Talking about the 20th British Silent Film Festival

Spring Awakening (1929)

Spring Awakening (1929)

After five days of wonderful films, music, research, conversation, coffee and Jan Kiepura the British Silent Film Festival is over for another year. We had a fantastic time and were happy to welcome some new faces (and old ones) to the festival this time. We’d especially like to thank the amazing musicians and the staff of the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester for their warm welcome and their awesome technical skills – also the New Walk Gallery who hosted three of our most popular events.

If you have been following the festival on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you’ll have seen that many of screenings prompted a certain amount of discussion online. If you haven’t, or you’d like a recap, here’s just a flavour of what people were saying about the festival. Check the #BSFF19 hashtag for more …

View this post on Instagram

A massive well done to the planning team, programmers and musicians for delivering an impeccable 20th edition of the @britishsilentfilmfestival. It was my very first one and it certainly won’t be the last – there is so much passion on display throughout the whole event, not only of cinema as an art form but also as a social agent that brings people together. The community feel is very strong throughout the whole festival, and I am very happy to have met so many like-minded passionate cinephiles very over the past 5 days. The programme provided us with the opportunity to see some very rare 35mm prints from the BFI archives that have barely seen the light of day since their original theatrical runs – some so rare in fact that I could barely find any info on them online and had to create new Letterboxd pages for them. Some of the highlights included: . – THESSA (1928): There is so much challenging material to savour under the glossy veneer of this so-called “women’s picture”: repressed female sexuality, controling matriarchy, male sexual impotence, PTSD, the masochistic nature of marriages… and why Russian women characters in English-speaking movies tend always be cast as a ballerina, a spy or a prostitute (in this case Corda gets the ballerina role). Luminous cinematography, a great star turn for Corda, a very mature theme handled tactfully and a bonus synchronised-sound dialogue scene. . -BE MINE TONIGHT (1932): A major discovery of the festival was the talents of Polish tenor Jan Kiepura, who was a major star at the beginning of the talkies. Directed by Anatole Litvak, this musical is a sheer delight and a testament to the power of populist entertainment. An operetta with witty staging and sophisticated editing, being meta when the talkies were barely old enough to be self-aware of their new conventions. . – THE MIDNIGHT GIRL (1919): A lively example of early movie marketing cross-promotion, with the theme song that gives the film a name being played on the screen and sung live in the theatre (in this case by the lovely Michelle Facey who also programmed the film).Marie Pagano looks lovingly sassy and one wonders what sort of career she would have had.

A post shared by Celluloid Gateway (@celluloidgateway) on

View this post on Instagram

The 20th edition of the @britishsilentfilmfestival started on a strong note with a screening of the German expressionist rarity FROM MORN TO MIDNIGHT (Von morgens bis mitternachts, 1920). Made only a few months after THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, this very close relative also relies on heavily stylised painted sets to depict a world on the verge of collapsing, drawing on many of the themes that would become hallmarks of Weimar-era cinema: moral ambiguity, the fear of death, lust for power and sexual desire as a cause for social and psychological decline. It also has a heavy-handed moralist ending that CALIGARI was too wise to avoid. Stellar musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne and John Sweeney, and great to finally meet fellow film buff @no_light_without_darkness. From tomorrow most screenings will be held @phoenixleic, and I am very excited to hear many of them will be from celluloid. . . . #bsff19 #britishsilentfilmfestival #silentfilm #silentcinema #leicester #ukculture #silentmovies #weimarrepublic #germanexpressionism #germancinema #film #globetrotter #cinephiles #cinephilecommunity

A post shared by Celluloid Gateway (@celluloidgateway) on

View this post on Instagram

Yesterday, as part of the @britishsilentfilmfestival, I briefly spoke on the BBC about Victorian film as revolutionary and a new form of technology which allowed Victorians to experience watching themselves on screen for the first time, as well as seeing other places they didn't have the luxury of travelling to. The clips were of course edited to be cut down short enough to feature on the 6 o'clock news, but I also drew attention to how these films are fascinating from a historical perspective, as they brought to life the experiences of work, leisure and broader daily life which we read about in history books. . I was joined by @another_horrorhag on the show, who gave an insightful interpretation into how the Victorians were fascinated with filming their experiences, comparing it to how we use Instagram today to capture single moments in our lives.

