitious Herbert Wilcox, it stars legendary theatre actor-manager Sir John Martin Harvey as Sydney Carton, the English advocate who is given the chance to redeem his wasted life by saving the life of his near double, a French aristocrat in exile from revolutionary France threatened with the guillotine.

Dir: Herbert Wilcox. With: John Martin-Harvey, Ben Webster, Madge Stuart, Jean Jay. GB 1926, 107mins

13.30 Young Woodley (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
One of the most impressive and sensitively directed British films of the late silent era, Young Woodley is based on John Van Druten’s controversial stage play of 1925 which had already fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain. Its the story of a dreamy young college boy who falls for the Headmaster’s wife, the beautiful Laura Simmons (Madeleine Carroll), herself trapped in a stale marriage. Originally shot in 1928 as a full-blooded silent, (the version screened here), the film remained unreleased until 1930 when it was refashioned into an early sound feature. Somewhat reminiscent of both Tea and Sympathy and The Browning Version, this little seen gem is more than deserving of a much belated reappraisal.

Dir: Thomas Bentley. With: Frank Lawton, Madeleine Carroll, Sam Livesey, Aubrey Mather

GB 1928, 1hr 33mins

Plus Young Woodley Sound Trailer. 1930. 3.5mins

15.30 Grand Guignol – The Last Appeal + The Jest + A Game for Two (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
Fred Paul’s Grand Guignol short films, A Game for Two, The Jest, The Gentle Doctor and The Last Appeal stand out for their remarkable plots, all with a cruel twist in the tale, and their fatalistic atmosphere. Fred Paul himself declared ‘I attempt to show life as it really is, its sordidness and cruelty; the diabolical humour of the destiny we call fate, which plays with us as it will, raises us to high places or drags us to the gutter; allows one man to rob the widows and orphans of their all and makes a criminal of the starving wretch who in his misery has stolen a mouthful of bread. The four surviving short films are here presented with a script by Michael Eaton.

Dir Fred Paul: GB 1921. Running time approx 70mins

17.30 The Boatswain’s Mate + A Will and a Way (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
At the Beehive Inn, the widowed landlady Mrs Waters has no shortage of gentlemen admirers willing to ‘marry a pub’. But she wants to marry an ‘ero and pub regular George sets out to prove himself by rescuing her from a fake burglary which he stages with an itinerant Victor Maclagen, who turns up looking for work. But the plan goes awry when the feisty landlady proves that she’s more than a match for either of them.

Dir: Manning Haynes. With: Florence Turner, Victor Maclagen, Johnny Butt. GB 1924,26 mins.


A Will and a Way
In the peaceful village of Claybury a wedding takes place and two locals set the scene for this delightful romantic comedy when they announce ‘This be a rare place for a wedding. Not as the gals be better lookin’ than others – they be sharper’. Meanwhile the recently deceased, Sportin’ Green, leaves his fortune to his nephew Foxy on the proviso that he marries the first woman to ask him. Cue an array of fortune-seeking widows, elderly spinsters and men in drag, all vying to pop the question first and a series of hilarious interludes with echoes of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances.

Dir: Manning Haynes. With Ernest Hendry, Johnny Butt, Cynthia Murtagh, Charles Ashton. GB 1922, 45mins

19.00 Gala Screening – Visages D’Enfants (Faces of Children) (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 1)
An astounding portrait of tragedy from one of the founding masters of French poetic realism and filmed through the eyes of a young boy haunted by the death of his mother. Set in a Swiss alpine community the film opens with her funeral and deals with the aftermath as the boy, brilliantly played by child actor Jean Forest, tries to come to terms with this life-changing event, his own grief and the prospect of a new stepmother and sister. Compared to Truffaut’s 400 Blows in its sympathy for the child’s eye view, historian Jean Mitry could give no higher accolade when he said, ‘If I could select only one film from the entire French production of the 1920s, surely it is Faces of Children that I would save’ .

Dir: Jacques Feyder.With: Jean Forest, Victor Vina, Arlette Pevran, Henri Duval. France 1925, 114mins


09.00 New Discoveries: (The Ones that got away) Tony Fletcher (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A tantalising programme of rare Edwardian short films selected and presented by long-term Festival collaborator Tony Fletcher, and displaying the rich diversity held in the BFI National Archive. This selection includes comedies such as The Cheekiest Man on Earth (1908) and A New Hat for Nothing (1910), Arthur Melbourne Cooper’s mechanical animation Road Hogs in Toyland (1911), moral tales like A Great Temptation (1906), visual spectacles such as Wonders of the Geomatograph (1910) and Pageant of New Romney (1910) an early colour experiment by pioneer G.A. Smith, to the Edison Company’s adaptation of the Tennyson poem Lady Clare (1912) filmed at Arundel Castle.

Presented by Tony Fletcher

Dir: Various. Running time 85mins

11.00 – 12.30 The Woman’s Portion – IWM event (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A fascinating programme of films about women’s contribution during the Great War, including recruitment films for the Land Army and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, propaganda films encouraging the use of National Kitchens and extolling the virtues of frugality. The programme includes the recently restored version of c1918 fictionalised propaganda film The Woman’s Portion about the need for women to accept separation from, and loss of, their husbands fighting on the Front. The IWM has recently re-edited, tinted and provided a new piano score by the composer, Ian Lynn.

Programme will be presented by Matt Lee and Toby Haggith

Dir: Various. GB 1917-1918. Running time approx 80mins

11.00 Tansy (Emmanuel College)
Alma Taylor stars as Tansy, a shepherd girl caught up in a love triangle between two brothers which results in her eviction from her beloved farm. Played out against the backdrop of the beautiful Sussex Downs, and based on a popular novel of the time by Tickner Edwardes, the film displays all the pictorial beauty and naturalism for which Hepworth was renowned. Tansy was a lucky survivor among Hepworth’s feature films when the majority of his work was seized and tragically melted down following his bankruptcy.

Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth. With: Alma Taylor, James Carew, Gerald Ames, Hugh Clifton. GB 1921, 63 mins

13.30 The Long Hole + The Clicking of Cuthbert (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Two classics from P.G. Wodehouse’s golfing tales here presented with readings from the original stories. Originally presented in 6 parts The Clicking of Cuthbert was the first. Set in the suburban paradise of Wood Hills where two rival camps, The Golfers and The Cultured, vie for supremacy. When Cuthbert is forced to retrieve a ball, accidentally smashed a ball through the window into a literary society meeting, he falls for the charms of the cultured poetess Adeline. But she wants an intellectual, so Cuthbert attends readings of Soviet ‘misery lit’ by a famous visiting Bolshevik in the hope of becoming one. But when the Bolshevik announces his own love of golf, the Cultured Adeline is forced to rethink her own prejudices against the game.


The Long Hole
Two rival golfers compete for the attention of an attractive young woman, each convinced that they would stand a chance if the other were out of the way. So they decide to settle the matter with a round of golf comprising a single hole, teeing off from first green and ending in the doorway of the Majestic Hotel the following day. But en route, the pair are forced to play fast and loose with the rules as they deal with the mud of an English summer and balls accidentally chipped into motorcars and boats. What a pity that neither of them had considered whether the object of their mutual desire was interested in them.

Dir: Andrew P. Wilson. With Roger Keyes, Harry Beasley, Charles Courtneidge, Daphne Williams. GB 1924, 25mins/32mins

13.30 The Lure of Crooning Water (Emmanuel College)
Romance and melodrama mingle in this tale of a city seductress who lures a farmer away from his wife and family. Ivy Duke plays a famous actress ordered by her doctor-lover to take a rest cure at the idyllic Crooning Water Farm. But she’s unable to resist flirting with the unworldly farmer (Guy Newall) under the nose of his hard-working wife who can do little to distract him from her spoilt love-rival. The British countryside has never looked more glorious and there are some comedy moments –including the ‘smoking baby’ sequence. The film was a critical success on its release with Kinematograph Weekly proclaiming it as ‘a triumph for the British producer. It disposes once and for all the ridiculous argument that good films cannot be made in this country’.

Dir: Arthur Rooke. Starring: Guy Newall, Ivy Duke, Douglas Munro, Mary Dibley. GB 1920 104mins

15.30 The Head of the Family (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Set in a Kentish seafaring community, Mrs Green is horribly bullied by her second husband who threatens to sell off the family home that belonged to her son, who was lost at sea and presumed dead. But when the despairing woman meets a friendly sailor looking for lodgings, the two hatch a plan to thwart her husband’s schemes by pretending that the young man is her long-lost son, back to claim his place at The Head of the Family. The locations are a delight and the cinematography praised by contemporary critics who claimed that W.W. Jacobs, with his international reputation, would be enough to draw the crowds – a poignant reminder of how popular tastes in literature have changed.

Dir: Manning Haynes. Starring Johnny Butt, Daisy England, Charles Ashton, Moore Marriott. GB 1922 73 mins


Rough Seas Around British Coasts
A mesmerizing actuality film displaying the power of high tides and rough seas.

GB, 1929, 9 mins

15.30 Lady Windermere’s Fan (Emmanuel College)
The first film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic satire on Victorian marriage and society. Lady Windermere, convinced that her husband is being unfaithful with a certain Mrs Erlynne, is further distressed to discover that the ‘other woman’ has been invited to her birthday ball. So she embarks on her own affair to get even. But all is not what it seems and, Mrs Erlynne sacrifices her own reputation to save Lord and Lady Windermere’s marriage with the final plot revelation, explaining her motives.

