Carl Davis and The Gold Rush

Here’s news of a special screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush on 3 January 2011 at the Royal Festival Hall in London, with Carl Davis conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra in his reconstruction of Chaplin’s own score:

The Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Carl Davis, plays a live accompaniment to Charlie Chaplin’s silent film The Gold Rush in this special performance at The Royal Festival Hall on 3 January 2011, as part of the Southbank Centre’s Christmas season.

Featuring Chaplin in his quintessential Little Tramp role, the film was described by The New York Times upon its 1925 release as ‘a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness … the outstanding gem of all Chaplin’s pictures’. The Gold Rush is one of Chaplin’s most perfectly accomplished films. Though he was often changeable in his affections for his own work, he would often declare that of all his films, this was the one by which he would most wish to be remembered.

Chaplin reconstructed the film in 1942 upon the advent of sound to the cinema, removing scenes (most famously eliminating a kiss with the leading lady at the end so as not to upset his wife!) and recording a musical score, which was nominated for Academy Awards.

This concert revisits the original 1925 comic masterpiece, with a score reconstructed and conducted by Carl Davis, who accessed archives of Chaplin’s meticulous notes and found sketches of music for the removed scenes.
It is ten years since The Gold Rush was last performed in London, also at the Royal Festival Hall.

Carl Davis (CBE) was born in New York in 1936 and came to the UK in 1960. Davis is a true music-maker and all-round musician, as both conductor and composer. He has changed the face of concerts as we know them, making classical music both accessible and varied and is a consummate showman and a first rate entertainer. His career has spanned many genres, from silent film performances to his incredible popular themed concerts such as ”An Evening with James Bond” and “Oscar Winners”. He is perhaps most well known for his music for television including the series The World At War, BBC’s Pride & Prejudice and Cranford, ITV’s Goodnight Mr. Tom, and the award winning film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

Davis has also been the driving force behind reinventing the silent movie for a new generation. Following his work on Thames Television’s 1980 “Hollywood – A Celebration of the Silent Film” series, he created the classic and much-lauded five hour symphonic score for Abel Gance’s 1927 silent epic “Napoleon”. Since then, he has written or reconstructed scores for some of the most famous pre-talkies such as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Iron Mask”, as well as many of Chaplin’s most famous movies such as “The Kid”, “Modern Times” and “The Rink” which have been performed all over the world.

Monday 3 January 2011, Royal Festival Hall, 7pm
Carl Davis, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra
Charlie Chaplin The Gold Rush
Tickets: £20–£45
Ticket Office: 0871 663 2500
Online booking:

More information and booking details (including some pricey tickets folks, but heck, it’s near Christmas) on the South Bank Centre site.

Blackmail at the Barbican

Extract from Neil Brand’s orchestra score of Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail

Your scribe journeyed last night to the vasty cavern that is London’s Barbican Hall to witness something of a landmark event – the first British silent drama to be newly scored for full orchestra since the advent of the sound film. The film was Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), the score was by Neil Brand, the orchestrator and conductor was Timothy Brock, and the music was played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. (The qualification of ‘silent drama’ needs to be added, because the documentary The Battle of the Somme (1916) was given the full orchestral treatment back in 2006, with score by Laura Rossi, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.)

Blackmail has a place in every film history book as the ‘first’ British sound film (it all depends on how you define things as to whether you agree with that or not), but a silent film version was made virtually the same time and with almost the same cast, for all those cinemas that had yet to convert to sound. For many years the silent version was forgotten about, but screenings in recent years have brought it increasing recognition, to the point where we are ready to agree with Hitchcock himself that the film is superior to the sound version. Whether it is Hitchcock’s best silent film is a matter for debate, but it certainly shows his mastery of the silent film form. It flows along with an easy, artful flow; it is choc-a-bloc full of memorable pictorial compositions; and it sets up complexities of relationships and moral dilemmas that make one disappointed when the film ends relatively tamely, albeit with hero and heroine nurturing their guilty secret that is left strikingly unresolved.

