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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Betty Balfour: “Great Britain’s Queen of Happiness”

Betty Balfour in 1925

Betty Balfour

Betty Balfour could well be the mascot of the 19th British Silent Film Festival. You will see her in three different films across the weekend – two silents and a musical. In each film, you’ll get a glimpse of why she was once one of the most popular British film stars. In her heyday, she was occasionally compared to Hollywood’s Mary Pickford, but her appeal was not quite so girlish and innocent. Balfour was first and foremost a comedienne, with an earthy, active charm that she deployed to great effect playing the Cockney flowergirl ‘Squibs’ in a series of hit films. Later in her career, she played more sophisticated characters in more serious films, but the Balfour charm still shines through.

Balfour was not a Cockney herself, although she was raised in London. As a profile on Balfour in Picturegoer in 1924 wrote, “‘Squibs’ was a rough-cast, ragged, little East-Ender and Betty is a smartly-attired, highly-polished little West-Ender.” In fact, when Balfour had introduced herself to the readers of that magazine in 1921, in an article entitled ‘Mainly about me’, she stressed her aristocratic connections. The patronage of the “late lady FitzGeorge” was responsible for her big break, she explained, her first stage job at the Ambassadors’ Theatre in 1914, when she was just 12 years old. As a younger child she had performed songs and recited speeches at “At-homes” to an audience comprising “crowned heads, princes, duchesses; men who had helped to make empires, and men who were planning to wreck them”.

Continue reading

Highlights of the 19th British Silent Film Festival

13-17 September 2017,
Phoenix Cinema, Leicester

Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1932)

Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1932)

The British Silent Film Festival returns to the Phoenix in Leicester this September and the good news is that you can book your tickets and passes now. We are excited to unveil our four-day programme of silent and early sound cinema from around the world – with a special focus on British film.

All the silent films will be accompanied by some of the world’s best silent film musicians, including a very special score for Vampyr, by Stephen Horne and Minima. This haunting, hallucinatory horror film was directed by Carl Th Dreyer in 1932 with barely any dialogue. It is based on the writings of Sheridan le Fanu and follows a young scholar of the occult who enters a village that is under the curse of a vampire.

More silent horror in the programme comes courtesy of a selection of chilling films inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, which will screen at Leicester’s atmospheric 12th-century St Mary de Castro church, with an introduction from BFI curator Bryony Dixon.

We’ll also be celebrating some of the silent era’s lesser-sung comedians. We are screening the hilarious Hands Up! in which comic Raymond Griffith plays a Confederate spy trying to capture some Yankee gold during the American Civil War. We are also showing Cocktails, a rarely seen, sparkling comedy from 1928 starring Pat and Patachon, the “Danish Laurel and Hardy”.

L’Hirondelle et la mésange (André Antoine, 1920)

L’Hirondelle et la mésange (André Antoine, 1920)

A rarely seen treasure of silent cinema, L’Hirondelle et la mésange, directed by André Antoine in 1920, also screens at the festival. This lyrical, suspenseful film, set in the canals of Flanders, and taking its name from two barges driven by the protagonists, was not released for 60 years as the studio considered it too realistic. Now its naturalistic acting, and sophisticated camera effects are celebrated as an example of silent cinema at its finest. This film has been restored by La Cinémathèque française, and we are showing the film in a gorgeous 2K restoration, complete with the original tints.

It wouldn’t be a celebration of British silent cinema without Alfred Hitchcock, and we’ll be showing the recent BFI restoration of his debut film The Pleasure Garden, with an introduction by musician, composer and TV presenter Neil Brand.

The Pleasure Garden (Alfred Hitchcock, 1925)

The Pleasure Garden (Alfred Hitchcock, 1925)

Again we’re looking at British cinema’s transition from the silent era to the talkies. We are screening some early sound classics, including Walter Summers’ nail-biting Suspense (1930) in which a group of British WWI soldiers are forced to listen to the enemy laying mines in the tunnel beneath their trench. This brilliant film will be introduced by journalist and film researcher Geoff Brown.

There is plenty more in the full programme, which we’ll be announcing in full soon, including some fascinating archive film, two appearances by Betty Balfour, and Bill Morrison’s acclaimed documentary, Dawson City: Frozen Time.

Don’t forget, the festival kicks off on 13 September with a one-day colloquium on Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound – see the at a glance timetable for the papers and presenters!

See you in Leicester!

The British Silent Film Festival runs from 13-17 September 2017 at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester. You can book weekend passes here.

 

image001 4_BFI LOTTERY FUNDED_FF_COL_LOGO_GLOW_NEG.fw (4)

%d bloggers like this: