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Book now for the British Silent Film Festival Symposium

Silent London

You heard it here first …  but now the details of April’s British Silent Film Festival Symposium have been released. You can peruse the lineup of speakers and films (I’m picking favourites already, natch) and even more excitingly you can book your ticket now. The two days of papers and films comes in at a very reasonable £20 and I am confident that I can confirm a resounding YES to the “Will there be tea and biscuits?” question.

The Somme (1927) (Image: BFI) The Somme (1927) (Image: BFI)

Check out the lineup here:

Thursday 28 April 2016
Arthur and Paula Lucas Lecture Theatre

2pm – LAWRENCE NAPPER Welcome (no registration needed on this day)

2.10 – TONY FLETCHER ‘Sound Before Blackmail’ – a programme of early sound-on-disc films matched with their discs (30mins)

2.40 – SCREENING KNOCKAGOW (Fred O’Donovan, 1918) (80mins)

4pm BREAK (30 mins)

4.30 – DAVID ROBINSON ‘Leopoldo Fregoli, Superstar and Progenitor of…

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The Sunday Intertitle: Silent Worlds



An unexpected highlight of this year’s Bo’ness Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema was WUNDER DER SCHOPFUNG, a sort of science fiction documentary made in Germany in 1925. Using extensive reconstructions of historical advances in astronomy to chart mankind’s developing understanding of the universe, and to depict a hypothetical voyage to the limits of the galaxy, it stands comparison with Benjamin Christensen’s HAXAN, which likewise is an entirely staged but essentially truthful documentary. Where HAXAN is a horror movie documentary, WDS is a sci-fi one.


It uses what was a science fiction premise — manned space flight — to illustrate mostly factual science, as it was understood at the time. Director Hanns Walter Kornblum’s only other movie is DER GRUNDLAGEN DER EINSTEINSCHEN RELATIVITATS-THEORIE (1922). At last, the film of the theory!

The screening was spookily accompanied by electronic duo Herschel 36, and introduced by the astronomer royal, John C, Brown, who happens…

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Musical Revolution: King of Jazz (1930) Gets a New Restoration (and a Book!)

Nitrate Diva

king of jazz posterWe classic movie geeks know a thing or two about suffering for what we love.

We grieve over the films locked away in studio vaults.

We watch dreary, fuzzy transfers of hard-to-find movies and fantasize about what the film would look like with some tender loving care.

We fork over whole paychecks to go to festivals where we try hard not to blink during screenings of sublime rare films, knowing we may never see them again.

So, good news—a lost film found, a DVD or Blu-Ray release of a buried classic, generous funding for archives—means a lot to this community. And some recent developments have made me jump for joy.

Universal is restoring The King of Jazz. Shot entirely in two-color Technicolor, this 1930 musical revue features toe-tapping tunes performed by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra and spectacular production numbers interspersed with brief comedy sketches.

Film historians James Layton and David…

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Hippfest 2015: a barnstorming weekend in Bo’ness

Next year I must not miss this!

Silent London

Bye bye Bo'ness #hippfest

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“If a cinema could give you a hug, this is what it would feel like.” That’s how Bryony Dixon described the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Sight & Sound last year, and as usual, she’s not wrong.

This year I returned for my second trip to the festival, now in its fifth year, and the welcome was warm, the music was fabulous, the films magnificent and the crowds enthusiastic.

It’s a tribute to Ali Strauss, Shona Thomson and all the team behind Hippfest that this small town in Scotland draws silent movie fans from across the country (and the globe) as well as introducing the locals to the delights of EA Dupont, Mikhail Kalatazov and Buster Keaton. I had a stonking time in Bo’ness this year, and would recommend the festival to anyone who loves movies, music and…

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The price of LOVE: Garbo & Gilbert do Tolstoy

LOVE directed by Edmund Goulding, starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, 1927   If you’re trying to impress your date with the magic of silent film, then LOVE might not be quite the righ…

Source: The price of LOVE: Garbo & Gilbert do Tolstoy

The New York Hat (1912): what women want 

Silent London

This is a very slightly fleshed-out transcript of an introduction I gave to The New York Hat at the Kennington Bioscope as part of an evening dedicated to women in silent film.

It’s quite old, and very short, but The New York Hat(DW Griffith, 1912) is one of my favourite films, and I’d really like to explain why. As with Shoes (Lois Weber, 1916), this film looks at the lives of women and their finances through the lens of consumerism, but the ramifications run deeper than the shop window.

The first reason that I loveThe New York Hat is that it is an early woman’s picture and I mean that in a fully feminist sense.Today we talk a lot about theBechdel Test, which is basically a test to ascertain whether the womenina filmare fully realised characters and not just appendages to the blokes. Topass theBechdel…

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Hollywood Gets Drunk on Itself in SOULS FOR SALE

Sister Celluloid

In the early 1920s, Hollywood was in for a good spanking. And not the fun kind.

Director William Desmond Taylor had been murdered. Wallace Reid, known as “the screen’s most perfect lover,” was lost to the embrace of morphine. And Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle had endured three sordid trials before finally being cleared of murder, but his reputation and the industry’s took a brutal beating in the process.

The tongue-clucking among church groups, women’s auxiliaries, and various legions of decency was growing downright deafening, and the studios were running out of ideas for damage control. Until they hit upon the most obvious one: a movie.


Enter Souls for Sale. This wildly lavish apologia for all things Hollywood started life as a novel by Rupert Hughes (uncle of Howard), who produced and directed his own adaptation for the screen in 1923.

Our story—and what a story it is!—begins innocently enough: A new bride…

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