Wara Wara

Trailer for the restored Wara Wara

Those who bemoan lost silent films, particularly in a national context, might like to consider the situation in Bolivia. Just the one silent fiction film survives of those (admittedly few) made in Bolivia, and that was only discovered in 1989. In that year sixty-three cans of nitrate film were found in a trunk in the basement of a house in La Paz. The films were the work of José Maria Velasco Maidana, all made between 1925 and 1930. Among the reels was Wara Wara, Bolivia’s sole surviving silent feature film.

Wara Wara was released in 1930, and in the form that survives it runs for 69 minutes (at 24 fps). It was directed by Maidana for Urania Film, and starred Juanita Taillansier, Martha de Velasco, Arturo Borda and Emmo Reyes. The film is based on the novel La voz de la quena by Antonio Diaz Villamil, and is set during invasion of the Inca kingdom by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Here’s the plot summary (adapted courtesy of the Jornada Brasileira de Cinema Silencioso site and Google Translate):

The peaceful kingdom of Hatun Colla is invaded by an army of Spanish conquistadors who destroy villages and kill its leader Calicuma and his wife Nitaya. In the chaos, the high priest Huillac Huma saves the princess Wara Wara and take her through secret passages into a cave in the mountains. In this hideway he masses an army of natives with the hope of eventually defeating the Spaniards. One day, Captain Tristan de la Vega, the head of a small force of Spaniards, arrives in the vicinity of the hideway. In the ensuing battle Captain Tristan ends up protecting Wara Wara and is wounded. She leads him into the hideaway and tends to his wounds. They fall in love and dream of a life together. But Huillac Huma and the other tribespeople would rather see Wara Wara dead than have her become an ally of the invaders. The couple are left to starve, but they are saved and are ready to begin a new life.

The restoration of the film has taken twenty years. It was originally copied onto acetate film stock in Germany, but reconstructing the film as released was a painstaking process involving considerable investigation of primary sources. A digital restoration was undertaken by the L’immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy in 2009. The restored film was shown at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna in July and at the Jornada Brasileira de Cinema Silencioso in August. It was given its official re-release in Bolivia on 23 September.

Trailer highlighting the restoration work done on Wara Wara

The film’s director José Maria Velasco Maidana (1899?-1989) was a notable composer and conductor as well as filmmaker. He is known in music circles for his ballets and symphonic works, a number of which embrace national/native themes. He was married to the American artist Dorothy Hood. He took up film in 1925 at the very start of Bolivian fiction film production. Films had been shown in Bolivia since 1897, but exhibition was dominated by North American product, and aside from some short actualities in the teens national film production did not begin until 1923, with the first fiction feature, Pedro Sambarino’s Corazón Aymara made in 1925. It was followed later that year by Maidana’s La profecía del lago, which was promptly banned by the local censor because it featured the love between a native man and a white woman. He formed his own production company, Urania, and made Wara Wara (1930) and Hacia la Gloria (1931), as well as various documentary shorts, before returning to music.

To judge from the clips available on the two trailers have have been issued, Wara Wara looks to be fascinating in detail and competent in construction, even if its epic ambitions were probably constrained by cost. There are some strong visual compositions, including a shadow puppet sequence. More than that I cannot say with only a trailer to go on, but certainly what is there whets the appetite for more – let’s hope for a local DVD release, given its great importance to Bolivian cinema.

There’s more information (in Spanish) on the Cinemateca Boliviana site and in the Jornada Brasileira de Cinema Silencioso 2010 catalogue.

A book has been written on the restoration by filmmaker Fernando Vargas Villazon, Wara Wara. La reconstrucción de una película perdida.

Information on silent films in Latin America generally can be found at Thomas Böhnke’s highly recommended Der Stummfilm in Lateinamerika site (in German), which includes a section on silent film in Bolivia (acknowledgements to Böhnke for his Nitrateville post about the film).

Kevin, Roger and Metropolis

Kevin’s wineglass

Well, it’s been quite a day. As all the silent world knows by now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to award an honorary Oscar to Kevin Brownlow. Together with Francis Ford Coppola (who is receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award), Jean-Luc Godard and Eli Wallach, he will be receiving his Academy Award at the Academy’s 2nd Annual Governors Awards dinner on Saturday, November 13, at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center. To quote from the Academy’s press release:

Brownlow is widely regarded as the preeminent historian of the silent film era as well as a preservationist. Among his many silent film restoration projects are Abel Gance’s 1927 epic “Napoleon,” Rex Ingram’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921) and “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), starring Douglas Fairbanks. Brownlow has authored, among others, The Parade’s Gone By; The War, the West, and the Wilderness; Hollywood: The Pioneers; Behind the Mask of Innocence; David Lean; and Mary Pickford Rediscovered. His documentaries include “Hollywood,” “Unknown Chaplin,” “Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow,” “Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius” and “D.W. Griffith: Father of Film,” all with David Gill; Brownlow also directed “Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic” and “Garbo,” the latter with Christopher Bird.

Never was an Academy Award more richly deserved, nor – so far as I know – has such an award ever gone to a film historian [correction – he’s the third – see comments]. Brownlow is far more than a historian, of course, being a filmmaker, film preservationist and programme maker, but it is his principled and dedicated investigation into silent film history (out of which has come preservation, exhibition, writing and programmes) that stands out. He made silent films special once again.

By happy chance I met Kevin today, being warmly congratulated by all. I asked if I could take a photo of him for the Bioscope – he said I could take the photo, but not publish it online (there have been too many photos, he said), so I have acceded to this request and instead have published a quick snap made of the wineglass he was holding. Cheers to you Kevin.