Dir: Fred Paul. With: Milton Rosmer, Irene Rooke, Nigel Playfair, Netta Westcott. GB 1916, 72 mins

17.30 What the Silent Censor Saw! (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
To celebrate 100 years of film classification by the BBFC we look at the history of this remarkable institution and its decision making processes. Featuring clips from films illustrating various censorship issues – sex, drugs and bullfighting as well as the wonderful Adrian Brunel spoof, Cut it Out: a Day in the Life of a film Censor.

Introduced by Lucy Betts of the BBFC and Bryony Dixon of the BFI

Dir: various. Running time approx. 90mins.

17.30 The Man Without Desire (Emmanuel College)
Adrian Brunel’s first feature film is a fascinating curio, filmed on location in Venice, bearing hallmarks of German Expressionism and shifting between the 18th and 20th Centuries. Novello’s other-worldly beauty and sexual ambiguity is perfect for the role of Count Vittorio Dandolo, an 18th Century Venetian nobleman, put into a state of suspended animation following the murder of his lover, who is revived into the present with unexpected consequences.

Dir: Adrian Brunel. With Ivor Novello, Nina Vanno, Sergio Mari, Christopher Walker. GB 1923, 107mins

19.15 The First Born – Gala Screening (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 1)
With new musical score from Stephen Horne

A tour de force of late silent filmmaking and a heady mix of politics, infidelity, sex and passion, The First Born was adapted by Miles Mander from his own novel and play with a script by Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchcock’s talented wife. It concerns the relationship between Sir Hugh Boycott (Mander) and his young bride Madeleine, sensitively played by a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll. Their passionate relationship founders when she fails to produce an heir. The print has recently been fully restored by the BFI National Archive with its original delicate tinting.

Dir: Miles Mander. With: Miles Mander, Madeleine Carroll, John Loder. GB 1928, 88mins.


09.00 Livingstone (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A rare screening of this fascinating biopic starring actor, director and explorer M.A. Wetherell in the title role. The film traces Livingstone’s physical and spiritual journey from his humble Scottish home to Africa and his fight against slavery. Wetherell travelled over 25,000 miles to produce the film, which is largely shot on location in the places visited by Livingstone with the indigenous African Tribes people playing themselves. The film was highly praised on its release for combining drama, sensitive performances with stunning scenery and travelogue. The Cinema News and Property Gazette stated, ‘The picture was warmly received at its Albert Hall presentation last week, and the audience seemed particularly pleased with the magnificent views of the Victoria Falls. As for the crocodiles, no disciple of Ufa could have made them more terrible or more worthy to be respected’ It is here presented in the only known extant 16mm print courtesy of the Archive Film Agency.

Dir: M.A. Wetherell. With M.A. Wetherell, Molly Rogers, Douglas Cator, Robson Paige. GB 1926, 62mins

Presented in association with the Archive Film Agency

09.00 Mist in the Valley (Emmanuel College)
Produced and directed by Cecil Hepworth, based on the original novel by Dorin Craig, this is a story of a lonely heiress, played by Alma Taylor, who runs away from an unhappy home. She meets her future husband whilst destitute and they soon marry. However, their happiness is short-lived as her father is murdered and our heroine becomes the prime suspect! A Courtroom drama ensues with an unexpected twist at the end.

Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth. With Alma Taylor, G.H. Mulcaster, James Carew, Esme Hubbard. UK, 1923 75mins

11.00 Fun Before the Footlights: The Origins of Undergraduate Humour (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
The British tradition of absurdist humour didn’t start with The Goons, Pete and Dud, or Monty Python – not by a long chalk. The slightly silly antics of the so-called intelligentsia are to be found in a series of short films of the 1920s which delight in anti establishment cheek and a desire to take the **** out of cinema itself (outrageous!) with a pastiche travelogue, a bogus newsreel (the Typical Budget) and a send up of the Censor himself. With an introduction by Jo Botting (BFI)

Dir: various. Running time 90mins

11.00 Family Matinee – Silent film fun with Animal Stars (Arts Picture House)
The Artist’s ‘Uggie’ proved how important it is to have a clever dog in your silent movie and we’ve got a kennel full – driving cars, doing tricks and getting their owners out of scrapes along with assorted parrots, monkeys, horses, insects and goodness knows what else – fun silent comedies for the whole family with films from crime-fighting dogs in 1906 to Charley Chase trying to bath a Great Dane in 1927, all introduced, explained and accompanied by Neil Brand.

Dir: various. Running time approx 80mins

13.30 Fante Anna (Gypsy Anna) (Emmanuel College)
Presented in association with The Norwegian Film Institute and Lillehammer University

One of the great films of the Norwegian silent canon, starring Asta Nielsen, one of the greatest actresses of the period. Anna, a gipsy child is discovered in the arms of her dead mother by a farmhand and adopted by the Storleins, his employers. But Anna (Nielson) grows into a wild child, constantly getting her step brother into trouble, until mother Storlein can take no more and Anna is forced to leave. As the years pass, Anna falls in love with her step brother, but Jon, the farmhand has also fallen for Anna. Their fate is bound together and one of the rivals will be forced to save her life. This newly restored film is here presented by composer Halldor Krogh whose new symphonic music score will be played with the film.

Dir: Rasmus Breistein. With Asta Nielsen, Einar Tveito, Johanne Bruhn Norway 1920

15.30 The Bohemian Girl (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Based on William Balfe’s operetta of the same name, Knoles’ lavish production stars Ivor Novello as Thaddeus, an exiled Polish officer who joins a gypsy community in Bohemia to escape the Austrian military. Here he meets and falls in love with Arline, a young woman of noble birth stolen as a baby and brought up as a gypsy. But the Queen of the Gypsies has also fallen in love with Thaddeus and, jealous of the younger woman, she has Arline arrested for theft. Notable for its cast of theatrical luminaries, and with a tantalizing and rare glimpse of Helen Terry, the film was praised for its staging, but criticized for its overall lack of drama.

Dir: Harley Knoles. Starring Ivor Novello, Ellen Terry, Gladys Cooper, Constance Collier. GB 1922, 70mins.

15.30 The Great White Silence (Emmanuel College)
In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led what he hoped would be the first successful team to reach the South Pole. But the expedition also had a complex (and completely genuine) scientific brief. Scott’s decision to include a cameraman in his expedition team was a remarkable one for its time, and it is thanks to his vision – and to Herbert Ponting’s superb eye – that, a century later, we have an astonishing visual account of his tragic quest. The film built on Ponting’s lecture, introducing intertitles, as well as his own stills, maps, portraits and paintings, to create a narrative of the tragic events. The film was lavishly restored by the BFI National Archive in 2010 for the centenary of the expedition with original tints and tones and a newly commissioned score by Simon Fisher-Turner.

Dir: Herbert G. Ponting. With: Capt. Robert Falcon Scott. GB 1924, 108mins.

17.30 A Couple of Down and Outs (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
In this timely reprise for the War Horse of its day, a man recognizes the horse that he cared for on the battlefields of the First World War as it is being led off to the knackers yard. Man and horse go on the run in a beautifully told tale of official brutality and individual compassion. Print courtesy of the EYE Film Institute Amsterdam.

Dir. Walter Summers. With: Rex Davis, Edna Best. GB 1923, 64mins

19.00 Turksib – Gala Screening (Emmanuel College)
With live music from Bronnt Industries Kapital

This masterpiece of Soviet film making describes the construction of the great Turkestan-Siberia railway as it progresses 1445km through the vast Steppes and deserts of Kazakhstan. The railway was one of the great achievements of the Soviet Five Year Plan and Turin’s film captures the revolutionary fervour of the endeavour with it’s symphonic form and rhythms, backed up by Bronnt Industries fabulous new score. ‘A lyrical, humane, superbly edited masterpiece’ The Guardian.

Dir: Viktor Turin, USSR 1929, 78mins

21.00 Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow – Gala Screening (Emmanuel College)
A cornucopia of short films from the acclaimed BFI DVD release, Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow, featuring a century of folk customs and ancient rural games from mummers and morris dancers, to extreme sports and village customs. The programme will include some of the earliest known film footage of English folk traditions from around the country, some collected by pioneer folk revivalist Cecil Sharp in 1911. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by renowned musicians, concertina player Rob Harbron with Miranda Rutter on fiddle in what promises to be a unique and unmissable event.

Dir: various. GB. Total running time approx 80mins.


09.00 The Blackguard (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Based on Raymond Paton’s 1923 novel about a penniless and wounded violinist who saves a young Russian princess from execution during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The film was shot at UFA’s Babelsberger Studios in Germany as a co-production with Gainsborough, and is noteworthy for Hitchcock’s contribution as Art Director. The Blackguard is a good example of big 1920s European film making with impressive crowd scenes, and it never looks less than fabulous.

Dir: Graham Cutts. With Jane Novak, Walter Rilla, Frank Stanmore. GB/Germany 1925. 80mins

09.15 Owd Bob (Emmanuel College)
Taken from the novel by Alfred Ollivant, Edwards’ charming film is a tale of love and rivalry in the Cumbrian hills. With his loyal dog Bob close by his side, young farmer James Moore is new to the valley, much to the annoyance of long-standing land owner Adam McAdam. However, real trouble comes to this close-knit community with the discovery of the bodies of savagely killed sheep. Acrimony and accusations ensue causing a deep set family feud. Who is to blame? Could Bob really be the culprit? Featuring some evocative location photography of the Lake District.