Anyway, back to the show, which was pretty much a triumph. Neil Brand’s score is lush and loud, filled with a tense energy and engrossing musical ideas. It was not an obviously ‘silent era’ score but instead consciously echoed the Hitchcock scores of later years from Bernard Hermann and Miklós Rózsa. It was knowing in other respects, with some great musical jokes such as the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme when Hitch makes his customary cameo, as a passenger on an Underground train, or the introduction of the Dixon of Dock Green theme tune (for our younger and non-British readers, this was a British TV series of yesteryear with a rather cosy view of policing). The orchestra was on fine form, indeed enjoying itself, while conductor Brock had to demonstrate pin-point precision to make sure the orchestra hit its cues for such key points as door bells ringing, or laughter-like sounds when the creepy painting of the jester is shown.

Anny Ondra as Alice White in Blackmail

The score for Blackmail was commissioned and premiered at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna in 2008 and it has taken two years of pleading and negotiating to get it shown in London, for which Neil deserves quite as much praise as he does for having written the score in the first place. A debate which took place after the screening, with Neil, Timothy Brock, the BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon, and omnipresent film guru Ian Christie, raised some interesting issues but didn’t quite address the matter of whether this would be both the first and the last British silent drama with full orchestra score to be shown since the silent era. Will other films follow?

The screening had been enthusiastically introduced by film critic (and occasional silent film accompanist) Mark Kermode, who called for more British silent films to be seen, pointing out the great work that the BFI has done in championing this largely forgotten corner of film history. The idea of a full orchestral score for any British silent would have seemed ridiculous only a few years ago. Now a growing wave of critical interest has provided us with a number of strong candidates: Shooting Stars, Underground, Piccadilly, Moulin Rouge, Hindle Wakes, The First Born, A Cottage on Dartmoor, The Lodger, The Ring and several more.

I’m not particularly a fan of orchestral scores for silent film myself. I prefer the improvising pianist or the small ensemble. But the big gesture brings in the big audiences. Although the Barbican Hall wasn’t completely full last night, it was fairly full, and there were several hundred people there who would never have seen a silent film with live orchestra before – or indeed with any form of music – and a good many of them had been made enthusiastic converts to the cause, to judge from the applause and the conversations I overheard afterwards.

The Carl Davis scores to Photoplay prints of the 1980s were media events. They generated popular interest and a general understanding of what silent films could be. They created a momentum which drove support for silent films, though that momentum has died down in recent years. Unfortunately orchestral presentations do not come cheap, and silent film screenings are viewed as a risk by programmers outside of specialist cinematheques. But it only takes one or two successful events to build up audience understanding and a thirst for more. The idea of rediscovering unknown British silents films, of reclaiming a neglected history, has strong appeal. Blackmail could point the way forward – because the audience is there.

The silent Blackmail is available on DVD from Arthaus in Germany. (Not with the Neil Brand score, fairly obviously)

Frankenstein versus Dracula

Sometimes circumstances throw up the perfect title for a blog post, and you just have to run with it. And what if circumstances were then to put a cherry on it by bringing together two of the Bioscope’s favourite musicians in an unexpected coming together of jazz, outré electric guitar and silent film? Well, that’s what we’ve got with the news that trumpeter Dave Douglas and guitarist Gary Lucas will be appearing not alongside one another but in competition at this year’s London Jazz Festival, as they present their respective musical takes on the Frankenstein and Dracula stories. The event is billed as Frankenstein V Dracula: Gary Lucas plays Dracula > Dave Douglas & Keystone re-imagines Frankenstein, and it takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the South Bank Centre, London, on 21 November 2010.

Dave Douglas (left) and Gary Lucas, from

Dave Douglas‘s adventures in silent film have been documented by the Bioscope on several occasions. One of the many outlets for his musical energies is the group Keystone, which as its name might suggest takes its inspiration from American silent comedy, though the music tends more towards ‘inspired by’ rather than serving as conventional accompaniments to the films of Arbuckle and Keaton that have formed the basis of Keystone forays so far. Douglas’ experimental leanings and use of turntables might not be everyone’s idea of silent film (or jazz, for that matter), but all I can say is that you just have to witness it live when it all makes sense.

Keystone embraces silents overall rather that just the Mack Sennett studio, and Douglas’ latest Keystone project ventures into modern silents, while coinciding with the centenary of notable silent horror film. Spark of Being is a re-imagining of the Frankenstein story that he has devised with experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison (he of the acclaimed Decasia, a haunting art film made out of decaying nitrate clips of silent films). Their project appears in the centenary year of the 1910 Edison Frankenstein film, and they initially considered calling their work Frankenstein: The First 100 Years. The Edison film is a legend in film collecting circles after the one surviving copy was jealously guarded by the late Alois Dettlaff for many years. When Dettlaff finally made the film available to all there was astonishment at how accomplished, indeed horrific it was – a tour de force of the imagination. Charles Ogle plays the monster, the director was J. Searle Dawley, and you can view it on the Internet Archive (ripped from a DVD, so we won’t be embedding it, but it’s there so you are going to find it anyway).