The event we were both at was a retirement party for Roger Smither, held at the Imperial War Museum in London. Now while Kevin Brownlow is famed among all who revere silent films, Roger will only be known by a few, but his contribution to film history and film culture has been no less important. He retires as Keeper of the IWM’s Film and Video Archive, arguably the world’s oldest film archive (it was founded in 1919), and has presided over the British official film record of the First and Second World Wars, including hundreds of classic titles, and for the First World War a marvellously rich collection of silent film material documenting evey aspect of the war, including the home front experience. He was instrumental in the restoration of The Battle of the Somme (1916) and its inscription on the UNESCO Memory of the World register. He has written knowledgeably on the Somme and other war films in many publications, and he edited the weighty classic This Film is Dangerous, a history of nitrate film, published by FIAF – a body of which he was Secretary-General for some years. He has been an exceptional servant to film archives and the Bioscope warmly wishes him a happy retirement.


And then I left the party to go and see another filmed inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World, Metropolis – specifically the 2010 restored version receiving its UK premiere at the BFI Southbank. It’s interesting speaking to some film archivists to pick up on a bit of a backlash against the Metropolis restoration, which is perhaps a reaction to all the hype. Some are saying that the 16mm inserts don’t add anything, that the film was better the way that it was, and that the whole business is being oversold. Well, seeing the film at last for myself I was hugely impressed by the restoration. It seemed to me to be a model presentation of the material, with the 16mm material clearly of a substandard quality but giving a special thrill to the audience whever it turned up, as you picked up on what had been cut and why, so that you ended up with the sense of watching two films – the one we’ve known before, and the one we have now. It was an engrossing lesson in film restoration and the mutability of cultural artefacts.

The film itself I have never much loved, aside from the exceptional robot transformation sequence, and it seems even more ridiculous than ever. The additional sequences make the filmmakers’ intentions clearer, but they also expose what a muddled plot the film has (and why the cuts were made in the first place). It is muddled not only in narrative, but in conception, dramatic motive, politics and morals. It is a stupendous folly, packed full of glorious, iconic images, but without a single credible idea to hold them together.

I don’t know if the comparison has been made before, but I kept on thinking of Cabiria (1914). It wasn’t just that both films have Moloch scenes, or the histronics of Metropolis that hark back to an earlier age (the film critic Geoff Brown once memorably said of Alfred Abel’s performance that he played someone who, if you asked him what the time was, would mime the operations of a sundial). Metropolis and Cabiria were each epic European productions of the kind that (in the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn) starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax, with buildings tumbling down and flood waters threatening to drown all. The humans are mere ciphers; chaos is all. The spectacle was designed to overawe audiences and to outdo what could be done on the American screen. In a way, Metropolis was a very old-fashioned sort of film for 1927.

Mad folly it may be, but it’s a film that has to be seen, and then argued over. There are ample opportunities to do so now that it has reached the UK – see the list of screenings provided by Eureka Entertainment. The DVD will follow shortly, but it’s a film for the cinema screen if you can.

Busy, busy, busy

Things are a bit hectic down at Bioscope Towers these days, and what with broadband problems, not only is it hard to find time to write posts but even when the time does appear I can’t post them. So, in my lunch break, and before heading off to the Imperial War Museum to mark the retirement of its highly estemeed Keeper of the Film and Video Archive, Roger Smither, and then to the BFI Southbank to see the ‘new’ Metropolis, here are links to some interesting posts on silent cinema which other bloggers have produced lately.

Doing things differently
George Clark reports on the pioneering programme of early films shown at the recent Oberhausen Short Film Festival, for AP Engine. Enthusiastic, but not uncritical.

From the career of Louis J. Mannix
Nick Redfern, at the highly impressive Research into Film blog, takes a break from statistical analysis to tell us about (and quote from) the rare memoirs of a Leeds projectionist operating in the silent era.

Never too late silents
Kristin Thompson assesses the silent films of Joseph von Sternberg through the recent Criterion DVD set at the indispensible Observations on Film Art blog that she shares with David Bordwell.

Kevin Brownlow to receive special Oscar
From the San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog, news that Kevin Brownlow is to be awarded an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Huge cheers and hats in the air about that piece of news.

The Lindgren manifesto
And from my other, infrequently updated blog, Moving Image, here’s philosopher-film archivist Paolo Cherchi Usai’s provocative but thought-provoking fourteen-point manifesto for film curators of the future, named after the founder of the BFI National Archive. Make of it what you will.

Brazilian journey


Last year we noted for the first time the remarkable festival of silent film in Brazil, the Jornada Brasiliera de Cinema Silencioso or Brazilian Journey of Silent Cinema. The festival returns again 6-15 August and has a strong enough programme to make you think seriously about chaning your holiday plans. The festival is organised by the Cinemateca Brasiliera, São Paulo and is curated by Carlos Roberto de Souza. As the festival press release puts it:

This annual event is dedicated to world cinema produced between the late nineteenth century until about 1930, when the arrival of sound changed the course of the cinematic art. Now in its 4th edition, the Journey has become an important part of the Brazilian cultural calendar, and allows an increasingly larger and more diversified audience to gain access to films from the silent cinema era.

All of the Festival’s scheduled features are to be accompanied by live musical performances in the Cinemateca-BNDES Theater, with ‘silent projections’ (I guess that means silent only) in the Cinemateca-Petrobras Theater.

As in previous festivals, a special feature is made of the production of a national cinema of the silent period and the work of a particular country’s film archive. This year the focus is Swedish silent cinema, and the selected works are restorations from the Swedish Film Archive (Svenska Filminstitutet / Kinemateket). Altogether, there are thirty-five titles, curated into six programmes.

The Nordic countries developed a film industry whose films spread all over the world, until the outbreak of World War I. Although after the war European production had ceded its economic importance to Hollywood movies, Sweden had one of the most brilliant cinemas in film history, with directors like Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller producing great works of artistic expression, not to mention exceptional actors like Lars Hanson and Greta Garbo. The Jornada presents a selection of works that will show a wider panorama of Swedish silent cinema and the film restoration work which has been developed in that country for decades. The opening event will present the film The Blizzard / Gunnar Hedes Saga (Mauritz Stiller, 1923), with live musical performance from Dino Vicente. Alongside the great works of Sjöström and Stiller, to be shown in recent restorations, the festival will present the first film record made in Sweden (Konungens af Siam landstigning vid Logårdstrappan / Arrival of the King of Siam in Logårdstrappan, 1897), and the celebrated Häxan (Benjamin Christensen, 1922), in a print considered by the archive’s curator as the most beautiful of the entire collection.