Dir: Henry Edwards. With: Ralph Forbes, James Carew, J. Fisher. GB 1924 68mins

11.00 Ask the Experts – Silent film in the 21st century (Emmanuel College)
The worldwide success of The Artist has focused attention on silent cinema like never before. Will this phenomenon translate into greater interest in silent film? Or is it in fact the result of increased interest in silent cinema rather than a cause? In this panel session specialists from the ‘British Silent Film Festival’, explain their passion for silent film, look at other examples of silent film in the 21st century and trace the development of silent film in the 20th century to explain its enduring appeal. Here is your chance to find out all you ever wanted to know about silent film, but never dared ask.

11.00 The Golden Butterfly/Der Goldene Schmetterling (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
The final of our P.G. Wodehouse silent film adaptations is an altogether different affair from his golfing tales and this time, directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz before his migration to Hollywood. This is the story of a young restaurant cashier (Damita) who longs to be a dancer and each evening after work, she heads off to practice. One day she meets a handsome impresario who promises to make her a star, so she abandons her job and the boss who has fallen in love with her. But things go horribly wrong when an accident at the London Coliseum threatens to ruin her life. Some scenes were filmed on location in Cambridge.

Dir: Michael Curtiz. With: Lily Damita, Jack Trevor, Hermann Leffler, Nils Asther. Germany 1926, 95mins

13.30 Short films from Desmet Collection at EYE – Netherlands (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A cornucopia of delights from the Desmet Collection held in the Netherlands Film Archive. This selection of British shorts includes Didums and the Bathing Machine in which the eponymous nightmare-child torments a hapless bather by stealing his clothes and the mad-cap Tilly girls in Tilly in a Boarding House. Also featuring are, A Canine Sherlock Holmes, Charley Smiler is Robbed, The Adventures of P.C.Sharpe and Picture Palace Pie Cans.

Dir: various. Running time approx 80mins

13.30 Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul (Emmanuel College)
A sensitive adaptation of H G Wells gentle comedy of social manners with a near perfect, and totally natural performance by George K Arthur (which was praised by Charlie Chaplin who attended the preview with H G Wells himself) in the lead role. Other things to enjoy are the nicely photographed seaside locations, the performance by the director’s wife, Edna Flugrath who plays the girl next door despite being clearly too old for the younger Ann, and the intriguing possibility that Josef Von Sternberg was involved with the production. He was certainly in London assisting Shaw around this time.

Dir. Harold Shaw. With: George K Arthur, Edna Flugrath, Teddy Arundell. GB 1921, 88mins

15.30 The Annual Rachael Low Lecture – Britain could make it! (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
Fifteen years of British Silents discoveries, and why we need to dig further into the mysterious ‘teens .

When the British Silent Festival began fifteen years ago, very little was known or seen from the silent era in British production beyond Hitchcock. Now silent film is booming, and it’s clear that Britain had some outstanding talents, even though many of the films are lost. In this Rachael Low lecture, Ian Christie will be looking back at some of the festival’s discoveries, and taking a closer look at the period we still know least about – the mysterious ‘teens.

Ian Christie is a film historian, critic and curator, who teaches at Birkbeck College and regularly appears in television coverage of film history. He wrote the BBC Centenary of Cinema series, The Last Machine, presented by Terry Gilliam, and curated the BFI DVD of Robert Paul’s collected films.

17.30 The Ghost that Never Returns with the Dodge Brothers (West Road Concert Hall)
In an unnamed South American country, Jose Real is jailed for his activism at an oil refinery. Exasperated at his power and his popularity with the prison inmates, the authorities decide to eliminate him by promising him one day’s freedom and then sending an assassin to follow him. Together they ride trains and track across desert landscapes in a deadly game of cat and mouse which only one can survive. The movie looks and feels like a piece of Americana directed by Wim Wenders – and that is how the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand have scored it. Following on from their triumphant score for ‘Beggars of Life’ the Dodges return to breathe rhythmic life into a classic of Soviet cinema full of moving characters and striking visuals, a movie you may never have heard of but, after seeing it, one you will never forget.

“There are those rare moments in life where you are privileged to bear witness to a unique event, this, for me was one of them. Should they saddle up and recreate this triumph at any time in the future, then my advice to anyone, is buy your ticket early.”

Dir: Abram Room; With B. Ferdinandov, Olga Zhizneva, Maksim Stralikh. USSR 1929. Performance will last approx 80mins.

20.30 Highlights of the British Silent Film – Closing Event (The Varsity Hotel – Rooftop)
Over the past 14 years the British Silent Film Festival has uncovered a host of fascinating films almost unknown by the British public – this selection of feature films, actualities, animations, comedies, adverts local films, travelogues, nature and exploration film aims to inspire you to know more about the first 35 years of your film heritage. With live music from the best silent film accompanists in the world.

More information, as always, on the festival website.

You too can be a silent film director

When the Silent Film Director app for the iPhone was released a year or so ago, we noted it in passing and gave it no further thought. Just another gimmicky smartphone app – in this case one which converted your videos into faux silents with sepia tone, scratches and intertitles – and not likely to make much of an impact.

Well, a year or so on, and Silent Film Director has turned out to be a cult hit. More thought has gone into to development than you might have expected, with respected silent film musician Ben Model serving as consultant. News stories regularly come down the wires that indicate its growing popularity, demonstrated not least by the number of videos produced in the format which are to be found on YouTube. Most are pretty much what you would expect, inconsequential home movies with a dash of tomfoolery, but there is clearly something about the time travel effect that converting 2012 into 1922 at the push of a button that appeals, and which has played its part, we suspect, in the increased appreciation of silent film generally which we cannot help but notice.

Some day someone will be able to write a thesis on the connection between The Artist and Silent Film Director in relation to the rebirth of silent films, but meanwhile things have come to their logical conclusion and we have the first iPhone Silent Film Festival, put on by MacPhun, the developers of Silent Film Director. Budding Hazanaviciuses have until May 28th to submit a video of up to three minutes in length, using the app. The rules are simple, and supplied in suitable style:

You don’t have to shoot your film with your iPhone, just use the app to edit and upload the results. The competition is open to anyone worldwide. Winners will be announced on June 1st, and there are weekly winners as well, with prizes including tickets to see Napoleon in San Francisco, which is commendably imaginative of them. You can view the videos on the Silent Film Director YouTube channel, from which we have picked the video at the top of this post because (a) it’s the first silent film we’ve seen with Barack Obama; (b) by who knows what design there happens to be a poster for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in the background; (c) the footage is taken from 24-hour channel Russia Today, of all sources; and (d) it’s quite fun (the music is from that regular source for silent film music online,

(Apologies for the reduced activity from The Bioscope of late. We are busy with other matters, though we try to keep the news service active. Plus we’re working on one of those long posts which require far too much research.)

Pordenone promises

Oliver (Jackie Coogan) meets the Artful Dodger (Edouard Trebaol) in Oliver Twist (1922), from

It’s nine months away, but for those of you planning your year ahead, it’s well worth noting the programme for the Pordenone silent film festival, for which quite a lot of detail has been advertised already. The festival takes place 6-13 October, and very interesting the lead theme is Charles Dickens, whose bicentenary the world is celebrating. The Giornate del Cinema Muto normally goes in for programmes on performers, filmmakers or national output, but a couple of years ago it broke the mould with its Sherlock Holmes and related detectives strand, and now Dickens is the main attraction for the 31st festival. It’s a welcome widening of the festival’s approach.

Other strands promised are rediscovered Italian films from the Komiya Collection of Tokyo and the Desmet Collection of Amsterdam, the Ukranian/Swedish acress Anna Sten (the rival to Garbo who never quite was, but someone you sense is ripe for rediscovery), German animation (Lotte Reiniger, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann etc), more once again from Australia’s excellent Corrick collection of early films, and the Canon Revisited strand of classics more read about than seen by most, such as Storm over Asia, Ménilmontant and Hands Up! Here are descriptions of some of the strands from the Pordenone site:

During the silent era about a hundred films were made from the works of Charles Dickens. These were produced, not only in his native country and in the USA, unsurprisingly, but also by companies from Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Russia and, especially, in Denmark. What further proof is needed of the international popularity of these stories and characters, the importance of these writings on the development of cinematic story-telling and the influence of this work on the greatest of film-makers: Griffith, Chaplin, Eisenstein? For Dickens has been adapted for cinema and subsequently for television arguably more than any other great writer. Many of these early productions are now, unfortunately, lost; nevertheless, nearly a third of the silent films can still be found in archives throughout the world.

Dickens was born in 1812 and, during his bicentennial year, the continuing significance of the greatest English novelist will be celebrated throughout the world. So it is entirely appropriate that in 2012 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto should present a programme dedicated to silent versions of this great body of work. An extensive retrospective will include both rarely seen films and some that have recently been restored. The earliest extant adaptation is Scrooge, Or Marley’s Ghost, R.W. Paul’s version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ made in 1901, in which cinematic ‘special effects’ had to be mobilised to represent the temporal and psychological complexities of the original story. The last Dickens silent was The Only Way, Herbert Wilcox’s version of ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ made in 1925, providing today’s spectator with an insight into the acting and staging techniques of late 19th century theatre. In between there are films from companies such as Gaumont, Vitagraph, Edison, Thanhouser, Hepworth and from directors such as Walter Booth, J. Stuart Blackton, Maurice Elvey, Marton Garas, Frank Lloyd. Some might object that these are of varying quality. Taken together, however, they chart a history of developing approaches to cinematic adaptations of literary texts. Perhaps the most exciting revelation in this bicentennial year will be long-awaited restorations of A.W. Sandberg’s Danish films for Nordisk which lovers of both Dickens and the silent screen will finally be able to assess. Eisenstein went so far as to claim that the very prose style of Dickens somehow prefigured the language of cinematic narration. In 2012 we look forward to engaging with this fruitful, contentious assertion.

