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Welcome back from the Bioscope Girl

This is a guest post for Silent London from Michelle Facey AKA The Bioscope Girl to tell you about some exciting silent cinema events scheduled for London and online now that the Giornate has come to an end.

Well, my silent film lovelies, its been a long time coming. Those who’ve been to the 40th Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone are now home or wending their ways back around the world. I’m sorry that myself and others who form the steering Kennington Bioscope team, apart from John Sweeney of course, essential to festival proceedings, felt unable to be there on this occasion, but hopefully next year we’ll all reunite around the Verdi and the Posta. At least we were able to join in online and keep abreast of all the essentials of the physical fest, via the insights, intertitles and general Giornate goss of Silent London’s much welcomed daily blogs, written by Italian moonlight. We missed being with everyone there and kindly, several of you let us know throughout the week that you missed us too.

But there are things to enjoy and look forward to, here and now, back in Blighty. Not least of which is the ongoing streaming, until 17 October, via the BFI Player, of a fascinating (and free) programme, the product of another successful partnership between the Kennington Bioscope team and the BFI London Film Festival. Around Japan With a Movie Camera, to be found in the LFF Treasures strand, brings you a beautifully restored selection of early films shot in Japan, consisting of scenics and documentaries, curated from the BFI collections by Bryony Dixon, introduced by Mika Tomita from the National Film Archive of Japan, with intros also from Bryony and myself, accompanied superbly by Bioscope founder and piano-cam innovator, Cyrus Gabrysch along with other Bioscope/BFI musical luminaries, Costas Fotopoulos, Lillian Henley and Stephen Horne.

Around Japan With a Movie Camera

You may have heard the marvellous news about Cinema Museum founders Ronald Grant and Martin Humphries becoming recipients of one of the two Jean Mitry Awards for 2021 given at the Giornate? Our love and congratulations to them both for all their work and achievements in building up the Museum and its continuing contribution to the life of all things cinema. Happily, I can report that we will soon be back in venue, at the Museum, for the first time since 11 March 2020, on which occasion we’d screened Tatjana (1923), starring the divine Olga Tschechowa, a presentation I have cleaved to in my memory over these many months (and perhaps one we will screen again, at some point, as has been suggested, for those who were forced to miss it as the emergency of the moment fell upon us). Tatjana was a Danish-German co-production, a drama, set in Russia, but our returning feature, on Wednesday 27 October, is truly an all-out Russian affair, and a comedy to boot, The House on Trubnaya (Dom Na Trobnoy, 1928), directed by the brilliant Boris Barnet, he of the hilarious Girl With the Hatbox (1927) which we showed to great merriment back in 2016. Trubnaya is noted for its avant-garde sets, film-makers’ visual gags and humour drawn from situation and character. In this tale of what might be called a Soviet Cinderella, a rural girl hired by a Moscow couple as domestic dogsbody turns out to have political ambitions.

If that’s not enticing enough of a proposition to get thee back to the Kennington Bioscope asap, ensuring we exit the starting blocks flying, we will also be premiering a piece by artist Julia Vogl, her short animation, Still Dot Moving. Julia is best known for her bold experimentation with colours and shapes and her latest groundbreaking work, comprising screen-printing directly onto 35mm film, is inspired by the work of artist and filmmaker Len Lye. Julia will personally introduce her work on the night, which will be a treat. In addition, a full supporting programme will also be presented, in our traditional manner and I partake in the honour of having been the last and now the first back at the Museum’s famous podium, at least as far as Bioscope events are concerned. Looking further ahead, we are taking bookings now also for The Eagle (1925), the eternal Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Bánky’s first pairing, showing from Christopher Bird’s personal 16mm film print, on Wednesday 17 November. Unsurprisingly, many of you have missed and enquired after our friend and patron Kevin Brownlow over this time and I am delighted to report that Kevin will be with us at last to introduce the screening of this vintage print of a classic silent. Hallelujah! What luck to be able to watch the master at work once again.

The Eagle (1925)

Booking through even further to Wednesday 8 December, we’re screening The Eagle’s Mate (1914) from a BFI 35mm print. This is not a ‘prequel’ to The Eagle but instead a Mary Pickford vehicle long considered lost until a print was acquired by George Eastman House in 2000. Pickford’s first film with actor/director James Kirkwood, the film was adapted from a novel by Anna Alice Chapin about a girl abducted by a disreputable mountain family and forced into marriage. And it goes almost without saying that for all screenings there will be live piano accompaniment. Praise be!

The Eagle’s Mate (1914)

It will be very good indeed to be back in the Bioscope’s home, the Cinema Museum, sitting under its vaulted chapel hall ceiling, worshipping together before a screen filled with silents and to be able to see and greet you in person, faithful congregants all, rather than broadcasting from our own homes, in solitude. And yet, of course, we do not regret the run of the online Bioscope, or KBTV, as I loved to call it, which became such a boon to us too in those elongated periods of isolation and dissociation, and not only for the regular Bioscopers, staying at home, but new audiences across the globe, creating previously unimagined connections and enabling us to facilitate an amazing collective experience for which I will always be truly grateful, with thanks to the musicians, archives, collectors and colleagues who made it all possible.

If I may be so bold to use Silent London’s site further for our own purposes, I’d like to thank you all for the donations and many messages of support and appreciation left on various platforms, then and now. Some have asked if we will return online, but with life being as busy, if not busier than before, we feel it would be too much for the team to strive at the level required to achieve those dizzying virtual heights (and thank you also for your votes in the Silent London poll!), where once we really did have all the time in the world, now our normal work lives have returned pretty much to, well, normal and tempus fugit encore. Of course, the back catalogue of KBTV remains on our YouTube channel for your viewing pleasure, along with the entertaining, and truly international, chat-box chatter from silent film enthusiasts, musicians and archivists who were also watching and commenting along as we went out live on each occasion, making their own unique and knowledgeable contributions to the broadcasts.

If you wish to read my write-up on the experience of fronting the shows, I contributed a piece to indy-cinema supporter/promoter Radiant Circus’s limited print-run zine, WunderKammer Vol:1 CRISIS?, a super little publication, containing testimony from other programmers and collectives who carried on regardless during the pandemic. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this epistle. See you in church.

Michelle Facey, @Best2Vilmabanky

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