Trailer for the Spark of Being project

Spark of Being started out as an event at Stanford University in April this year. Morrison worked with new, archival, and ‘distressed’ footage, while Douglas and his band supplied the score. The music has now been issued as a single and boxed set CD, and there is the live show with music and film featuring at the London Jazz Festival (and across Europe throughout November).

Gary Lucas is a rock guitarist with avant garde leanings (he started out playing with Captain Beefheart). He has accompanied silent films on several occasions, most notably for The Golem, which he has taken around the world. Other silents given the Lucas treatment (which veers between ambient sounds and dazzling pyrotechnics) are The Unholy Three, J’Accuse and his Sounds of the Surreal set (three films by Clair, Leger and Starewicz). For the London Jazz Festvial his choice isn’t a silent, but it is virtually so. It is the celebrated Spanish version of Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula, which was discovered in Cuba in the 1980s. Made at night at the same time, on the same set and with the same script as the Bela Lugosi version, the film was directed by George Melford and stars Carlos Villarias as Dracula and Lupita Tovar as Eva.

Gary Lucas accompanies the Spanish-language Dracula (1931) at the Havana Film Festival, 11 December 2009

Though the film has Spanish dialogue, there are long stretches where it is effectively silent, giving Lucas ample space in which to introduce his score, which he has been touring since 2009. The London event will feature Lucas and Dracula first (18:00-19:45), then Douglas and Spark of Being (20:05-21:30). The event is being produced in association with BBC3, so presumably we can look forward to some form of television broadcast as well. At any rate, a gobsmacked Bioscope will be there.

There is more information on both projects at the Dave Douglas and Gary Lucas websites.

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.

Big screen Charlie

And there’s more Chaplin coming up. Over June 17-27 the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles is showing Charlie Chaplin on the Big Screen, a series of Charlie Chaplin films in new 35mm prints provided by Janus Films, which recently obtained the US domestic theatrical and home video rights to the Chaplin library from First National to United Artists (1918-1957). It features The Circus, Limelight, The Great Dictator, A Woman of Paris, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, A King in New York with assorted shorts, and an inspired bit of programming – The Kid as a reason to celebrate Father’s Day. The prints presumably come with soundtracks, since there is no word of live muscial accompaniment. Here’s the blurb from the American Cinematheque’s press release with its breathlessly enthusiastic descriptions of the films (minus the insistent reminder that every print is a new print and every film comes from Janus Films):

Thursday, June 17 – 7:30 PM
“The Idle Class,” (1921, 32 min). The Tramp arrives at a luxurious resort, stowed away in the train that takes the elite to their sunny summer playground. “Sunnyside,” (1919, 29 min). Charlie the handyman must mow the floor of a hotel and deal with the pesky cows and goats that have found a home in the church.

THE CIRCUS, 1928, 71 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. The Little Tramp goes from being a circus loiterer who steals hotdogs from babies to an accidental clown in this delightful riot by comedic genius Charlie Chaplin. Don’t be fooled by the freewheeling slapstick throughout – the final shot evokes the heart-tugging yet adorable melancholia that makes the Tramp one of cinema’s most enduring characters.

Friday, June 18 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: CITY LIGHTS, 1931, 83 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. Perhaps Chaplin’s best blend of comedy, pathos and class critique, this portrayal of the Tramp’s well-intended efforts to help a lovely, blind flower seller is one of the great classics from the director’s oeuvre.

A WOMAN OF PARIS, 1923, 78 min. One of the rare Chaplin films not starring Chaplin, this romantic drama stars Edna Purviance as a woman who bounces back and forth between the security of a wealthy lover (played by the great Adolphe Menjou) and the passion of a poor artist.

