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A cool decade of Silent London

Happy birthday to us! Break out the socially distanced celebrations! Today Silent London reaches double digits. The blog was born on 26 November 2010, with a sketchy tumblr and a humble tweet.

Since then this site has grown, and made many new friends, around the world. I am honestly astonished by everything that has happened since then, and feel so very lucky to be part of it. It’s Thanksgiving in America today, which is appropriate as I am very, very grateful for all the films, the fantastic music, and the people who have supported Silent London over this decade. That’s you, that is. Everyone who has read and shared the posts here, and the brilliant people who have contributed their own posts too. I am grateful for the archives, festivals and cinemas who have welcomed this blogger to watch their work, and the musicians who have brought the films to new life with every screening. The silent film community is a wonderful thing and I am honoured to one of its members.

If you needed proof, just look at this year and how this community has coped in a crisis. I tip my hat to the way that silent cinema has thrived online, from the Kennington Bioscope (catch up with last night’s programme, it was fab!) and Ben Model’s Silent Comedy Watch Party screenings on YouTube to the online versions of Bologna and Pordenone’s festivals. Let alone all the archive material accessible on websites from Paris to Amsterdam to Copenhagen to San Francisco … mind, blown. This very weekend, Scotland’s wonderful HippFest is hosting an online screening of a fascinating silent film as part of the third edition of St Andrew’s Fair Saturday. Please read on for more details.

Waxworks (1924)
Waxworks (1924)

You may have noticed that the blog has been a little quiet recently. Well, freelancing in a pandemic is no joke, but I have had it easy. This has been a really tough year for silent cinema, with cinema and archive staff on furloughs, screenings cancelled and postponed and a terrible dearth of work for silent film musicians. So let’s make a pledge that when the screenings begin again, hopefully very soon, we will vote with our feet, and our wallets, as much as we can.

Below I have strung together a collection of fine things to know about! Happy birthday to all of us.

  • And take a minute to read about the Excluded campaign, which is lobbying on behalf of the people, many of them working in the arts, who have not been able to access government support during the pandemic. There are more out there than you might think.

  • I promised you a silent film from HippFest this weekend. It’s Filibus: The Mysterious Air Pirate (1915), with a new accompaniment by the supremely talented Jane Gardner (piano) and Hazel Morrison (percussion). The screening will be introduced by Dennis Doros, the President of the Association of Moving Image Archivists and the co-Director of Milestone Film. It will be available to view from 8pm on 28 November until midnight on St Andrew’s Day (30 November) and all proceeds will go to supporting the Hippodrome cinema in Falkirk. Access the screening here.
  • New on Pordenone’s Silent Stream site, heartbreaking Danish silent Moraenen (1924), accompanied by Stephen Horne and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry – this score earned a standing ovation, quite rightly, when the film showed at the Giornate in 2017. Enjoy, but do fetch a handkerchief. As I wrote at the time: “Music plays a hugely important role in the story, and so it was fitting that we had such excellent, vivid and powerful accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry playing skilfully upon the piano, harp, accordion, flute, voice and also, the heartstrings of he audience. I was engrossed in the misery, and when the lights went up I discovered that my eyes were a little moist.”
  • In four days’ time it is the 40th, yes 40th anniversary of the first screening of Kevin Brownlow’s epic reconstruction of Abel Gance’s Napoléon, with Carl Davis’s score, at the Royal Festival Hall. Can you believe it?
The Woman Men Yearn For (1929)
  • I programmed a film season! Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love Again plays at BFI Southbank in December and includes the wonderful silent film she starred in: The Three Lovers/The Woman Men Yearn For (Curtis Bernhardt, 1929).
  • Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page.
  • If you get the reference in the headline of this piece, well, isn’t that sinister?

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