A post shared by Jade Eyre 🌟 (@enchantedbyfilm) on

And special thanks to Paul Joyce for two superb blogpost reports from the festival, which really captured the excitement of the event.

Oh, and in case you were wondering …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mabel Poulton: British silent cinema’s cockney darling

Mabel Poulton in The Alley Cat

Mabel Poulton in The Alley Cat

Mabel Poulton, star of The Alley Cat, which we are showing at the 20th British Silent Film Festival, was one of the most popular, and sadly one of the swiftest forgotten actresses of the 1920s. She was a waif-like star, who excelled in romantic and tragic roles, and ultimately became a victim of the vagaries of the film industry.

Her start in the cinema was hardly glamorous, but it did rely on her natural resemblance to the American star Lillian Gish. Poulton was working as a typist at the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square, but studying acting in her spare time, when her manager asked her: “How would you like to die three times a day?” He required her to wear a kimono and enact her demise as a dramatic prologue to screenings of Broken Blossoms, DW Griffith’s east-end drama. Continue reading

Silent René Clair: The Phantom of the Moulin Rouge (1925)

Le Fantôme du Moulin-Rouge (1925)

Le Fantôme du Moulin-Rouge (1925)

René Clair was one of France’s most celebrated auteur directors, who made great films in both the silent and sound eras and on each side of the Atlantic. We’re thrilled that our festival will host the UK premiere of Lobster Films’ new restoration of his first feature film, Le fantôme du Moulin-Rouge (The Phantom of the Moulin Rouge, 1925). And we’re even more excited to say that this screening will be accompanied by two of our favourite musicians, multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne and harpist Elizabeth-Jane Baldry.

Although Clair is credited, quite rightly, with one of the most sophisticated transitions to the talking pictures with the eloquent sound design of Sous les Toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris, 1930), his silent work is particularly fascinating and has been overlooked by too many people. His silent work combines the avant-garde, the comic and the fantastical to make films that are filled with beauty and wonder, as well as humour. Continue reading

20th British Silent Film Festival – at-a-glance timetable

Sången om den Eldröda Blomman (Song of the Scarlet Flower, 1919)

Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919)

Wednesday 11 September

Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

7. 30pm

From Morn to Midnight (Von morgens bis mitternachts)

Thursday 12 September

10am – 11.15am

From Music Hall to Cinematograph

The films, life and work of Alf Collins and the Collins’ Family

Presented by Ray and Sylvia Spare

11.45am – 12.35pm

ABC in Sound

Presented by Bryony Dixon

1.30pm – 2.30pm

The Oyster Princess (Die Austernprinzessin)

Introduced by Margaret Deriaz

3.15pm – 3.50pm

Peace on the Western Front

Introduced by Toby Haggith, Senior Curator from the Imperial War Museum.

4.15pm – 5.45pm

Comradeship

Introduced by Lucie Dutton.

6.15pm – 7.45pm

The Song of the Scarlet Flower (Sången om den eldröda blomman)

9.15pm – 10.30pm

The Alley Cat

Spring Awakening (1929)

Spring Awakening (1929)

Friday 13 September

9am – 10.05am

The City of Song

Introduced by Geoff Brown

10.45pm – 12.15pm

British silent rarities from the Archive Film Agency

Introduced by Laraine Porter

1.15pm – 2.45pm

The Silver Lining

3.15pm – 4.35pm

Tons of Money

5.15pm – 6.50pm

Spring Awakening (Frühlingserwachen)

Introduced by Michael Eaton

8.15pm -10.15pm

The Struggle for the Matterhorn (Der Kampf ums Matterhorn)

Introduced by Miranda Gower-Qian

Tell Me Tonight (1932)

Tell Me Tonight (1932)

Saturday 14 September

9am – 10.30am

Tell Me Tonight

Introduced by Geoff Brown

11am -12.20pm

The Runaway Princess

Introduced by Laraine Porter

11am – 12.30pm

Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Neil Brand’s Laurel and Hardy Show, live music

1.45pm – 2.45pm

The Boer War on Screen

Presented by Bryony Dixon and Matt Lee

3.15pm – 4.45pm

The Midnight Girl

Introduced by Michelle Facey

Plus

Toni

5.30pm – 6.50pm

The Phantom of the Moulin Rouge (Le fantôme du Moulin Rouge)

8pm – 9.20pm

Tesha

Feeding the Pigeons in St Mark's Square

Feeding the Pigeons in St Mark’s Square

Sunday 15 September

9am – 10.12pm

Secret Film

Introduced by Geoff Brown.

