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 …

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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