The 31st Giornate del Cinema Muto will further pursue its mission to retrieve long lost masterworks of Italian cinema. Italian film history is documented better than any other, but a comparatively small proportion of the actual works are known to audiences. We are working both with Italian archives and the great international collections to retrieve works that have lain, often unrecognized, in the vaults. Last year Pordenone audiences saw hitherto unseen Italian films restored by the archives of Amsterdam, Rome and Turin. This year we are privileged to have the first sight of the Italian treasures from the Komiya Collection of Tokyo, opened up to the West for the first time in Pordenone, and a further instalment of the extensive Italian holdings of the Desmet Collection of Amsterdam.

ANNA STEN (1908-1993)
Swedish actress who was known as “the Russian Garbo”. With a startlingly photogenic beauty and a wide dramatic range that easily took in comedy and high drama, she was lucky or shrewd in always choosing fine directors and highly original subjects. This complete retrospective includes her debut in Boris Barnet’s classic comedy The Girl with the Hatbox, and Yakov Protazanov’s The White Eagle, in which Sten appears alongside two of the most legendary figures of Russian theatre, Vasili Kachalov and Vsevolod Meyerhold. Most remarkable is the international premiere of the rediscovered My Son, for 80 years believed lost, and directed by Yevgeni Chervyakov, long forgotten but now recognized as one of the most original and influential masters of the Soviet cinema. Sten’s last silent film, Lohnbuchhalter Kremke was shown, to an enthusiastic critical reception, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in January 2011. Sten was subsequently taken to Hollywood by Sam Goldwyn, who planned to make her a star to eclipse Garbo and Dietrich. Her accent was against her, and though it lasted until 1964, her Hollywood career was undistinguished.

At the 2012 Giornate del Cinema Muto, the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin will present two programs of German silent animation films. In Germany, animation received its initial boost with propaganda films made to support the war effort in World War I. The post-war period saw a proliferation of animation artists, and in the 1920s the variety of animation techniques used was greatly extended: hand-drawn, stop-motion with models, cut silhouette, experiments with molten wax. Avant-garde artists like Walter Ruttmann and Hans Richter used animation techniques for groundbreaking abstract films. Most animation films however were made for a rather baser reason: to sell things. Yet the illustrators involved in making animated commercials succeeded in creating elegant, humorous little masterpieces that often quite transcend their original purpose. The Pordenone programs illustrate a wide selection of animation and colouring techniques, with work by the famous masters like Hans Fischerkoesen and Lotte Reiniger alongside lesser-known but no less gifted graphic artists.

All praise to the Pordenone people for unveiling so much of the programme so early, but such promises do help for those who need to plan ahead – especially those wondering whether to make 2012 the first year that they visit the festival. Already it would seem to be more than worth your while.

For your diaries

Audience at the Giornate del cinema muto, Pordenone

Well folks, in just a few days it will be 2012, and it is time once again for our annual round-up of what is scheduled to be happening in the silent film world over the next twelve months. You can find further details about the conferences and festivals coming up in the relevant blog sections for these, while our calendar lists all that’s coming up in one handy place. We are considering a reorganiation of the site in the near future, but for the time being those sections remain.

OK, and it will come as a surprise to no one that things kick off with January. The Slapstick festival in Bristol, UK, returns 26-29th, with its traditional mixture of silent comedy classics and present-day TV and radio comedians. StummFilmMusikTage, the annual festival of silent films held in Erlangen, Germany, also takes place in January, though no dates have been given as yet.

February is going to have special interest for the silent film world as the Academy Awards take place on the 26th, and we’ll all be rooting for The Artist just so that we can tell everyone we’ve been backing the right horse all along. The Kansas Silent Film Festival takes place at Topeka, Kansas on 24-25th (no programme announced as yet).

March looks busy, with Cinefest, the annual collectors’ festival at Syracuse, New York, taking place 15-18th – no programme as yet, but bookings begin in January; the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Scotland’s first silent film festival now in its second year, to be held in Bo’ness, 16-18th; another relative newcomer, the Toronto Silent Film Festival, to be held 29th March-3rd April; and the twelfth Festival du film muet in Servion Switzerland, 29th March-1st April. With any luck, the Kilruddery Silent Film Festival should be returning this month, held in Bray, Ireland. Finally, there will be the major event of the first US screenings with orchestra of the fully restored Napoléon at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA, 24-25th, 31st and 1st April.

Spring will then be upon us, and April will see the British Silent Film Festival moving venue once again, this time to the Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, 19th-22nd- though officially both dates and venue remain provisional for now.

Then comes May, when we shall see the classic film convention Cinevent taking place at Columbus, Ohio, though no exact dates as yet. We do have dates for France’s Festival d’Anères, however, still going strong in Hautes-Pyrénées, 23rd-27th – or at least, we hope so, because just at present their website is down.

June will bring us the twelfth international Domitor conference, taking place in early cinema’s spiritual home, Brighton, UK, 25-28th [Update: dates are now 18-22 June], on the theme of ‘Performing New Media, 1890-1915’. There’s going to be something of a dilemma for some, as Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival, for many specialists an essential part of their year, runs virtually parallel to Domitor, over 23rd-30th, with special features on Raoul Walsh, Lois Weber and the regular Films from 100 Years Ago all promised so far. 29th June-1st July will see the fifteenth annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, at Fremont, California, marking the centenary of Broncho Billy Anderson coming to Niles.

In July the sun is hot (is it shining? not it’s not). Aside from the sunshine, there will be the Olympic Games in the UK (27th July-12th August), and we’ll endeavour to have suitably Olympic things happening on the Bioscope as well. For those elsewhere, there will be the San Francisco Silent Film Festival taking place 12-15th; or else look out (hopefully) for something eye-catching once again from Babylon Kino’s StummfilmLiveFestival in Berlin this month. In 2011 Slapsticon, the annual silent and early sound film comedy festival traditionally held in Arlington, Virginia, was cancelled – we await news of what will happen this year.

Few silent film events have announced their dates as far ahead as August, though New York’s Capitolfest, scheduled for 10-12th, and Finland’s Mykkäelokuvafestivaalit, or the Forssa Silent Film Festival, is taking place 31st August-1st September. Festivals generally held this month are Strade del Cinema, held at Aosta, Italy; Jornada Brasileira de Cinema Silencioso in São Paulo, Brazil; Bonner Sommerkino, in Bonn, Germany; and the International Silent Film Festival held in Manila, Philippines. No dates or details for any of these as yet.

And then we will find ourselves in September, and ready for a particularly busy month. No dates announced as yet, but we should be getting Cinecon, the annual classic film festival held in Hollywood; New Zealand’s charming Opitiki Silent Film Festival; the Toronto Urban Film Festival of one-minute modern silent films, held in Toronto, Canada; Sydney, Australia’s Australia's Silent Film Festival (though this could turn up at any point between September and December, judging by past form); the Annual Buster Keaton Celebration held in Iola, Kansas, USA; and Cinesation, the silent and early sound film festival held in Massillon, Ohio, USA.

After all that, what might October hold? Why, Pordenone of course. The Giornate del Cinema Muto takes place 6-13th. Nothing else would dare to think even for a moment of clashing with it, and as things stand it has the month to itself.

November and December don’t seem to have anything fixed, though the Bielefelder Film+MusikFest in Germany and Poland’s Festival of Silent Films, held in Krakow and organised by Kino Pod Baranami, generally occur around this time.

If you know of other major silent films events – as opposd to individual screenings or general festivals with some silents included – do let me know. Hopefully there will be more than just the one conference happening in 2012, while the festivals all deserve your patronage. They take a lot of time, effort and money to put on, they are organised by people who believe passionately in the importance of what they do, and festivals remain the place where the real discoveries are made and silent film history is renewed and refreshed. Hope to see you at one or more such events in 2012.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 36

Spot the difference

It is hard for any news provider to offer a full service at Christmas time, but even harder for the person trying to document silent films when there is only one story on everyone’s minds. The newsfeeds are choc-a-bloc with reviews of The Artist and thought pieces on what it all means when a silent film gets made in 2011. Part of the same silent mania is Martin Scorsese’s cine-nostalgic Hugo, and it only takes two films on a broadly similar theme for the world to discover a trend and seek to explain it. But we shall do our best to report what is worth reporting. And so we start with …

Silent films after The Artist and Hugo
Daniel Eagen at the Smithsonian’s rather fine Reel Culture blog takes a wry look at the impassioned debates both The Artist and Hugo have caused, viewing with amusement both those instant experts on silents who have hitched onto the bandwagon and the ‘film geeks’ who are agonising over the fine details. What is it that is so different about silent films? Eagen suggests that there probably isn’t anything different at all. Maybe they are just films, much like films of today. Read more.

Toronto Silent Film Festival
The schedule for the Toronto Silent Films Festival (one of the newer festivals out there) has been published. Lined up include Clara Bow in Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Murnau’s Tabu (1931), Rudoph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922) and E.A. Dupont’s much-cited but not all that often seen Variety (1925). The festival runs 29 March-3 April 2012. Read more.

The birth of promotion
New York Public Library is currently hosting an exhibition on promotional and distibution materials from the silent era, entitled “The Birth of Promotion: Inventing Film Publicity in the Silent-Film Era”. The exhibition runs until January and has a cheerful promotional video. The New York Times has a fine survey of the exhibition and history its documents. Read more.

Life in the air
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley are putting on a series of silent films devoted to aviation in its broadest sense. “Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air” takes place 23-26 February 2012 and has been imaginatively curated by Patrick Ellis, with such titles as High Treason (UK 1929), A Trip to Mars (Denmark 1918) and rarity The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower (France 1927). Read more.

Keaton in colour
Kino has been doing a great job releasing Buster Keaton’s work on Blu-Ray. Their latest release is Seven Chances (1925), with its Brewster’s Millions-style plot (Buster must marry before 7pm to inherit $7M) and the famous scene when Buster is pursued downhill by an absurd number of boulders. This ‘ultimate edition’ is of especial interest for including the film’s two-colour Technicolor opening sequence. It also comes with the classic shorts Neighbors (1920) and The Balloonatic (1923). Read more.

Now where have I seen that before?
A sixth item for once, and it’s another Kino release, this time a boxed set of some of its silent classics cheekily packaged to look like the poster for for a certain Oscar favourite and entitled The Artists. Full marks to somebody in their marketing team for the sheer nerve of it. Read more.

All these stories and more on our daily news service.

‘Til next time!

Looking back on 2011

News in 2011, clockwise from top left: The White Shadow, The Artist, A Trip to the Moon in colour, Brides of Sulu

And so we come to the end of another year, and for the Bioscope it is time to look back on another year reporting on the world of early and silent film. Over the twelve months we have written some 180 posts posts, or well nigh 100,000 words, documenting a year that has been as eventful a one for silent films as we can remember, chiefly due to the timeless 150-year-old Georges Méliès and to the popular discovery of the modern silent film thanks to The Artist. So let’s look back on 2011.

Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès in Hugo

Georges Méliès has been the man of the year. Things kicked off in May with the premiere at Cannes of the coloured version of Le voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902), marvellously, indeed miraculously restored by Lobster Films. The film has been given five star publicity treatment, with an excellent promotional book, a new score by French band Air which has upset some but pleased us when we saw it at Pordenone, a documentary The Extraordinary Voyage, and the use of clips from the film in Hugo, released in November. For, yes, the other big event in Méliès’ 150th year was Martin Scorsese’s 3D version of Brian Selznick’s children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which Méliès is a leading character. Ben Kingsley bring the man convincingly to life, and the film thrillingly recreates the Méliès studio as it pleads for us all to understand our film history. The Bioscope thought the rest of the film was pretty dire, to be honest, though in this it seems to be in a minority. But just because a film pleads the cause of film doesn’t make it a good film …

And there was more from Georges, with his great-great-grandaughter Pauline Duclaud-Lacoste Méliès producing an official website, Matthew Solomon’s edited volume Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (with DVD extra), a conference that took place in July, and a three-disc DVD set from Studio Canal.

For the Bioscope itself things have been eventful. In January we thought a bit about changing the site radically, then thought better of this. There was our move to New Bioscope Towers in May, the addition of a Bioscope Vimeo channel for videos we embed from that excellent site, and the recent introduction of our daily news service courtesy of Scoop It! We kicked off the year with a post on the centenary of the ever-topical Siege of Sidney Street, an important event in newsreel history, and ended it with another major news event now largely forgotten, the Delhi Durbar. Anarchists win out over imperialists is the verdict of history.

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet

We were blessed with a number of great DVD and Blu-Ray releases, with multi-DVD and boxed sets being very much in favour. Among those that caught the eye and emptied the wallet were Edition Filmmuseum’s Max Davidson Comedies, the same company’s collection of early film and magic lantern slide sets Screening the Poor and the National Film Preservation Foundation’s five disc set Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938. Individual release of the year was Edition Filmmuseum’s Hamlet (Germany 1920), with Asta Nielsen and a fine new music score (Flicker Alley’s Norwegian surprise Laila just loses out because theatre organ scores cause us deep pain).

We recently produced a round-up of the best silent film publications of 2011, including such titles as Bryony Dixon’s 100 Silent Films, Andrew Shail’s Reading the Cinematograph: The Cinema in British Short Fiction 1896-1912 and John Bengston’s Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd. But we should note also Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, which has made quite an impact in the USA, though we’ve not read it ourselves as yet.

There were all the usual festivals, with Bologna championing Conrad Veidt, Boris Barnet and Alice Guy, and Pordenone giving us Soviets, Soviet Georgians, polar explorers and Michael Curtiz. We produced our traditional detailed diaries for each of the eight days of the festival. But it was particularly pleasing to see new ventures turning up, including the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Scotland, which launched in February and is due back in 2012. Babylon Kino in Berlin continued to make programming waves with its complete Chaplin retropective in July. Sadly, the hardy annual Slapsticon was cancelled this year – we hope it returns in a healthy state next year.

The Artist (yet again)

2011 was the year when the modern silent film hit the headlines, the The Artist enchanting all-comers at Cannes and now being touted for the Academy Award best picture. We have lost count of the number of articles written recently about a revival of interest in silent films, and their superiority in so many respects to the films of today. Jaded eyes are looking back to a (supposedly) gentler age, it seems. We’ve not seen it yet, so judgement is reserved for the time being. Here, we’ve long championed the modern silent, though our March post on Mr Bean was one of the least-read that we’ve penned in some while.

Among the year’s conferences on silent film themes there was the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema held in February; the Construction of News in Early Cinema in Girona in March, which we attended and from which we first experimented with live blogging; the opportunistically themed The Second Birth of Cinema: A Centenary Conference held in Newcastle, UK in July; and Importing Asta Nielsen: Cinema-Going and the Making of the Star System in the Early 1910s, held in Frankfurt in September.

In the blogging world, sadly we said goodbye to Christopher Snowden’s The Silent Movie Blog in February – a reminder that we bloggers are mostly doing this for love, but time and its many demands do sometimes call us away to do other things. However, we said hello to John Bengston’s very welcome Silent Locations, on the real locations behind the great silent comedies. Interesting new websites inclued Roland-François Lack’s visually stunning and intellectually intriguing The Cine-Tourist, and the Turconi Project, a collection of digitised frames for early silents collected by the Swiss priest Joseph Joye.

The Bioscope always has a keen eye for new online research resources, and this was a year when portals that bring together several databases started to dominate the landscape. The single institution is no longer in a position to pronounce itself to be the repository of all knowledge; in the digital age we are seeing supra-institutional models emerging. Those we commented on included the Canadiana Discovery Portal, the UK research services Connected Histories and JISC Media Hub, UK film’s archives’ Search Your Film Archives, and the directory of world archives ArchiveGrid. We made a special feature of the European Film Gateway, from whose launch event we blogged live and (hopefully) in lively fashion.

Images of Tacita Dean’s artwork ‘Film’ at Tate Modern

We also speculated here and there on the future of film archives in this digital age, particularly when we attended the Screening the Future event in Hilversum in March, and then the UK Screen Heritage Strategy, whose various outputs were announced in September. We mused upon media and history when we attended the Iamhist conference in Copenhagen (it’s been a jet-setting year), philosophizing on the role of historians in making history in another bout of live blogging (something we hope to pursue further in 2012). 2011 was the year when everyone wrote their obituaries for celluloid. The Bioscope sat on the fence when considering the issue in November, on the occasion of Tacita Dean’s installation ‘Film’ at Tate Modern – but its face was looking out towards digital.

Significant web video sources launched this year included the idiosyncractic YouTube channel of Huntley Film Archives, the Swedish, the Thanhouser film company’s Vimeo channel, and George Eastman House’s online cinematheque; while we delighted in some of the ingenious one-second videos produced for a Montblanc watches competition in November.

It was a year when digitised film journals made a huge leap forward, from occasional sighting to major player in the online film research world, with the official launch of the Media History Digital Library. Its outputs led to Bioscope reports on film industry year books, seven years of Film Daily (1922-1929) and the MHDL itself. “This is the new research library” we said, and we think we’re right. Another important new online resource was the Swiss journal Kinema, for the period 1913-1919.

It has also been a year in which 3D encroached itself upon the silent film world. The aforementioned Hugo somewhat alarmingly gives us not only Méliès films in 3D, but those of the Lumière brothers, and film of First World War soldiers (colourised to boot). The clock-face sequence from Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (also featured in Hugo) was converted to 3D and colourised, much to some people’s disgust; while news in November that Chaplin’s films were to be converted into 3D for a documentary alarmed and intrigued in equal measure.

The Soldier’s Courtship

Film discovery of the year? The one that grabbed all the headlines – though many of them were misleading ones – was The White Shadow (1923), three reels of which turned up in New Zealand. Normally an incomplete British silent directed by Graham Cutts wouldn’t set too many pulses running, but it was assistant director Alfred Hitchcock who attracted all the attention. Too many journalists and bloggers put the story ahead of the history, though one does understand why. But for us the year’s top discovery was Robert Paul’s The Soldier’s Courtship (1896), the first British fiction film made for projection, which was uncovered in Rome and unveiled in Pordenone. It may be just a minute long, but it is a perky delight, with a great history behind its production and restoration.