Saturday, June 19 – 7:30 PM
THE GOLD RUSH, 1925, 72 min. Coming off his first major financial failure, A WOMAN OF PARIS, writer-director Charlie Chaplin responded with what many consider his finest feature length film. The Lone Prospector (Chaplin) travels to the far-off Yukon in search of gold, but ends up falling in love with dance-hall girl Georgia Hale. The classic “dance of the dinner rolls” and “boiled shoe leather” scenes show Chaplin’s gift for poignant comedy at its very best. Plus “A Dog’s Life,” (1918, 40 min). A literal expression of Chaplin’s identification with the underdog. “A Day’s Pleasure,” (1919, 25 min). A family boat outing is complicated by tumultuous waves, traffic and a pool of tar. “Shoulder Arms,” (1918, 46 min). The comedy of self-preservation and patriotic fantasy comes to a head when the Tramp finds himself in World War I.

Sunday, June 20 – 3:00 PM
Celebrate Father’s Day with Chaplin! THE KID, 1921, 60 min. In perhaps his greatest film masterpiece, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp, following his paternal instincts, takes a hapless, orphaned baby – “the Kid” – under his wing. Five years pass, and the tyke is now a precocious little boy (Jackie Coogan), helping his foster dad, the Tramp, in his “window glass replacement” scam. But a confluence of events, including the Kid’s sudden illness, conspire to separate the two. Plus “A Dog’s Life,” (1918, 40 min). A literal expression of Chaplin’s identification with the underdog.

Wednesday, June 23 – 7:30 PM
“Pay Day,” (1922, 28 min) Chaplin as a construction worker celebrates pay day by going to the bar – and trouble erupts.

LIMELIGHT, 1952, 137 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. In this nostalgic but never maudlin swan song, Chaplin channels the riotous music-hall culture of his youth. An intensely personal film complete with recollections of his parents as well as his children in cameo roles, LIMELIGHT also features the one-time-only onscreen pairing of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Thursday, June 24 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: MODERN TIMES, 1936, 87 min. Charlie Chaplin directs and plays the Tramp in this brilliantly inventive critique of industrial advancement. When the Tramp begins to take on one too many characteristics of the massive machinery that surrounds him, the powers-that-be are made nervous by such anti-social behavior and suspect him of being a communist.

A KING IN NEW YORK, 1957, 110 min. Charlie Chaplin’s take on America in the 1950s, made during his exile from the country due to his leftist views, stars Chaplin as a peaceable king who runs afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Roberto Rossellini wisely called the work “the film of a free man.”

Friday, June 25 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: THE CIRCUS, 1928, 71 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. The Little Tramp goes from being a circus loiterer who steals hotdogs from babies to an accidental clown in this delightful riot by comedic genius Charlie Chaplin. Don’t be fooled by the freewheeling slapstick throughout – the final shot evokes the heart-tugging yet adorable melancholia that makes the Tramp one of cinema’s most enduring characters.

THE GOLD RUSH, 1925, 72 min. Coming off his first major financial failure, A WOMAN OF PARIS, writer-director Charlie Chaplin responded with what many consider his finest feature length film. The Lone Prospector (Chaplin) travels to the far-off Yukon in search of gold, but ends up falling in love with dance-hall girl Georgia Hale. The classic “dance of the dinner rolls” and “boiled shoe leather” scenes show Chaplin’s gift for poignant comedy at its very best.

Saturday, June 26 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: THE PILGRIM, 1923, 59 min. Chaplin plays an escaped convict who, upon discovering a suit of clerical clothes, makes the uniform his disguise. A smart and funny critique of religious pretense.

THE GREAT DICTATOR, 1940, 125 min. Director Charlie Chaplin trades in the lovable bumbling of the Tramp for the hilarious but not-so-lovable bumbling of a strangely familiar Fascist leader in this brilliant work brimming with physical comedy and scathing political critique. “A time capsule, a timeless document and a profound work of conscience…See it with a crowd.” – San-Francisco Chronicle.

Sunday, June 27 – 3:00 PM
Charlie Chaplin Shorts Program: “Pay Day,” (1922, 28 min) Chaplin as a construction worker celebrates pay day by going to the bar – and trouble erupts. “Sunnyside,” (1919, 29 min) Charlie the handyman must mow the floor of a hotel, and deal with the pesky cows and goats who have found a home in the church. “A Day’s Pleasure,” (1919, 25 min). A family boat outing is complicated by tumultuous waves, traffic and a pool of tar. “The Idle Class,” (1921, 32 min). The Tramp arrives at a luxurious resort, stowed away in the train that takes the elite to their sunny summer playground.

More information as always from the American Cinematheque’s site, including booking details. Now, given Janus Films’ close relationship with the Criterion Collection, might the ultimate in Chaplin deluxe DVD releases be in the offing? At any rate, look out for Janus’ Chaplin website, coming soon.

The Brand Blackmail


Last year Neil Brand‘s orchestral score for the silent version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail was premiered (and much acclaimed) at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna in July 2008. Happily there is going to be a further outing for the score, as film and music are to feature at the Barbican in London on 31 October 2010. The BBC Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Timothy Brock, and tickets can now be booked from the Barbican site. As said before, this is probably the first full orchestral score to be written for a British silent fiction film since the 1920s (The Battle of the Somme, a documentary feature, received the orchestral treatment at the Royal Festival Hall in 2006).

For an extract from the score, photos of the Bologna screening, and extracts from reviews, see the Blackmail page on Neil’s personal site.

And there’s more. As regular readers will know, Neil is progressively building up a further reputation as a radio dramatist, and on 27 and 28 May (each at 14:15) BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting Waves Breaking on a Shore, a two-part play about early cinema, Jewish culture, nationalism and radical politics in London’s East End, co-written by Neil and Michael Eaton. The two parts will be broadcast in the Afternoon Play slot and will be able to be heard live on the Radio 4 site and – one trusts – for a week thereafter on iPlayer (if you are in the UK).

I’ve read it and I warmly recommend it (and if it ends up mentioning Walter Gibbons’ Phono-Bio-Tableaux, then I contributed three words to it as well).

A luxurious wallowing place

Today (7th May) at Bristol’s Colston Hall there is to be a special screening of Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc with live music by rock musicians Adrian Utley (of Portishead) and Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp). The music will be conducted by Charles Hazelwood, and will feature six electric guitars, eight members of the Monteverdi Choir, harp, percussion, horns and keyboards. The short documentary above, made by Rick Holbrook, features interviews with Utley, Gregory and Hazelwood, and shows the process of composition, illustrated by clips from the film. The trio previously collaborated on a score for Victor Sjöström’s He Who Gets Slapped at Bristol in 2007.

In The Times last Saturday there was an interview with Gregory and Utley about the project. Gregory came up with this very revealing comment on composing music for silent films:

It’s a luxurious wallowing place for composers. You get to be the whole soundtrack: music, dialogue, background noise and special effects.

I think that pretty much sums up the approach of the rock musicians and jazz musicians who have dabbled in silent film scores in recent years – among them John Cale, Jonathan Richman, Black Francis, The Pet Shop Boys, DJ Spooky, Tangerine Dream, Tom Verlaine, Giorgio Moroder, Bill Frisell, Gary Lucas, Dave Douglas, Joby Talbot, Fred Frith, Marc Ribot, Steven Severin, Maximo Park, and several more. The silent film is a canvas – practically a blank canvas – onto which they can wallow with abandon. This isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, because it is a form of artistic expression, and in some cases a highly successful one, but it is one where the film is subordinated to the music (still more to the star musician). Any regular silent film musician will tell you that their job is to accompany the film, interpreting it in the best possible way to enable the audience fully to appreciate what they are seeing. They don’t provide us with concerts accompanied by the film.

So we have two different ways of approaching the silent film score, and that has to be better than just having the one. Back to The Passion of Joan of Arc, and despite the Colston Hall calling it a unique event, the composers say that they hope to take film and score elsewhere, hinting at Italy and France.

The ancient world in Malibu

La Caduta di Troia, from

We have reported previously on the screenings of early films under the title of The Ancient World in Silent Cinema which have taken place in the UK – one programme covering Ancient Greece and Rome and a second programme covering the Biblical lands. The screenings are part of a project on the ancient world and cinema organised by Professor Maria Wyke (University College London) and Pantelis Michelakis (University of Bristol).

The screenings have now moved to America. On 10 April 2010, the Getty Villa, Malibu, California will host a programme of Ancient Rome and Greece films, from the collection of the BFI National Archive. Here’s the blurb describing the programme:

In the earliest days of cinema, more than 800 films drew their inspiration from ancient Mediterranean cultures, history, and society. With the exception of a handful now available on DVD or screened at film festivals, most of these works have been largely forgotten. Ranging from historical and mythological epics to burlesques, animated cartoons, documentaries and adaptations of Greek drama, these films all suggest an interest in the ancient world. Today more than 300 of these early films survive in archival collections in 26 countries, and digital technology has created new possibilities to access and transmit early cinema, allowing a reconsideration of silent films as a culturally and aesthetically dynamic medium.

The films will be on 35mm, and will be acompanied by pianist Andrew Earle Simpson, composer and professor of music at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The films to be shown are:

La Légende de Midas (France, 1910, directed by Louis Feuillade, 12 minutes)

La Caduta di Troia (Italy, 1910, directed by Giovanni Pastrone and Romano Luigi Borgnetto, 29 minutes)

The Private Life of Helen of Troy (United States, 1927, directed by Alexander Korda, 5 minute fragment).

Julius Caesar (United States, 1908, directed by William V. Ranous, 14 minutes)

Cléopatre (France, 1910, directed by Ferdinand Zecca and Henri Andréani, 15 minutes)

A Roman Scandal (United States, 1924, directed by Bud Fisher, 6 minutes)

The programme is shorter than was the case in the UK, where we were treated to an afternoon and evening set of screenings, but I warmly recommend what is certain to be an engrossing programme. I particularly recommend Pastrone’s La Caduta di Troia, a stand-out work by a real filmmaker. Certainly the Ancient Greeks would have recognised its narrative fervour and its respect for heroic ideals.

The aim of the project (which doesn’t have a web page or website, unfortunately) is to investigate in detail a broad range of silent films set in antiquity leading to an online database, conferences and publications and – it is confidently expressed – preservation, digitisation, and exhibition. We will be keeping an eye on developments.

Carl Davis meets his Waterloo

Charles Vanel as Napoleon in Karl Grune’s Waterloo (1928), from

The Bioscope normally avoids covering news of single film screenings. Requests come through from time to time suggesting that there be a Bioscope service advertising silent film screenings and not just festivals. My answer each time is that I’m not able to maintain such a service to the extensive level that would be expected of it, and instead I refer people to the Silent Screenings section of Nitrateville and (for information in the USA only) to the Silents in the Court and Silent Era sites.

But here’s an exception. 22 April sees the UK premiere of Carl Davis‘ score for Waterloo (Germany 1928), directed by Karl Grune. The screening will be at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, with the Philharmonia orchestra conducted by Davis.

Abel Gance’s epic Napoléon, for which Grune’s film was conceived as a response, does not include the Battle of Waterloo. Gance’s film (which he madly hoped would be part one of six) ends with the invasion of Italy. Grune’s film tells the story from the German point of view, focussing on Blüchner (Otto Gebühr) who comes to the aid of the Duke of Wellington (Humberstone Wright) to defeat Napoleon (Charles Vanel). Grune looked to Gance’s film not only in theme but in technique, with spectacular battle scenes crowned by split screen images, though it is (by reputation) a far more conventional historical costume drama overall. Carl Davis has likewise looked back to his famous 1980 score for Napoleon, stating that his score is intended to be a follow-up, combining music from the period with his own.

A DVD of Waterloo is promised from Edition Filmmuseum (see its forthcoming releases list), but there is no indication that the release will feature Davis’ score. Abel Gance’s Napoléon, famously restored by Kevin Brownlow, is regrettably one of the more elusive of silent films these days. For its American release, the restored film was cut and put to a score by Carmine Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s father, which is the only version allowed to be screened in the USA. This has hamstrung the film’s availability, not least on DVD. If you don’t mind an inferior restoration with Coppola’s frankly second-rate score, the film is available on DVD from Spain in a two-disc format. But remember that Brownlow’s restoration of the film (last screened in the UK in 2004) is over ninety minutes longer, with more accurate editing, better print quality, and colour tinting – as well as Davis’ ever-expanding score for live performances.

Information on the screening of Waterloo is available from the Philharmonia Orchestra and South Bank Centre websites. The screening starts at 7.00pm and is proceeded by a free introductory talk at 5.45pm by film historian and film music authority John Riley.

The new Metropolis

Metropolis being screened in front of the Brandenburg Gate in an icy Berlin, from the Arte live video stream

Today saw the premiere of the restored version of Metropolis, complete with the previously missing sequences discovered in a version held in Argentina. The film has been restored by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung (the Murnau Foundation) in cooperation with ZDF and Arte, and the Deutsche Kinemathek, and with the Museo del Cine Pablo C. Ducros Hicken (Buenos Aires). It was given its first screenings simultaneously at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main, and at the Friedrichstadtpalast, Berlin as part of the 60th Berlin International Film Festival. The film was also shown for free for the general public on a big screen in front of the Brandenburg Gate, with a live video stream (at some distance from the screen) of the Friedrichstadtpalast event, delivered by French TV channel Arte.

The film was presented with a newly adapted music score based on the original Gottfried Huppertz score of 1927. In Berlin the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin played under the direction of Frank Strobel, in Frankfurt the Staatsorchester Braunschweig was conducted by Helmut Imig. The missing sequences amount to some 25mins of screening time, though the Argentine film is a 16mm dupe neg and in poor condition.

The story has been told many times now (including on the Bioscope), but briefly to recap: when originally released Metropolis, though now one of the most iconic and revered of all silent films, was a bit of a flop. The film was drastically cut soon after its premiere to try and make it more appealing to audiences, but as is so often the case in these instances, dramatic logic suffered. Almost a quarter of its original length was lost. The film at its original length of 4189 metres (or 147mins at 25fps) was therefore only seen for a short while (until May 1927 in Berlin); thereafter a cut version of around 113 mins was all that could be seen. The most recent restoration of the film before this one, that overseen by Enno Patalas in 2001, runs at 118 mins. In 2008, Paula Félix-Didier, new curator of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, learned of a curiously long screening of a print of Metropolis at a cinema club some years before, a print which had come to Argentina in 1928 and eventually a dupe neg found its way to Museo del Cine in 1992. Félix-Didier located the film, recognised its significance, the news went excitedly around the world, and now we have the results. The restored film runs for 147mins (it doesn’t say at what speed).

Design by Eric Kettelhut from the Deutsche Kinemathek exhibition on Metropolis

There is a website devoted to the restored film, put together by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, with information on the film’s history, its restoration and the premieres, with a helpful set of FAQs (in English and German), which include these notes on what the new sequences show:

The METROPOLIS version 1927/2010 differs significantly from all the versions known so far. Although the plot of the film keeps its well-known framework the structure of the plot changes: It becomes more harmonic and more comprehensible. Especially the minor characters that Fritz Lang gives room emerge again. Two newly found scenes give Georgy, Josaphat and The Thin Man back their own profiles that through the cuts were almost downgraded to extras.

The now included sequences like Georg’s car ride through Metropolis as well as Freder and The Thin Man’s visiting with Josaphat turn out to be siginificant for the plot. But also the relationship between the inventor Rotwang and Joh Fredersen, the ruler over Metropolis, as well as the reason for their rivalry become clear through the current restoration: Finally one can see the famous scene “Chamber of Hel”, the departed woman loved by both rivals, from which up to now only one still and several descriptions existed.

Arte has a special feature on the film and a documentary on its restoration (Voyage à Metropolis), including a video clip from the restoration showing a sequence with Fritz Rasp and Alfred Abel in a taxi and a delightful sequence with lifts (the video is available in embedded form but can’t be embedded into a WordPress blog, curses). Other videos have interviews with those involved in the restoration, and there is a photo gallery and features on actress Brigitte Helm and director Fritz Lang. There’s an AFP news report on YouTube which has interviews and fleeting clips (embedding not allowed, sigh). The Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin has an exhibition on Metropolis and its restoration which runs until April 25th.

The Bioscope saw about an hour of the live video stream, but as the image at the top of this post indicates, although of excellent quality it wasn’t the ideal way to experience the film (indeed it was as interesting or even more so for the people-watching experience, as people indifferently trudged by in the cold as high melodrama unfolded on the screen). However, judging as best one could from the live stream, and the video clips online, the new sequences have been cleaned up as well as one could have hoped for, and the transitions from 35mm to blow-up from the digitally restored 16mm do not jar at all. It looks to be a very professional piece of work.

Finally, and as an antidote to the hype, you might care to take a look at H.G. Wells’ notorious 1927 review of the film. He didn’t much care for it:

I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier. And as this film sets out to display the way the world is going … It is called Metropolis, it comes from the great Ufa studios in Germany, and the public is given to understand that it has been produced at enormous cost. It gives in one eddying concentration almost every possible foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general served up with a sauce of sentimentality that is all its own…

And then he really lays into it. Yes it’s a folly, but it’s a magnificent folly, and it’s now a coherent magnificent folly. A theatrical print of the restored film is expected to be available in the autumn 2010, with Transit Film, Munich in charge of sales. A DVD release from the Murnau Foundation is expected at the end of 2010.