The Jornada’s inaugural lecture will be given by Jon Wengström, curator of the Swedish Film Institute’s Archival Film Collections; its main themes will be Swedish silent cinema and the conservation work carried out in Sweden. He will speak about the criteria that guided his selection of Swedish Film Treasures, which include two films starring Greta Garbo – Die freudlose Gasse / The Joyless Street (G.W. Pabst, Germany, 1925) and Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown, USA, 1926), as well as the single existing fragment of the actress’s collaboration with Sjöström, The Divine Woman (USA, 1928), the scandalous Afgrunden / The Woman Always Pays (Urban Gad, Denmark, 1910), and the extraordinary The Wind (USA, 1928), directed by Sjöström and starring Lillian Gish, which will be presented in the version with musical soundtrack that was released at the time.

The Wind

Other highlights are the films The Dawn of a Tomorrow (James Kirkwood, USA, 1915), starring Mary Pickford, and the audacious Tretya Meshchanskaya / 3 Meshchanskaya Street, or Bed and Sofa (Abram Room, USSR, 1927).

The Jornada has a section which features highlights from Pordenone’s Giornate del Cinema Muto. This year Paolo Cherchi Usai has selected some American productions, the oldest one being the surprising Regeneration (1915), directed by Raoul Walsh; When the Clouds Roll By (1919), directed by Victor Fleming and starring Douglas Fairbanks and Stage Struck (Allan Dwan, 1925), with Gloria Swanson.

Another regular feature is silent films from Brazil. This year the festival will show some documentary feature films restored by the Cinemateca Brasileira in recent years, such as Companhia Paulista de Estrada de Ferro and Companhia Mogyana, portraying industrial labour and the building of the main railways in different cities of the São Paulo region. In the feature drama O Segredo do corcunda (Alberto Traversa, 1924) the train has an important dramatic function, to connect the State’s capital, from the magnificent Estação da Luz, to a small town, with its modest little train station. Turibio Santos, legendary guitarist and the director for many years of the Villa-Lobos Museum, will perform with this film as a special guest of the festival.

The programme “Window to Latin America” will show Wara Wara, made in Bolivia in 1929 by José María Velasco Maidana, which depicts an episode of the Inca civilization during the Spanish invasion. One of the few surviving Bolivian silent films, it was restored at the laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, and has been presented at the festival Il Cinema Ritrovato, organized annually by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna.

To honor the 80th anniversary of Cinédia, the main Brazilian film company in the 1930s, founded by Adhemar Gonzaga, the festival will present Lábios sem beijos, directed by Humberto Mauro, the only silent film the company produced (its subsequent movies were early sound films with musical accompaniment and synchronized dialogue, followed by 100% talkies).

The musicians who will be part of the 4th Jornada Brasiliera de Cinema Silencioso are Zérró dos Santos, Daniel Szafran, Wilson Sukorski, Max de Castro, Ruggero Ruschioni, Ana Fridman, Ricky Villas, Zé Luis Rinaldi, Simone Sou, André Abujamra, Marcio Nigro, Dino Vicente, Laércio de Freitas, Eric Nowinski, Marcelo Poletto, Ricardo Reis, Gustavo Barbosa, Daniel Murray, DUO N1, Basavizi, Dante Pignatari, Ricardo Carioba, Matheus Leston, Turibio Santos, Wandi Doratiotto, Danilo and Livio Tragtenberg.

More details are available (in Portuguese), including titles and full descriptions of all films, on the festival site.

Wanted by the BFI

The First Men in the Moon (1919), from http://www.bfi.org.uk/mostwanted

In 1992 the BFI launched Missing Believed Lost. It was a campaign to raise awareness of Britain’s lost film heritage, and the work of the National Film Archive. A handsome book of the same title was published, edited by Allen Eyles and David Meeker, which listed 100 lost British feature films that the Archive was seeking in particular. In some cases they were being a tad disingenuous, because the Archive was fairly confident that prints existed out there somewhere and hoped to lure them out of the hands of collectors into national safekeeping.

The project was successful. A number of films were uncovered, including several early works by director Michael Powell, while among the few silents that the book listed one complete example and parts of others from the Ultus serials have turned up, plus the Walter Forde feature What Next? and the Ivor Novello-Mabel Poulton feature The Constant Nymph – all three can be seen at the BFI Southbank this August.

Eighteen years on, and to mark its seventy-fifth anniversary, the BFI National Archive is launching another lost film project, entitled Most Wanted. This time it has narrowed their target list to 75 (neatly enough) and demonstrated how changing tastes have altered to a degree what we now consider most precious among lost films. The original Missing Believed Lost stopped in 1945, with the still-missing Flight from Folly. The new list delves enthusiastically into exploitation films from the 1960s and 70s, and amazingly ends with a title as recent as 1983 ( Where is Parsifal? starring Tony Curtis and Orson Welles). The original book was mean when it came to silents, listing just ten. The new list reflects a greater respect for Britain’s silent film heritage, with twenty titles (interestingly, one title from the original book, the 1916 She, is not included in the new list, while all the other silents are).

Things have moved on in other ways since 1992. Now we have the Internet, and the BFI has gone to town in a most impressive way, produced a micro-site for the Most Wanted project, with impressively researched accounts of each film, including credits, synopses, reasons for its importance, and notes on when the film was last known to be seen. Each is richly illustrated with some evocative stills, but – naturally enough – not by clips…

Here’s the list of twenty lost silents, with short descriptions taken from the BFI site (those marked with an asterisk were selected for the 1992 book):

The Adventures of Mr Pickwick (1921 d. Thomas Bentley)
Silent version of Dickens’ breakthrough novel, directed by one of the writer’s most prolific screen adapters.

The Amazing Quest of Mr Ernest Bliss (1920 d. Henry Edwards)
A much acclaimed mini-serial showcasing the talents of Henry Edwards and Chrissie White, both major contributors to the success of the Hepworth production company.

The Arcadians (1927 d. Victor Saville)
Victor Saville’s solo directorial debut: a silent adaptation of the stage musical. ‘Pastoral masterpiece’ or woeful mistake?

The Crooked Billet (1929 d. Adrian Brunel)
One of the last films made by Michael Balcon’s Gainsborough studios before sound took over from silent cinema.

The First Men in the Moon (1919 d. J.L.V. Leigh)
The first screen adaptation of a novel by the influential British author H.G. Wells, and an early example of British science fiction cinema.

The Last Post (1929 d. Dinah Shurey)
A patriotic war picture from the only woman feature film director working in Britain at the end of the 1920s.

Lily of the Alley (1924 d. Henry Edwards) *
An experiment in film form that may be the first [British] silent fiction feature ever made without intertitles.

London (1926 d. Herbert Wilcox)
The adventure of a girl of the slums who is adopted by a titled lady but eventually marries an artist.

Love, Life and Laughter (1923 d. George Pearson) *
According to contemporary reports, a genuine lost classic: the struggle of an impoverished author and a little chorus girl against the odds of the world.

Mademoiselle from Armentieres (1926 d. Maurice Elvey)
Based on a popular trench song of the First World War, the film tells the story of a patriotic French woman who falls in love with a British soldier and feeds misinformation to the Germans. [Around half the film survives at the BFI National Archive]

Maria Martin or The Mystery of the Red Barn (1913 d. Maurice Elvey)
Film adaptation of a play about the notorious Victorian murder at Polstead in Suffolk in 1826. As the contemporary publicity put it, “A box office magnet on its title alone”.

Milestones (1916 d. Thomas Bentley) *
Family epic charting several generations of shipbuilders who are radical in youth but become conservative in later life.

The Mountain Eagle (1926 d. Alfred Hitchcock) *
Hitchcock’s second film and the only one of his 57 films as director to be lost: a Kentucky-set mountain melodrama of lust, injustice and social stigma.

The Narrow Valley (1921 d. Cecil Hepworth)
A young couple find romance amidst a narrow-minded valley community.

Reveille (1923 d. George Pearson) *
A story of the hectic, forced gaiety at the end of the First World War and the disillusionment which came to many soon after. [Note to the BFI – a short sequence from Reveille does survive somewhere (the famous ‘two-minutes’ silence’) and was shown on BBC2’s The Late Show 30 September 1992 in a programme on the Missing Believed Lost project]

The Story of the Flag (1927 d. Anson Dyer)
Britain’s first “full-length animated feature film” by the country’s most successful pre-war cartoon filmmaker, Anson Dyer.

A Study in Scarlet (1914 d. George Pearson) *
Murder, betrayal and revenge in an ambitious early adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story.

Tip Toes (1928 d. Herbert Wilcox)
Three penniless music hall artistes take a suite at a fancy hotel, where the girl pretends to be an heiress in pursuit of an English Lord.

Who is the Man? (1924 d. Walter Summers)
Romantic melodrama that featured John Gielgud’s screen debut.

Woman to Woman (1923 d. Graham Cutts)
A British officer and a French dancer meet during the war, but are parted by accident, only to be reunited just before her death.

That’s a well-chosen list, with a number of titles that would be certain to be recognised as classics were they to re-emerge, even at this distance of time.

And what’s missing from this list of what’s missing? Well, one could go on and on and on, since hundreds of British silents are missing (no one had ever counted exactly how many). However, the Bioscope will indulge itself just a little by listing another twenty-five to bring it up to a missing 100 (including some non-fiction titles, which the BFI’s list excludes). The BFI would certainly rejoice if anyone of these turned up as well.

  • Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (1895) [probably the first commercial British film]
  • The Mesmerist; or, Body and Soul (1898) [former spiritualist G.A. Smith makes a trick film about spiritualism]
  • Dan Leno’s Cricket Match (1900) [The Victorian era’s greatest comic performer captured on film]
  • The Macedonian Atrocities (1903) [documentary series filmed by C. Rider Noble]
  • Robbery of the Mail Coach (1903) [pioneering multi-scene drama made by Sheffield Photo Co.]
  • Voyage to New York (1904) [40-minute travelogue made by Charles Urban]
  • The Empire of the Ants (1906) [innovative anthromorphism from wildlife filmmaker Percy Smith]
  • Henry VIII (1911) [every print of this Shakespeare drama made by Will Barker was supposedly burned in a bizzare publicity stunt]
  • Hamlet (1912) [Will Barker film in which the actress to play Ophelia was famously recruited because she could swim]
  • With our King and Queen Through India (1912) [around ten minutes survive of this two-and-a-half-hour Kinemacolor spectacular account of the 1911 Delhi Durbar]
  • A Message from Mars (1913) [stagey but no doubt fascinating story of Martian who comes to earth with moral mission] [Update: This film exists! See comment]
  • The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1914) [Britain’s first colour feature film]
  • A Welsh Singer (1915) [directed by Henry Edwards, probably Britain’s most accomplished director of the 1910s]
  • The Manxman (1916) [much-praised drama directed by George Loane Tucker]
  • Hindle Wakes (1918) [Maurice Elvey’s first attempt at the story he would triumphantly film again in 1927]
  • Kiddies in the Ruins (1918) [wartime poignancy from George Pearson]
  • Towards the Light (1918) [characteristic Henry Edwards-directed tearjerker]
  • Victory and Peace (1918) [part of one reel is all that survives of the propaganda epic directed by Herbert Brenon and starring Ellen Terry]
  • Jack, Sam and Pete (1919) [Ernest Trimmingham gives first leading performance from a black actor in British film]
  • The Land of Mystery (1920) [drama loosely based on life of Lenin, filmed in the USSR]
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge (1921) [adaptation of Hardy novel witnessed in production by Hardy himself]
  • Number 13 (1922) [unfinished Hitchcock short]
  • Paddy-the-Next-Best-Thing (1923) [directed by lost talent Graham Cutts, starred D.W. Griffith favourite Mae Marsh]
  • The Virgin Queen (1923) [filmed in Prizmacolor and starring socialite Lady Diana Manners]
  • The Ball of Fortune (1926) [football drama with legendary Billy Meredith – the BFI holds a trailer for the film]

No doubt you can name your own (and please do).

At the same time the BFI has launched Rescue the Hitchcock 9, calling for funds to help preserve the nine silent Hitchcock feature films that do survive. You can donate here. See also the Bioscope’s silent Hitchcock filmography and the cod review of The Mountain Eagle in 2008’s Bioscope Festival of Lost Films.

Finally, and by way of a sort of obituary, the BFI’s notes for The Arcadians state that “An incomplete and deteriorating nitrate print (from a private collector?) was apparently viewed prior to July 2008 by independent film scholar F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre.” Last week it was announced that science-fiction writer and prodigious Internet Movie Database film reviewer F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre had apparently committed suicide by setting fire to his New York flat. It’s a sad end for one whose comments on silent film forums and the IMDb have greatly enlivened debate, even as they sowed the seeds of confusion. Macintyre was fond of spinning tales about his supposed exclusive access to a private collection of films which he would describe, one by one, in passionate detail. Macintyre was knowledgeable about film (particularly silent film), and had some descriptive skill, but he drew no distinction between truth and fantasy, and in the case of The Arcadians – as with so many other lost films he reviewed on IMDb – he is merely telling tales, and no more saw the film than you or I. He remained a writer of fiction to the end.

Summer on the Southbank

BFI Southbank

We don’t normally highlight what takes place on a regular basis at film theatres and cinematheques, but looking at the August booklet for the BFI Southbank, it’s time to make an exception. It’s certainly a rich offering for silents and archival film in general.

The headline attraction is the UK premiere of the reconstructed and restored Metropolis (1927), now with an extra twenty-five minutes of footage, as documented on the Bioscope here, here and here. The screening takes place on 26 August, at 18:00.

The BFI is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its achive. Originally known as the National Film Library, it has subsequently been known as the National Film Archive, the National Film and Television Archive, BFI National Film and Television Archive, BFI Collections, BFI National Film and Television Archive once again, and now BFI National Archive. Passing over whatever insecurities have led to such a long-running identity crisis, you can help celebrate its 75th by attending its Long Live Film screenings, which are highlighting previously lost films that the Archive had particularly sought. Now, after decades hidden from view, you can see Britain’s answer to Fantomas, George Pearson’s Ultus and the Grey Lady (1916) plus other Ultus fragments (9 August, 18:00), Cecil Hepworth’s Helen of Four Gates (1920) (11 August, 18:10), Walter Forde’s What Next? (1928) (18 August, 18:20) and Ivor Novello and Mabel Poulton in The Constant Nymph (1928) (20 August, 18:10). Look out soon for BFI Most Wanted, a relaunched search for 75 lost British films, which is certain to include some key silent titles.

Among other attractions, look out for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (23 August 20:40); a programme of early archival treasures, A Night in Victorian and Edwardian London (4 August, 18:10); and Kenneth MacPherson’s experimental classic Borderline (1930), with Paul Robeson and H.D., introduced by film artist Stephen Dwoskin (5 August, 18:10). Collecting for Tomorrow (7 August, 13:30) is a discussion event, hosted by Dylan Cave, on the future of film collecting, which will include clips of recently acquired material including the work of modern silent filmmaker Martin Pickles (previously covered by the Bioscope).

Along the non-silent material, I must note the screenings of nitrate prints that are taking place at the BFI Southbank in July and August, also part of Long Live Film. Cellulose nitrate film stock stopped being employed in cinemas in 1952, and became the defining challenge for film archives in the latter half of the twentieth century. Nitrate film, owing to its high silver content, gavce the films on the screen a lustrous finish which is missing from safety film stock (let alone digital copies). However, because of the fire risks, a special licence is required to show nitrate film and the BFI has the only such licence in the UK. No silent nitrate films are on offer, more’s the pity, but over the two months you can see Fugitive Lady (1950), The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), The Yearling (1946), Brighton Rock (1947), Anchors Aweigh (1945), The Ghost of St Michael’s (1941), Volga-Volga (1938) and Les Maudits (1946) as they were originally seen.

On the smaller screens at the BFI Southbank, the drop-in archive facility the Mediatheque has a special focus on British silents, including such titles as At the Villa Rose (1920), Comin’ Thro the Rye (1923), High Treason (1928), The Man Without Desire (1923) and Sweeney Todd (1928).

Finally there is the welcome return of the Ernest Lindgren Memorial Lecture. The Lecture, named after the National Film Archive’s esteemed founder curator, used to be a prestigious annual event at which a leading archivist or film historian would give a keynote presentation on the state of things. Sadly allowed to lapse in recent years, the Lecture returns on 24 August (18:10) with Paolo Cherchi Usai, Director of the Haghefilm Foundation. As film archivist of world renown and author of the provocative The Death of Cinema and co-editor of the essential text Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums and the Digital Marketplace, this should be a talk not to miss.

More information on all the above from the start of the July at the BFI Southbank site.

Olympic Hitch

The rugby game from Hitchcock’s Downhill (1927), from 1000 Frames of Hitchcock

Here in the UK we’re shaping up nicely for the Olympic Games in 2012. We’ve moved from being cynical to saying we can’t aford to wanting it to succeed to believing it could actually be fantastic (then after the Games we’ll revert to cynicism again, with is the natural order of things in Blighty). And for those who don’t actually like sport there’s the Cultural Olympiad – a programme of arts and culture events which have little if anything to do with the Olympic Games but, hey, arts organisations will grasp at any straw that goes floating by.

But enough of my own cynicism. We’re going to get a whole range of interesting cultural events grounded in fundamental Olympic themes such as community, regeneration, youth – you know the sort of thing. And silent cinema should get a look in, because what has just been announced by the BFI is a touring retrospective for 2012 of Alfred Hitchcock’s nine surviving silent films.

This is a bold and welcome move, as for most Hitchcock’s silent career remains a closed book, beyond possibly an awareness that he made The Lodger. Strictly speaking the retrospective isn’t formally a part of the Cultural Olympiad as yet, but the BFI is pointing out, rather ingeniously, that Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, near the Olympic park in East London. A report in The Independent describes the plans, which include an exhibition:

Eddie Berg, artistic director of the BFI, said … “One of the things we are trying to get off the ground is to restore the silent films. Most of the visual tropes in these titles appear in his later works. We want to look at his influence on the contemporary world. The season will look at his huge body of work and his influence in different ways,” said Mr Berg.

The silent titles will form the heart of the retrospective, but the exhibition may also include the music of the American composer Bernard Herrmann, who collaborated with Hitchcock on the scores for Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo. A staging of Douglas Gordon’s 24-Hour Psycho, a 1993 artwork featuring a slowed-down version of the horror film, will also feature.

Amanda Neville, director of the BFI, said the initiative would “resurrect the [Hitchcock] films that are not on the tips of everybody’s tongues”.

Some of the films need critical restoration work, she said, and “three of them cannot go through a film projector – the level of damage to them is phenomenal.”

Robin Baker, the BFI’s head curator, said he was keen to discover the whereabouts of Hitchcock’s silent movie The Mountain Eagle, which he called the “holy grail” of lost British films.

“It was made in 1926 and was his last silent film featuring a sexually vulnerable young woman and a case of miscarriage of justice,” he said. [I think that’s a misquote and what he actually said was “first film featuring…”]

Hitchcock began his career in Britain as a designer of film title cards before directing a dozen silent films, including The Lodger, in 1926 and which the BFI hopes to restore and screen.

His first “talkie” film Blackmail, released in 1929, was shot as a silent feature and later converted to sound.

Well, I don’t expect they were planning to project those three damaged nitrate prints in any case, but the retrospective should also play its part in educating audiences about film restoration, as well as offering new opportunities to see silent films and unfamiliar Hitchcock. And as further indications of Olympic relevance, let’s point out the sporty bits of Hitchcock’s silents – boxing in The Ring, the rugby game in Downhill, the tennis match in Easy Virtue

For an overview of Hitchcock’s extensive silent film career (he began as a title writer for the British Famous Players-Lasky studios in 1920), see this earlier Bioscope post. And let’s hope along with Robin Baker that a print of The Mountain Eagle finally turns up. That really would be an event worthy of any Cultural Olympiad.

The complete Metropolis

Frame still from the previously lost Metropolis footage, from http://www.kino.com/metropolis

The Metropolis bandwagon rolls on. After the premiere of the restored version in Berlin on 12 February, it received its North American premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood on 25 April, with music provided by the Alloy Orchestra.

And then there’s the new Kino Lorber website dedicated to the film, entitled The Complete Metropolis. Kino Lorber is issuing the restoration on DVD and Blu-Ray in November 2010. To whet your appetite it has issued a trailer which includes sequences showing the ‘lost’ footage. The website itself is a lavish affair, with thorough background information on the rediscovery of the missing sequences and the restoration work, an updated synopsis for the film and list of the missing sequences, a history of the film’s production with timeline, details of cast and crew, photo galleries, video clips from the film (including the discovered scenes), information on screenings, plus news, press releases and reviews.

You can also follow the restoration through its own Twitter account, and sign up to its Facebook page. Complete indeed.

First films

Patineur Grotesque, from australianscreen

I once had the privilege of attending a film show given in Paris, organised to mark the centenary of cinema in 1995, which brought together the various ‘first’ films from countries around the world. They made an interesting selection, for what survived, for how the national contributors interpreted the brief to find the earliest film in their collections, and for the sense of national competition. I was at the National Film Archive in those days, and we decided that we would defeat all comers by choosing Louis Augustin Aimé Le Prince‘s Traffic on Leeds Bridge, ‘filmed’ (on sensitised paper) in late 1888. France’s contribution was a selection of chronophotographic Phonoscope images by Georges Demenÿ from 1892-93, Germany’s the 1895 works of Max Skladanowsky. At this distance in time I forget most of the others, though I do remember vividly the Romanian choice, the 1898-1901 medical films of Gheorge Marinescu. The American choice would have been an Edison title filmed by W.K-L. Dickson – whether it was the ‘monkeyshines’ experiments from 1899 with microphotographs on a cylinder, or Dickson Greeting of 1891 (taken with horizontal feed camera) or A Hand Shake of 1892, where Dickson and his assistant William Heise shake hands to congratulate themselves on having finally cracked the problem of taking motion picture films, I can no longer recall.

There is – usually – something hauntingly special about such films, beyond their firstness. The ghostly hand-waving figure of the monkeyshines experiments, Dickson making to bow to the camera, the distant figures crossing Leeds bridge wholly unaware of their immortality, all contain something mysterious, something appropriate, that says that here is something new in the world. The variety acts captured by the Skaldanowsky camera (wrestlers, dancers, a boxing kangaroo) perhaps less so.

I don’t remember if Australia was included in the Paris show, but in any case time has marched on and what was previously considered the oldest surviving Australian film, a record of the Melbourne Cup horse race filmed by Marius Sestier on 3 November 1896, has now been replaced by a marginally earlier work by the same man. Discovered in 2005 (in France) and now restored by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA), Patineur Grotesque (Humorous Rollerskater) shows a man in exaggerated comic dress rollerskating in a Melbourne park before a small crowd [the location is now known to be Sydney – see comments]. A 10-second clip is available on the australianscreen site (why so short? the full film can only last 40-50 seconds), with the full action described thus:

A man in costume and on rollerskates performs for a gathering crowd. As part of the act the skater trips and falls, then drops his hat. As he attempts to retrieve the hat he continues to fall about. When finally the hat is restored to his head the act comes to a halt.

It is indeed grotesque, particularly when the skater lifts his coat-tails to reveal a hand printed on the seat of his pants. You do wonder whether Australia’s delight at having discovered this earlier film (which they estimate was filmed between 29 and 31 October 1896) might be tempered by some disappointment. It is a silly film, and the Melbourne Cup film that now comes second (and which you can also seen on australianscreen) is a more distinguished work and iconically Australian.

Sestier, the man who filmed both films, was French. He was a Lumière cameraman, one of a team sent around the world to spread the good word of the Lumière Cinématographe. Sestier was sent to Australia to work with the local Lumière concessionary, photographer Henry Walter Barnett. The first film he shot in Australia, Passengers Alighting from Ferry ‘Brighton’ at Manly, was filmed on 27 October, but no longer exists. Patineur Grotesque itself was shot soon after, but the NFSA has found no record of it being shown in Australia – instead it is first recorded being shown in Lyons, France on 28 February 1897.

So Australia has its earliest surviving film, but not its earliest film. The search for Passengers Alighting from Ferry ‘Brighton’ at Manly has to go on, not least to save Australia from the undignified embarrassment that, to be frank, is Patineur Grotesque. First films should be mysterious, or iconic, or in some way fitting that they are first. Otherwise they are just impostors.

More information on the discovery, and on Marius Sestier himself, is on the NFSA’s Marius Sestier Project, which includes fascinating biographical material and evidence of the detailed research undertaken by curator Sally Jackson using family history sources.

Film Biënnale 2010


Film Biënnale (formerly Filmmuseum Biënnale) is a festival of music, art and film held in Amsterdam and organised by EYE Film Institute Netherlands. EYE is the new institute for film in the Netherlands, uniting the Filmbank, Holland Film, the Nederlands Instituut voor Filmeducatie and the Filmmuseum. This year it takes place 7-11 April, with over thirty screenings with seminars and lectures. The Biënnale always has a srong silent film element, this year bolstered up by particular emphasis on film restoration. Here’s how the press release describes the highlights:

The Man with a Movie Camera
The Film Biennale will kick off in Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ with the screening of The Man with a Movie Camera. Dating from 1929, this cinematographic masterpiece by Russian film pioneer Dziga Vertov continues to impress with its powerful visual style and clever montage of urban life in the Soviet Union. EYE Film Institute Netherlands has restored a ‘vintage print’ from its own collection.

British composer Michael Nyman – best known for his work with Peter Greenaway and the soundtrack to The Piano (1993) by Jane Campion – wrote a special score for the film. This score will be performed live by the Michael Nyman Band.

7 April 8.15 pm Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ [Attendance is by invitation only]

Meet the MoMA; American film collection highlights
Our guest archive at this Biennale is the Department of Film at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Founded in 1935 as the Film Library of the modern art museum, this collection now includes more than 22,000 films and four million film stills. Covering all periods and genres, it is the most important international film collection in the United States. The Film Biennale aims to reflect the full diversity of this rich collection with a programme incorporating everything from (experimental art films), to Hollywood classics, to silent movies. The material has been specially selected by the Department of Film and The Museum of Modern Art (Rajendra Roy, Joshua Siegel, Anne Morra, Katie Trainor, and Peter Williamson).

The Meet the MoMA programme includes works by Andy Warhol, Hollis Frampton, classics such as All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950), Lady Windermere’s Fan (Ernst Lubitsch, 1925), and highlights from MoMA’s own Cruel and Unusual Comedy programme, focusing on the American slapstick film. Screenings will be introduced by Anne Morra and Ron Magliozzi of the MoMA.

8 to 11 April in EYE (Vondelpark)

From Scratch to Screen
On 8 April, EYE offers the audience a chance to find out more about the challenges involved in restoring silent films. This day aims to underline the ongoing commitment of EYE to preserve and present silent films, despite the complexities presented by the fragile state of the film material. Throughout the day unique film finds and restoration projects will be screened (including several world premieres) illustrating different restoration approaches, with introductions by experts in the field. The day opens with the short film Waffen der Jugend (1912), the first film by Robert Wiene, the acclaimed director of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1919). This unique print unexpectedly turned up in a building that was about to be demolished in Rotterdam in 2009. Among the other highlights of the day is Liquidator (2010) by Karel Doing, an outstanding project making innovative use of existing archive images of Willy Mullens’ silent film Haarlem (1921). Karel Doing will present his digital adaptation immediately after the screening of Haarlem, preserved as it was found in 2008.

Following the premiere of the most recent Bits&Pieces episodes, another EYE discovery, Glorious Lady (1919) starring Olive Thomas, will be screened for the first time.

8 April 10 am -4.30 pm EYE (Vondelpark)

The Bankruptcy Jazz Live!
One of the highlights of the Film Biënnale is the multimedia film experience The Bankruptcy Jazz Live!, a co-production between Roxy Movies (Frank Herrebout and Leo van Maaren) and EYE Film Institute Netherlands. The Bankruptcy Jazz is the recent and only film based on a scenario written by Belgian poet Paul van Ostaijen in 1921, at a time when Europe was still in ruins. It is the world’s first true Dadaist scenario. The work features a 1920s style, employing an experimental, Dadaist collage technique to combine ready-made film footage and audio. The result is a turbulent, avant-garde spectacle. During the Dutch premiere in Bimhuis, The Bankruptcy Jazz will be staged with singers, actors, a children’s choir and jazz band conducted by composer Wouter van Bemmel. Van Bemmel will also make use of voice samples, sound effects, and music excerpts. Frank Roumen of EYE is directing the performance.

8 April 8.30 pm Bimhuis

Michael Curtiz before Hollywood
Before immigrating to the United States in 1926, Michael Curtiz, director of the Hollywood classic Casablanca (1942), was a very important figure in the thriving Hungarian film industry. Between 1912 and 1919, as Mihály Kertész, he made over forty silent movies – primarily popular genres, but also a few propaganda films. The Film Biennale will dedicate a whole day to screen his entire extant Hungarian work; inspired by the recent discovery of two silent feature films. The programme includes the premiere of the recently discovered and restored feature film Az Utolsó Hajnal (1917), as well as providing an exclusive opportunity to see A Tolonc (1914) while the restoration work is still ongoing. The Austrian film Fiaker nr. 13 (1926) from the EYE collection will also be screened.

The Curtiz Day will be moderated by film historian David Robinson, with contributions by Vera Gyürey and Gyöngyi Balógh (Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchivum), film restorers Simona Monizza and Annike Kross (EYE Film Institute Netherlands), and Miguel A. Fidalgo (author of Michael Curtiz; Bajo la sombra de ‘Casablanca’ [T&B editores, 2009]).

9 April 10 am – 5.15 pm EYE (Vondelpark)

Sessue Hayakawa: Hollywood’s first exotic superstar
Sessue Hayakawa (1889-1973) is primarily remembered for his role as the Japanese colonel in David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Less well-known is the fact that he was the first non-Caucasian Hollywood star and producer, and with his good looks and intense gaze he was also a veritable heartthrob at the beginning of the last century. He was especially praised for his subtle, non-theatrical acting style. Through his own production company, Hayakawa produced over twenty films, breaking through the stereotypical casting that required Asians to play ‘the villain’. On 10 April, EYE Film Institute Netherlands presents four successful films from Hayakawa’s career. The same evening, the unique (yet incomplete) EYE print of His Birthright (William Worthington, 1918) will be “completed” by stage actors (this performance is in Dutch only, with no translation!). EYE also has the one and only remaining print of The Man Beneath (William Worthington, 1919). The recently restored film will be screened in Pathé Tuschinski with new music by composer Martin de Ruiter, performed live by the National Symphonic Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jan Vermaning.

Hayakawa Day 10 April 10.30 am -5 pm EYE (Vondelpark)
His Birthright 10 April 8.30 pm Compagnie Theater (in Dutch, without translation!)
The Man Beneath 11 April 11 am Pathé Tuschinski

BaBa ZuLa plays Enis Aldjelis
Rounding off the Film Biennale is a spectacular performance by the internationally acclaimed Turkish group BaBa ZuLa, which will accompany the screening of Ernst Marischka’s film Enis Aldjelis – Die Blume des Ostens (1920) in Paradiso. Long before he became famous for his Sissi-series starring Romy Schneider, director Marischka shot this silent movie in Istanbul about ‘intimate Turkish life’, with an all-Austrian cast, including his wife Lily Marischka as Enis.
Hailing from Istanbul, BaBa Zula is renowned for high-energy live performances, mixing authentic Turkish rhythms, traditional instruments and electronic dub in their music.

Enis Aldjelis was originally discovered in EYE Film Institute Netherlands’ collection and restored by Filmarchiv Austria in 1991. A digitised English version produced by EYE will be screened at this event.

11 April 8.30 pm Paradiso

AMIA Seminar and The Reel Thing XXIII edition
EYE Film Institute Netherlands is hosting a day for film archive professionals on 7 April consisting of a morning seminar about on-line projects and an afternoon programme dedicated to recent film restorations.

The morning programme, organised on behalf of the international Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), highlights recent projects offering on-line access to audiovisual archives. The aim of AMIA is to create an international platform for people and organisations involved in the preservation and presentation of audiovisual archives.
The afternoon programme, the XXIII edition of The Reel Thing, presents the most recent developments in film restoration and preservation, with demonstrations of both traditional and digital techniques. Michael Friend and Grover Crisp, both of Sony Pictures Entertainment, are organising this innovative programme featuring various presentations.

Attendance is free of charge. Please register directly on the AMIA website

7 April 9.30-12.30 am AMIA Seminar EYE Film Institute Netherlands
7 April 1.30-5.30 pm The Reel Thing EYE Film Institute Netherlands

film3 [kyü-bik film]
A new exhibition entitled film3 [kyü-bik film] will open on 8 April, in Culture Park Westergasfabriek, showcasing new installations and performances by eleven young film artists. Tying in with the exhibition, a book by the same name is being published, with essays and in-depth interviews. EYE Film Institute Netherlands will screen a film programme by two of the featured artists. The complete selection of short films can be seen in the Moving Concepts mobile cinema. Participating artists are: Rosa Barba, Nora Martirosyan, Roel Wouters, Daya Cahen, Jan de Bruin, Tijmen Hauer, Joost van Veen, Sietske Tjallingii, Telcosystems, Renzo Martens and Guido van der Werve.
film3 [kyü-bik film], 9 Apr – 2 May in KunstENhuis, Culture Park Westergasfabriek

Film programme: Episode I (Renzo Martens) and Number 12 (Guido van der Werve),
10 April 5.45 pm EYE (Vondelpark)
Moving Concepts mobile cinema will visit various Biënnale venues from 8 to 11 April

The full film programme (in Dutch but with information in English) is available in the Issu format (i.e. a page-turnable online document) here.

All the screenings and meetings listed here are in English, and all silent films will be accompanied by live music. For the complete Biënnale programme, schedule and other details please see: www.filmmuseum.nl/biennale. For tickets, fill in the accreditation form (here). The standard accreditation costs €50.00, payable on arrival. This gives you entrance to all screenings taking place in EYE (Vondelpark, 3). However, many performances are not repeated, and the number of seats is limited, so reservations in advance are recommended. Further information from the Film Biënnale website.