Another discovery was not of a lost film but rather a buried one. Philippine archivists found that an obscure mid-1930s American B-feature, Brides of Sulu, was in all probability made out of one, if not two, otherwise lost Philippines silents, Princess Tarhata and The Moro Pirate. No Philippine silent fiction film was known have survived before now, which makes this a particularly happy discovery, shown at Manila’s International Silent film Festival in August. The Bioscope post and its comments unravel the mystery.

Among the year’s film restorations, those that caught the eye were those that were most keenly promoted using online media. They included The First Born (UK 1928), Ernst Lubistch’s Das Weib des Pharao (Germany 1922) and the Pola Negri star vehicle Mania (Germany 1918).

Some interesting news items throughout the year included the discovery of unique (?) film of the Ballet Russes in the British Pathé archive in February; in April Google added a ‘1911’ button to YouTube to let users ‘age’ their videos by 100 years (a joke that backfired somewhat) then in the same month gave us a faux Chaplin film as its logo for the day; in May the much-hyped film discovery Zepped (a 1916 animation with some Chaplin outtakes) was put up for auction in hope of a six-figure sum, which to few people’s surprise it signally failed to achieve; and in July there was the discovery of a large collection of generic silent film scores in Birmingham Library.

Barbara Kent

And we said goodbye to some people. The main person we lost from the silent era itself was Barbara Kent, star of Flesh and the Devil and Lonesome, who made it to 103. Others whose parting we noted were the scholar Miriam Hansen; social critic and author of the novel Flicker Theodore Roszak; the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart; and the essayist and cinéaste Gilbert Adair.

Finally, there were those ruminative or informational Bioscope posts which we found it interesting to compile over the year. They include a survey of cricket and silent film; thoughts on colour and early cinema; a survey of digitised newspaper collections, an investigation into the little-known history of the cinema-novel, the simple but so inventive Phonotrope animations of Jim Le Fevre and others, thoughts on the not-so-new notion of 48 frames per second, the amateur productions of Dorothea Mitchell, the first aviation films, on silent films shown silently, and on videos of the brain activity of those who have been watching films.

As always, we continue to range widely in our themes and interests, seeing silent cinema not just for its own sake but as a means to look out upon the world in general. “A view of life or survey of life” is how the dictionary defines the word ‘bioscope’ in its original use. We aim to continue doing so in 2012.

Slapstick hits the spot

Bristol’s annual Slapstick festival returns in January, with its tried and tested mixture of classic silent comedy and today’s TV and radio comedians making a crowd-pleasing combination. The festival runs 26-29 January 2012, with a pre-event on the 21st. Here are the programme details:

Saturday 21 January 2012 – pre-festival event

Les Bubb’s Silent Slapstick Funnies PG with Les Bubb

1300hrs, Venue: Watershed, Cinema 1 £4.60/£3.60 concs

Discover the delights of Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and Snub Pollard with a little help from world-renowned visual comedy performer and choreographer Les Bubb, with live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

+ Cinekids: Slapstick Workshop with Les Bubb 8 – 12 years-olds

1500hrs – 1630hrs, Venue: Watershed Waterside 3 £2 per child

Ever wondered how silent comedy clowns make you laugh so much? After the Slaptick’s Silent Funnies screening, join international visual comedy performer Les Bubb for an action packed workshop to explore (and practice!) some of the techniques used by the silent comedy clowns. Wear comfy clothing and prepare for lots of laughter and some falling over.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Buster Keaton: Brownlow and Garden

1740hrs £7.20/£5.60, Venue: Watershed, Cinema 1

The first of two exceptional events dedicated to “The Great Stone Face”, hosted by Oscar-winner Kevin Brownlow, here in conversation with fellow-enthusiast Graeme Garden (of The Goodies and Sorry I Haven’t a Clue). Rare film illustrations recall Brownlow’s meetings with Keaton in the 1960s, his restoration of The General, and collaboration with David Gill on the definitive Keaton documentary, A Hard Act to Follow.

“Stupid Boy!”: Celebrating Dad’s Army with Ian Lavender
An Audience with Private Pike

1930hrs £16/£14, Venue: Hall 2 (Colston Hall)

A unique chance to hear Ian Lavender discuss in his own words what it was like being in one of the UK’s favourite comedies and playing one of our best loved comedy characters – Private Pike in Dad’s Army.

Ian comes to Bristol’s Slapstick Festival with stories of his time on the Dad’s Army set.

Ian will be onstage with writer/broadcaster Matthew Sweet and the evening will include favourite clips from Dad’s Army, a showing of a complete episode, music – and more. Plus there’s a special questions and answers session where you get the chance to ask Ian a question.

A delightful evening of family entertainment in celebration of one of our best loved television series.

Friday 27 January 2012

The Clown Princes

1400hrs Venue: Arnolfini £7/£5.50

Chaplin, Buster Keaton & Harold Lloyd were the undisputed kings of silent comedy – or were they?

Thousands more comedies were made in the silent era starring many, many more comedians. Some even rivalled the top names and occasionally surpassed them in the laughter stakes.

David Wyatt presents his selection of some of the finest and funniest; Charley Chase, Lloyd Hamilton, Max Davidson & Larry Semon among them. For those with Keaton withdrawal symptoms though, Buster may make a surprise appearance (or two?).

Buster Keaton: “A Hard Act to Follow” with Kevin Brownlow

1600hrs Venue: Watershed, Cinema 3 £7.20/£5.60

Kevin Brownlow presents documentary footage to illustrate his work, experiences and encounters in filming the definitive Keaton documentary A Hard Act to Follow (1986) with its spectacular sequences recreating the filming of the collapsing railway bridge in The General – the most elaborate scene in all silent comedy. A unique opportunity to discover the creative methods of one of the greatest figures of film comedy, through the eyes of the world’s most honoured film historian.

Griff Rhys Jones: Silent Comedy Spectacular
A star-studded evening of classic comedy featuring Buster Keaton’s masterpiece The General (1926)

Special guest host Griff Rhys Jones

1930hrs Venue: Colston Hall £18/£16/£8

Slapstick festival’s annual silent comedy gala presents three comic masterpieces celebrating the great silent comedians of yesteryear. Hosted by the inimitable comic actor and writer Griff Rhys Jones plus ‘master of ceremonies’ Chris Serle.

Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) is considered an undisputed masterpiece of cinema. Set in the American Civil War, Buster Keaton plays Jonnie Gray unable to enlist in the Confederate army because he is needed as a railroad engineer. His sweetheart, who thinks he’s a coward, won’t talk to him until he’s in uniform. Plus Laurel & Hardy in The Finishing Touch (1928) and Charlie Chaplin in The Adventurer (1916).

The World Premiere of a new score for The General will be conducted by Guenter A. Buchwald and performed by The European Silent Screen Virtuosi and Bristol Ensemble. Plus music from The Matinee Idles (featuring Paul McGann).

Saturday 28 January 2012

Charles Chaplin: Bridging Three Centuries

With David Robinson

0930hrs Venue: Arnolfini £7/£5.50

David Robinson is recognised as the definitive biographer and a world expert on Chaplin. In this presentation, richly illustrated with film and rare stills, he considers the phenomenon of an artist who was already on stage in the 19th century, became the most universally recognised personality of the 20th century; and in the 21st century still maintains his power as human symbol and supreme entertainer.

Since his definitive 1985 biography Chaplin: His Life and Art, David Robinson has been recognised as a world expert on the great comedian. In this presentation, richly illustrated with film and rare stills, he considers the phenomenon of an artist who was already at work as a stage artist in the 19th century, was to become the most universally recognised personality of the 20th century; and in the 21st century maintains his power, both as symbol and supreme entertainer, inspiring constant revaluation and study, and constantly attracting new young audiences. Chaplin has a unique place not just in cinema, but in the history of world art.

Grame Garden on Charley Chase

1100hrs Venue: Arnolfini £7/£5.50

To say Charley Chase is one of the comic greats of all time is no exaggeration: this brilliantly inventive and prolific comedian contributed to over 300 films as writer, director, or actor (sometimes as all three) before his untimely death at the age of 46. Chase worked with almost every major name in early film comedy including Chaplin, Arbuckle, Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, and the Three Stooges. Chase made many comedy shorts in the twenties as a hugely popular comic/performer in his own right. Chase admirer, Goodie and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue panellist, Graeme Garden selects his favourite shorts from this period to reveal Chase at his finest and funniest.

With live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney.

Harold Lloyd: Double Bill (U) with Barry Cryer

1400hrs Venue: Arnolfini £8/£6

Barry Cryer introduces two of Harold Lloyd’s finest comedies:

An Eastern Westerner (1920)
Dir Hal Roach USA 23mins

One of Lloyd’s funniest shorts An Eastern Westerner is consistently clever and amusing, well-paced and packed with gags. An immature playboy is shipped off out west in order to curb his outlandish behaviour, and ends up in a number of scrapes, in this amusing Harold Lloyd short.

Plus Grandma’s Boy (1922)
Dir Fred C. Newmeyer 60 mins

A rare chance to see Lloyd’s first feature film on the big screen. Harold plays an awkward, shy boy who is afraid of everything, including his own shadow. After a bully runs him off from the girl that he loves his Grandma tells him about a magic charm his Grandfather used to gain courage. After Harold begins carrying the charm he singlehandedly captures a killer and teaches the bully a lesson.

Featuring live musical accompaniment by The European Silent Screen Virtuosi.

Bill Oddie’s Top Comedy Moments in conversation with Chris Serle

1600hrs Venue: Watershed, Cinema 1 £7.20/£5.60

Whose first records were produced by George Martin, and who had two singles banned by the BBC? Who earned rave reviews on Broadway for his dancing? Who rode on the back seat of the Goodies’ tandem? Who has been called ‘Britain’s best-known birdwatcher?’ The answer to all of the above is… Bill Oddie.

A national treasure, Bill Oddie was one third of UK’s top comedy hit of the 70s – The Goodies and the UK’s favourite wildlife presenter regularly fronting Springwatch and Autumnwatch.

Witty, Candid and unconventional Bill invites you to join him as he recounts his working relationships with some of the greatest comic talents of his generation, including John Cleese, Jonathan Miller and fellow Goodies whilst delighting us with his top onscreen comedy moments from the last century. You can expect some Laurel & Hardy but otherwise Bill is not giving anything away in advance, and we don’t blame him! A fascinating insight into the comic influences of this unique comic performer.

He’s Not The Messiah He’s…Terry Jones!
Monty Python’s Terry Jones presents Life of Brian

Plus on stage discussion with Sanjeev Bhaskar.

1930hrs Venue: Colston Hall £16/£14

Terry Jones, one of Britain’s most famous comic writer/performers hosts a special screening of the Life of Brian, arguably the funniest British movie of all time, at Slapstick Festival.

This is a rare opportunity for Monty Python fans to enjoy this iconic film alongside the man who uttered the immortal words “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” The legendary Monty Python comic will introduce the film and also join ‘Kumars at no42’ and ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ star Sanjeev Bhaskar to discuss the film and Terry’s role as Actor/Director.

It is consistently highly ranked in comedy and film polls by The Guardian, IMDB and BFI, remaining one of Britain’s greatest achievements in comedy and film.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Slapstick Spoofs Hosted by David Wyatt

0930hrs Venue: Arnolfini £7/£5.50

Long before AIRPLANE and NAKED GUN there were silent spoofs of current epics like BENDING HUR, MUD AND SAND and THE 3 MUST GET -THERES. Before Laurel & Hardy, Stan Laurel almost made a career out of it. See Buster Keaton parodying western star William S.Hart, Ben Turpin reducing Von Stroheim to rubble, Max Linder doing Doug Fairbanks and Will Rogers just about everyone else. Don’t miss Rogers’ UNCENSORED MOVIES, Laurel’s absolute classic THE SOILERS – and much more.

My Chaplin: with Sanjeev Bhaskar

1100hrs Venue: Arnolfini £7/£5.50

‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and ‘Kumars at No 42’ star Sanjeev Bhaskar selects his favourite shorts and shares his passion for Charlie Chaplin with Chaplin historian and film critic David Robinson. The best of Chaplin with one of our best loved comic writer/performers. With live piano accompaniment .

Buster Keaton: Young Keaton (U)

1400hrs Venue: Arnolfini £8.00/£6.00 Concs & Bristol Silents Members

Between 1919 and 1922 Buster Keaton completed 22 comedy shorts. Many feel this was the most prolific and productive period of his life and festival patrons and Keaton admirers Bill, Tim, Barry and Ian have each selected a short to reveal Keaton at his freshest, most spontaneous and inventive. Films include THE BOAT (1921) and THE SCARECROW (1920). Featuring live musical accompaniment by members of the European Silent Screen Virtuosi.

Pierre Etaix: The Laughter Returns

1600hrs Venue: Watershed, CINEMA 1 £7.20/£5.60

Throughout the sixties Etaix consistently produced some of the finest visual comedies onscreen yet due to a disastrous rights deal his films have not been seen for almost 40 years. Étaix is a clown, magician, illustrator and cabaret artist whose films recall the genius of Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd. He worked with Jacques Tati on “Mon Oncle” (1958), then found an ideal collaborator for his own film projects in Jean-Claude Carrière.

In conversation with Sir Christopher Frayling this special event co-presented with Bristol Festival of Ideas celebrates the work of this neglected film maker and performer. Plus a complete screening of Etaix’s first comedy short Rupture (1962).

La Grande Amour (1969) introduced by Pierre Etaix
87 mins Dir by Etaix Fr

2000hrs £7.20/£5.60 Venue: Watershed, Cinema 3

To conclude Slapstick Festival we present one of Pierre Etaix’s best observed and accomplished features. Etaix plays Pierre, married to Florence (Annie Fratellini), though he figures he could have married one of numerous other women. Despite the salacious gossip of the elderly local women who watch his every move, he has enjoyed a largely happy marriage and a satisfactory, albeit not exactly stimulating, life. Then the arrival of a new secretary, 18 year old Agnes (Nicole Calfan), turns his world upside down.

Consumed by a passion which he is convinced must be love, he indulges in increasingly absurd and charmingly innocent romantic fantasies, utterly distracted from his day to day life. Over time, he becomes convinced that the only way he can be happy is to consummate his love. But the dilemmas this presents him with are overwhelming.

A bold mixture of the familiar and the surprising (I’ve never seen a Pierre Etaix film – he will be attending the festival and will become the fourth recipient of their annual Aardman/Slapstick Award for ‘Excellence in Visual Comedy’), put over with the right balance of knowledge and enthusiasm. More details, including information on previous Slapstick festivals, from the festival site. Booking is now open.

Festival time

The Pleasure Garden, from

2012 will of course see the Olympic Games in London, and the nation is cranking itself up in readiness. One of the things we’ve been promised was called the Cultural Olympiad, and was designed to be a jamboree of art and culture for all those people who don’t like sport. The name ‘Cultural Olympiad’ was awful, and the whole thing was staggering along badly, enthusing no one, until it was given a sharp kick by a new head (Ruth McKenzie), and now we have the London 2012 Festival officially announced, a nationwide festival of ambition, imagination and great variety – though still for people who don’t much like sport.

Well, this is all very good, and though I’m one of those who stubbornly thinks the Olympic Games is about sport, if we have a show or two thrown in, well who’s going to complain? And among the rich offering announced so far, which range from a World Shakespeare Festival to plans to have all the bells of the United Kingdom ring at the same time (in the name of art), there is going to be a place for silent film. From 1 June to 31 August there will be The Genius of Hitchcock, which will feature three of Hitchcock’s nine surviving silent feature films screened at venues across London, with new scores. A while ago the British Film Institute announced its Rescue the Hitchcock 9 preservation appeal, and while one has a nagging feeling that, of all the silent films out there, those made by Hitchcock have been quite well looked after so far and aren’t in any iminent peril, nevertheless is nice that they are getting the attention and being presented to new audiences. The Lodger, with a score by Nitin Sawhney, will be screening at the Barbican on 21 July; The Pleasure Garden, with a score by Daniel Patrick Cohen, at Wilton’s Music Hall on 28-29 June; while the venue, date and composer for Blackmail have yet to be announced. (By the way, someone should tell the Festival people that the still they have for Blackmail is actually Hitchcock’s The Manxman …)

Doubtless the Bioscope will have a few Olympic-themed posts in 2012, if only an update to our Silent Olympics post on the history of the Games’ coverage on film during the silent era, as new films have been discovered since we wrote the post in 2008.

But while we are celebrating this new festival, let’s also be thinking of festivals we won’t have the pleasure of experiencing. The Bird’s Eye View festival of women’s film, which has had a strong commitment towards programming silent films, has had a 90% cut in its funding for 2012, and consequently isn’t taking place next year. It hopes to return in 2013, and is continuing other activities, including its current Sound & Silents touring programme of films with new score by female composers. But it’s a sad loss.

Pordenone round-up

It’s taken three weeks, but we have now published the Bioscope’s diary for all eight days of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, or Giornate del Cinema Muto. The festival ran from 1-8 October 2011, and below are links to each day’s report, with some of the main films featured in those reports:

  • Day oneGantsirluni, Un Amore Selvaggio, Più che la morte
  • Day twoAsphalt, Mantrap, Die Sklavenkönigin (Moon of Israel)
  • Day threeAmerikanka, Chyortovo Koleso (The Devil’s Wheel), Japanese animation
  • Day fourThe Lady of the Dugout, Oblomok Imperii (Fragments of an Empire), La Voyage dans la lune, Shinel (The Overcoat)
  • Day fiveHintertreppe (Backstairs), The Force that through the Green Fire Fuels the Flower, The Circus, Khabarda (Out of the Way)
  • Day sixThe Great White Silence, Eliso, Fiaker Nr. 13, The Canadian
  • Day sevenCenere, Salomy Jane, The White Shadow
  • Day eightDas Spielzeug Von Paris (The Plaything of Paris), South, The Wind

There are other reports out there on the festival. Particularly recommended is the filmgoing diary of Finnish film programmer Antti Alanen, who gives full credits, catalogue descriptions and his own observations on every film he sees at Pordenone (and anywhere else for that matter). Other reports can be found on Silent London, Bristol Silents (c/o James Harrison), Jan-Christopher Horak on the Soviet films at the festival, while Reto Kromer reproduces all of his tweets from the festival here.

You can find details of every film show in sumptuous detail on the 2011 catalogue, helpfully divided up online section by section. There are also the Giornate’s Flickr photostream and its YouTube channel (interviews and the like rather than films shown). There is also the festival Twitter account, very active during the festival.

For details of all films shown at the festival 1982-2010, see the Giornate’s online database; while for past Bioscope reports on the festival, going back to 2007, visit the Series section of this blog.

Finally, you can see more pictures from this year’s festival on the Bioscope’s own Flickr photostream.

Next year’s festival runs 6-13 October 2012.

Pordenone diary 2011 – day eight

Waiting for the show to begin

The sun sets on another Giornate del Cinema Muto. Eight days of silent films from every corner of the globe, touching every subject and embracing every style imaginable. Our final day’s report once again comes from the Bioscope’s reporter à clef, The Mysterious X.

And so we arrive at the final day of the Giornate 2011. A bittersweet day, as inevitably there are mixed feelings as we prepare ourselves for all the goodbyes, to our fellow delegates, new friends and old, the people who work behind the scenes, and the good people of Pordenone who make us feel so welcome … and sigh a little sigh of relief that there isn’t a Day 9, and we can start to make up for the lack of sleep of the past week or so.

The last Saturday is the odd day out at Pordenone; the morning screenings are held at Cinemazero, Pordenone’s arthouse cinema half a mile up the Via Garibaldi from our usual hangouts, while the orchestra for the closing gala rehearses. The programme up there tends to be synchronised-score or early sound films that round off threads that have been running all week; so the offer this year was a couple of Italian-American films made for the New York Italian audience in the early 30s, and the remainder of the Shostakovich/FEKS material, taking the story up to Skazka O Glupom Myshonke (The Story of the Silly Little Mouse) (USSR 1940), a 1940 animation that Shostakovich scored, or rather, was animated to his music.

Well, it was a glorious day, the sky was the purest azure, the air clear … so I sat ouside the Posta and wrote up my notes while sampling their fine coffee; saving what remained of my energy for what promised to be a long night. Sorry. I’m sure the films were wonderful …

After a light lunch, a special screening of South – Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic Of The Antarctic (UK 1919), Frank Hurley’s masterpiece of documentary, avant la lettre. A film familiar to many of us, this screening was enhanced by both the subtle work of Stephen Horne and material from Shackleton’s expedition memoir, read by distinguished British actor Paul McGann. Cleverly handled, the readings were spare when the film grows intertitle-heavy, more expansive when useful in commenting on the images; carefully not overlapping either the appearance of titles onscreen or duplicating their information. It worked very well, Stephen and Paul barely visible onstage, but spectrally unlit and almost in the wings; their contribution definitely added to the film. While it would have been different to the original lecture presentations of the 1910s, it gave a sense of how they might have been; the low-key theatricality of the presentation respectful to the material, and adding to it.

Lili Damita and Georges Trevillein Das Spielzeug Von Paris, from

A very quick break, then the best of the early Disneys we saw, his modern retelling of Cinderella (USA 1922) which was great fun … and then Das Spielzeug Von Paris (The Plaything of Paris) (Austria 1925) from the Kertesz strand. As promised in the trailer previously screened, this was a pretty racy trip through the life and loves of Parisienne cabaret star Célimène, a young Lili Damita; adored by all Paris, but particularly by a dripping wet (and promised to another) young English diplomat, and a positively ancient French aristocrat playboy, who seems to view her as simply the latest addition to his collection. But then, at least in part, the film is all about possession. The aristocrat gives the impression he wants to hang her on the wall to be admired like a painting; the Englishman wants both to put her on a pedestal and take her on fishing holidays … but she belongs to Paris, as much as Paris belongs to her … this is not the ending that we see in Moulin Rouge, for example, where the showqueen goes back onstage and performs through the tears as Real Life has failed her … here, Célimène goes back to her cabaret stardom because … she wants to. It’s her Real Life, and she likes it that way. And eventually the Englishman understands that … the aristocrat always knew.

Lili Damita was a revelation here. Not always convincing in Fiacre No. 13 as the cabbie’s adopted daughter, here she was in her element; an-ex dancer herself, she was fabulous performing in the cabaret sequences, and was having great fun in the backstage sequences, being worshipped by the various suitors; and it seemed to be Lili in the howling gale, drenched in road mud, with the car coming full tilt at her … all told, a cracking film, with glamour, dance sequences, comedy, a few thrills … no great insight into the human condition, perhaps, but highly entertaining.

Lilian Gish in The Wind

I also missed – accidentally this time – two more Italian films from the 1910s, thinking the screenings had finished before the main event; The Wind (USA 1928) with Carl Davis conducting his own score for the Mitteleuropa Orchestra. Not having been around for the original Thames Silents presentations in the eighties, it’s always a treat to see these films and scores revived; Wings was a highlight of last year’s Giornate, and The Wind was, for me, this year. Somewhere in this room here I might have a VHS off-air from the last time British TV deigned to show the Photoplay print with this score … but nothing ever compares to seeing and hearing these presentations live.

The score for The Wind is slightly unusual among Davis’ work as it – as dictated by the film – is as suffused with musical and sound effects, as the film is with the visualisation of the incessant gale. You don’t get the lavishly orchestrated melodies that inhabit many of his scores, but it’s absolutely right for the film. And what a powerful film it is. Gish – who introduced the film herself via a tape made for the film’s previous Giornate outing in 1986 – is acting her socks off as the always vulnerable, but increasingly disturbed – and disturbing – young woman stuck in the middle of nowhere with a husband she doesn’t know. Opposite her is the superb, impassive Lars Hanson, like a rock being beaten by the waves of Gish’s performance. It’s heightened stuff, and with lesser performers could have tipped over into the ridiculous … but this is Gish and Hanson, and you get totally absorbed into the film. Wonderful.

And then the final programme … a smashing collection of films-about-filmgoing that really deserved to be shown at a more audience-friendly time of 10.30 pm on the last Saturday …

Al Cinematografo, Guardate … E Non Toccate (At the Cinema – Look, Don’t Touch) (Italy 1912) is a comedy where a predatory Ernesto Vaser tries to play footsie with a female audience member, and it all goes predictably wrong in the dark; Lost And Won (USA 1911) a slight drama where two forcibly seperated sweethearts are reunited when the boy, his fortune now made, sees her starring in a film … Amour et Science (France 1912) was a short sci-fi drama about a television experiment going horribly wrong; At The Hour of Three (UK 1912) was a rather fine drama, and early example of the ‘Filmed alibi’ situation; a man is accused of murder, but a chance appearance of him at a parade filmed for a newsreel, at the time of the murder, is spotted by his love … nicely made, it has the bonus for us Brits of footage taken inside the Clarendon Studios at Croydon, and a cinema at Selhurst designed to look like a victorian country cottage, bay windows, window boxes … Arthème, Opérateur (France 1913) didn’t make much of an impact; I can’t honestly remember a thing about it … Mutt and Jeff at the Movies (US 1920) finished the show off, with our animated heroes doing their best at running a picture house …

So, there we all are, the last straggling survivors of the Giornate 2011, milling around outside the Verdi at gone midnight, not sure where to go or what to do … what can you do in the early hours of a Sunday morning in Italy? Find a wine bar, talk films, drink wine, laugh a lot. At least I got to bed by 4 am this year …

Overall, in retrospect, it was a good year; the local populace were as welcoming and hospitable as always; we missed the Ciervo, a restaurant opposite the Verdi known for its good food and lightning service, now relocated to the ground floor of a hotel just far enough away to be slightly inconvenient, but the many others took up the strain; the staff at the Posta were as hardworking and patient with us as ever, and the gentlemen in local politics and sponsoring companies seemed pleased to continue to dip into their various purses to help the Giornate continue. Fingers crossed, the way the world is at the moment. The staff and volunteers of the Giornate itself cannot be thanked enough; nothing ever seems too much trouble … the ushers in the Verdi were attentive, but failed to stop a couple of people coming a cropper in the obstacle course that is the Verdi’s auditorium. Blame the architects, though …

On the film side; there were some real highlights, some real personal discoveries, and no real clunkers; some were of course, not as good as others; the early Kertesz films were disappointing, with only his later silent films redeeming him; but historically interesting’ I suppose. The overall programme was rather dominated by Soviet cinema; the wonderful Georgian programme I would not have missed for the world, the FEKS/Shostakovich strand was more variable, shall we say, and Fragments of an Empire, in the Canon Revisited strand, a real highlight. But quite a lot of Russia for one week. And the music, all week, was simply superb, the standard being raised every year, it seems. I’ve said it before, here last year, probably, but the golden age of silent film music? We’re living in it. Congratulations to everyone involved. Now to start reserving flights for next year …

And thank you TMX for four days of fine reporting, enabling us once again to offer a comprehensive record of the Giornate del Cinema Muto to add to the archives. It was a fine festival, a little top-heavy with USSR offering for some tastes, but without a dull day, and with many highpoints, revelations and re-evaluations. My vote for films of the festival goes to Lady of the Dugout (which I knew before), The Soldier’s Courtship (which more than lived up to expectations) and Nihon Nankyoku Tanken (Japanese polar exploration, full of revelations), but I agree that Fragments of a Empire was an extraordinary piece of work. Hearty congratulations to all who continue to put on the festival with such professionalism, dedication and invention.

‘Til next time.

Pordenone diary 2011 – day one
Pordenone diary 2011 – day two
Pordenone diary 2011 – day three
Pordenone diary 2011 – day four
Pordenone diary 2011 – day five
Pordenone diary 2011 – day six
Pordenone diary 2011 – day seven