HomeEntertainmentFunny Valentines: Silent comedy at Slapstick 2023

Funny Valentines: Silent comedy at Slapstick 2023

This February, comedy fans will head west to Bristol, Unesco City of Film for the annual Slapstick Festival. As usual, there is plenty for fans of silent cinema in the programme, with stars from Charley Bowers to Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin to Marlene Dietrich. Presenters include Kevin Brownlow, Steve Massa and Polly Rose, as well as the marvellous Ayşe Behçet, whose Charlie’s London posts you may remember from this very site, back in the day.

The 2023 Slapstick festival runs from 14-19 February this year, and here’s what’s coming up silent in the programme.


2pm: The Cigarette Girl Of Mosselprom [1924]

Hosted by Lucy Porter

Watershed  £8.50/£5.00

Dir: Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky, Soviet Union, 78 mins, cert TBA

In stark contrast to most films made immediately after the Russian Revolution, this is an endearing rom-com filled with likeable characters and some self-effacing insights into the filmmaking process. At the centre of it all is cigarette seller Zina (played by the future Cannes award-winning director Yuliya Solntseva) and the love tangles that surround her when she is talent-spotted to become an actress. With an introduction from stand-up comedian and actor Lucy Porter and live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney. 

4.15pm: Fred Karno: The Legend Behind The Laughter

Watershed  £8.50/£5.00

Without the wit, grit and creativity of Exeter-born Fred Karno, the Slapstick Festival itself might not exist. Karno was the acrobat, gag deviser and impresario who recruited and trained many of the physical performers who gave Hollywood its slapstick comedy stars, such as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Will Hay. The festival is delighted, therefore, to host an illustrated conversation between Andrew Kelly (Bristol ideas) and David Crump – author of a definitive new biography of the man whose mantra “If in doubt, fall on your arse” influences so many of the entertainers Slapstick celebrates. In partnership with Bristol Ideas.

6pm: Screen Wonder Women [I am pretty sure this is the project better known as Cinema’s First Nasty Women! – Ed.]

Hosted by Lucy Porter & Jane Duffus

The former Bristol Imax Cinema, Bristol Aquarium £10.00/£6.00

Comedian and Slapstick favourite Lucy Porter and Jane Duffus, author of The What The Frock Book of Funny Women, present and discuss their picks from a new collection of rarely-seen silent comedy films in collaboration with Kino Lorber. The films, made between 1898 to 1926, feature slapstick high jinks, swipes at authority,  gender swaps, feminist protests, and rebellions against the behaviour generally expected or demanded of women in those times. The collection is drawn from international film archives. See the festival website for film titles. With live piano accompaniment from John Sweeney. In partnership with Bristol Ideas.  A BSL Interpreted Event

Ayse and Charlie
Ayse and Charlie


11.40am: Charlie’s London: A Success Story

Watershed £6.00/£4.50

Join Ayşe Behçet for insights into how the discovery that she, her mother and  grandmother were all born in the same part of London as Charlie Chaplin led to her becoming an internationally respected authority on the star’s early years, a blogger with many thousands of social media followers and to gaining enough support from crowd-funders to publish Charlie’s London: From East Lane to the Limelight – a Chaplin Estate-blessed biography in full-colour graphic comic format.  In conversation with Andrew Kelly (Bristol Ideas) and in partnership with Bristol Ideas. Followed by a book signing with Ayşe and illustrator Karl Stephan .

1.30pm: I Kiss Your Hand, Madam (Ich Küsse Ihre Hand, Madame) [1929]

With an introduction by Kevin Brownlow

Watershed £8.50 / £5.00

Dir: Richard Land, Germany, 66 mins, cert PG

A rare chance to see Marlene Dietrich in one of the last films she made in Germany before she was spotted by actor/director Josef von Sternberg and taken to the States to star as Lola in THE BLUE ANGEL, thus beginning her stratospheric Hollywood career. In this, her only silent comedy, she plays a new divorcee who pins her hopes on a future with a rich Russian count, disbelieving her ex’s claims that the man is penniless and working as a waiter. German intertitles with English translation. With live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney and an introduction from film historian Kevin Brownlow.

3.30pm: Live From New York – with Steve Massa & Ben Model

Raymond Griffith in Paths To Paradise [1925]

Watershed  £8.50 / £5.00

Dir: Clarence Badger, USA, 67 mins, cert PG

Considered to be one of Raymond Griffith’s finest onscreen comedy performances.A recent crowd-funded restoration of this comedy crime thriller starring the under-appreciated silent star had to go ahead without unearthing the long-lost, presumed destroyed, final reel of this film. But fear not. The USA-based silent film champions Steve Massa and Ben Model have a cunning plan to fill in the gap!

8.30pm: Silent Comedy Gala Special

1924 – Buster Keaton At The Double! 

Silent comedy classic double bill with live music from the Ensemble ImproCinema

Special Guest Hosts: Graeme Garden and Polly Rose

Thurs 16 Feb   2030 hrs

The former Bristol Imax Cinema, Bristol Aquarium £22.50/£18.00/£10.00 under 16

This event’s title reflects that Keaton was, quite literally, working at a breakneck pace in 1924, beginning work on THE NAVIGATOR within weeks of fracturing his neck in one of the many daring stunts featured in the ingenious SHERLOCK JR. Seen as a double bill, they underscore Buster’s extraordinary range as an actor, playing a cosseted high society bachelor beset by dangers on (and under) the high seas in one and both a hapless cinema projectionist and his dream self – a suave detective – in the other.

Keaton superfans, Goodie and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue star Graeme Garden and filmmaker/ PhD researcher Polly Rose introduce two of their favourite silent star’s best-loved and most acclaimed comedies, with live musical accompaniment of the double bill from the Ensemble ImproCinema, featuring Slapstick’s musical director Günter A. Buchwald and on percussion Frank Bockius.

The Navigator: Donald Crisp & Buster Keaton USA (1924), 59 mins, U  +  Sherlock Jr: Dir  Buster Keaton, USA 45 mins, U

 In partnership with Bristol Ideas.  A BSL Interpreted Event


11.45am: Raymond Griffith – Re-mastered

You’d Be Surprised [1926]

Dir: Arthur Rosson, USA, 65 mins, PG

Introduction by Kevin Brownlow

Fri 17th Feb  1145 hrs

Watershed  £8.50 / £5.00

Newly restored and re-issued on DVD/Blu-Ray thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign from Ben Model. In a companion to our Live From New York event (see Thursday), the Oscar-winning director, film historian and silent film champion Kevin Brownlow introduces another Raymond Griffith crime caper. YOU’D BE SURPRISED, featuring inter-titles by the humourist Robert Benchley of Algonquin Round Table fame. It provoked mixed reactions. A contemporary critic described it as “One of the very best or very worst comedies I ever saw” but when shown recently at Cinecon, Hollywood, it was judged the undisputed hit of the weekend. With live piano accompaniment from John Sweeney.

1.40pm: Harry Langdon: Tramp, Tramp, Tramp [1926]

Dir: Harry Edwards, USA, 62 mins, cert U

Introduction by Kevin Brownlow

Watershed    £8.50 / £5.00

Made when Harry Langdon was still developing his man-child character with a young scriptwriter called Frank Capra and featuring Joan Crawford in one of her earliest starring roles, this is the story of a poor boy who enters a gruelling cross-country hike in the hope of winning enough prize money to secure the love of a pin-up. A rare chance to see ‘the fourth genius’ of silent cinema with an introduction from Langdon admirer Kevin Brownlow and live piano accompaniment from John Sweeney.

3.30pm: A Violin Over The Head: Slapstick Music in Variety Theatre

With Oliver Double

Watershed  £8.50 / £5.00

Slapstick comedy and music often collided in the world of variety theatre. Here, Oliver Double introduces a dazzling array of historic footage featuring routines by some of the comedians, singers, dancers and speciality acts who mixed melody and pratfalls. Showcased performers include Stanelli and his Hornchestra, Little Tich, the Bill Hall Trio, Lily Morris, and Wilson, Keppel & Betty. Also featured are Manley & Austin, whose knockabout routine starts with Florence Austin smashing her violin over her husband’s head. Oliver Double is Head of Comedy and Popular Performance at the University of Kent. 

8.30pm: Silent Comedy Classic with live music

Harold Lloyd In Speedy [1928]

Hosted by Kevin Brownlow

Dir: Ted Wilde, USA, 85 mins, cert U

The former Bristol Imax Cinema, Bristol Aquarium

£18.50/£15.50/£10.00 under 16

Harold Lloyd’s last great silent masterpiece. Journey back in timeto 1920s New York via this Oscar-nominated comedy starring Harold Lloyd as he embarks on a David v Goliath battle to save the city’s last horse-drawn streetcar, operated by the father of his sweetheart (Ann Christy). Includes a cameo by baseball legend Babe Ruth, evocative scenes shot at Coney Island and – pay attention – the first known use of the middle finger gesture, later banned under Hays Code rules. With an introduction from the veteran filmmaker and historian Kevin Brownlow and live music from the peerless Ensemble ImproCinema.


9.30am: The Extraordinary World Of Charley Bowers

With Peter Lord

Watershed £8.50/£5.00

Even heroes have heroes and for the internationally-admired animator, director, producer and Aardman Animations co-founder Peter Lord, one is Charles R ‘Charley’ Bowers (1877 – 1946) – not only an accomplished cartoonist, creator of hundreds of the Mutt & Jeff animations beloved by audiences in the 1920s and a popular comedy actor, but also the inventor of a process enabling him to insert jaw-dropping stop-motion-based special effects into live action sequences. Join Slapstick regular Pete as he hosts this event celebrating Bowers’ extraordinary life and work, with the help of favourite shorts and clips and  live musical accompaniment from Guenter A. Buchwald.

12 noon: Harry Hill – Breaking The Silence

St Georges, Bristol Tickets from £15.00

The irrepressible Harry Hill makes a welcome return to Slapstick, this time to screen and talk about his Lonely Island series, including a screening of one never before shared in public. Harry wrote, produced, directed and starred in all four black & white, silent, slapstick comedy shorts in the series, each of them located on the same island in a different historical setting. We also have the bonus of extracts from the ‘work in progress’ extension of his Cavemen episode and a brief ‘Caveman’ live performance!  Hosted by Robin Ince.    A BSL Interpreted Event


3pm: Stephen Mangan’s Why I Still Love Laurel & Hardy

Bristol Old Vic | from £15.00 

A welcome return to Slapstick by author, panel show regular and star of GREEN WING, EPISODES, I’M ALAN PARTRIDGE and THE SPLIT, Stephen Mangan, who triumphed as the host of Slapstick’s 2022 Gala. Stephen is back this year to share his long-time affection for, and favourite screen moments of, the world’s finest comedy duo: Laurel & Hardy. In between  clips from a choice selection of his fav Stan & Ollie moments, , Stephen will be talking with presenter Alex Lovell (BBC Points West) about his love affair with their work and why he thinks the duo won, and keep, fans worldwide.

Credit: Keith Kilpin (Aardman)
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