10.45pm – 12.05pm

A slow journey across Europe – A programme of early travelogues

Presented by Bryony Dixon

12.30pm – 1.15pm

‘An Appreciation of Film’: The Leicester Film Society in the 1930s

Presented by Sue Porter

2.15pm – 3.15pm

The Puppet Man

4pm5.30pm

Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Screening the Victorians

Presented by Bryony Dixon

 

 

From Morn to Midnight: extreme German Expressionism

Von Morgens bis Mitternachts (From Morn until Midnight, 1920)

Von Morgens bis Mitternachts (From Morn to Midnight, 1920)

This year, the British Silent Film Festival is commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the Weimar Republic. This means we will be looking both at some acclaimed German films of the 1920s, but also international co-productions and those British films that betray the clear influence of Weimar cinema. We are also exploring the origins of the horror genre, as the  nights draw in. So there is no finer way to begin our festival than with an influential and bold classic of German Expressionist cinema. We want to create the perfect atmosphere too, so our opening night movie will screen at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester, which is home to an internationally acclaimed collection of Expressionist art.

The film we are screening is Karlheinz Martin’s From Morn to Midnight (1920) – a bold  film that epitomises the styles and concerns of German Expressionism. The Expressionist movement moved from fine art – distorted perspectives and artificiality combine with thick, obvious brush strokes to create a visual representation not of naturalism but of the artist’s innermost psychological turmoil – to the theatre . From Morn to Midnight was made very shortly after the famous The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), which has widely been celebrated as the first true Expressionist film. It shares with that film a sense of foreboding and introspection, a feeling that the outside world is filled with danger – and of course a heavily stylised, theatrical production design.

From morn tomidnight4

Continue reading

A hundred years ago … The Midnight Girl and the cinema in 1919

Adolph Philipp and Marie Pagano in The Midnight Girl (1919)

Adolph Philipp and Marie Pagano in The Midnight Girl (1919)

We’re standing on the verge of the Roaring Twenties all over again. It’s often instructive (and fun!) to look back at how cinema has advanced in a century and 1919 was a particularly strong year for the movies. As the Cento anni fa strand at Il Cinema Ritrovato proved this year, many films we now acknowledge as silent classics were released just before the feted 1920s began. In 1919, the war in Europe had ended, Hollywood was growing strong, the feature film was rapidly becoming a fixture, and things were about to get very interesting in Germany. At the 20th British Silent Film Festival, we’re commemorating the anniversary of the Weimar Republic by looking at the fascinating German cinema of this period and its global influence too.

We’ll be screening several diverse films from 1919 at this year’s festival in Leicester: from Mauritz Stiller’s captivating Swedish drama Song of the Scarlet Flower starring Lars Hanson, to Maurice Elvey’s WWI movie Comradeship and Ernst Lubitsch’s frenetic comedy The Oyster Princess. One of the 1919 films on the slate is likely to be unfamiliar to most of us – The Midnight Girl, a charming two-reel comedy, which reveals the extent of the influence not just German culture but the New York stage had on mid-period silent cinema. Not only that, but our screening of the film will be very special.

Adolph Philipp, the writer and director of The Midnight Girl,  was born in Germany but ran away as a teenager to join an acting troupe. In the early 20th century he opened a theatre in New York, where he staged many of his own musicals for the substantial German-speaking audience in the city, as well as selling his sheet music. Continue reading

20th British Silent Film Festival – Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919)

11-15 September 2019

Highlights

Sången om den eldröda blomman (The Song of the Scarlet Flower)

Dir: Mauritz Stiller, Sweden 1919, 1hr 41mins, recorded music.

Lars Hansen in The Song of the Scarlet Flower

A big-budget classic from the golden age of Swedish silent cinema starring Lars Hanson as the wilful homme fatale and farmers’ son Olof who is expelled from home after a familial disagreement. Olof joins an itinerant group of loggers who ride the rapids down the local river. But despite his bravado and logging prowess, Olof can’t forget a woman he left behind. Stunning location cinematography and a justifiably famous log-riding sequence highlight the relationship between humans and their magisterial landscape. The original music score by Armas Jarnefelt, who along with Sibelius was Finland’s most popular composer, is here reproduced to perfection.  

%d bloggers like this: