|Miss November 1918|
1. Elvey and Eille – Sherlock at the Barbican
Early in the year, the Barbican programmed a selection of Eille Norwood Sherlock Holmes mostly directed by Maurice Elvey. Messrs Brand, Horne and Sweeney were on hand to accompany the series which proved to be an enjoyably mixed bag with two features The Hound of the Baskervilles (1921) and The Sign of Four (1923) with three shorts sandwiched in the middle. Those films proved to be anything but filler though and Norwood’s creation really came to life in A Scandal in Bohemia, The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Final Solution which, of course, proved to be anything but.
You don’t expect to find silent films in deepest Essex but this most-misunderstood of counties has a purpose-built concert hall in the cute market town of Saffron Walden that allowed Timothy Brock and the BBC Symphony to do full justice to Neil Brand’s stunning composition.
Perched above a wall of sound we were able to experience Blackmail with orchestral highlights that enhanced the emotional flavour of Hitchcock’s last silent film – conclusive proof, if it were ever needed, that this film works far better without dialogue.
|Henry Victor in The Guns of Loos|
My first experience of the BSFF (I know) and a number of stand-outs including Swedish polar-bear baiting Den Starkaste (1929) and the full three-hours of Michael Strogoff with John Sweeney’s accompaniment proving a triumph of style and substance over endurance. But the restored Guns of Loos took the biscuit with a super new score from Stephen Horne.
Commissioned for the battle’s centenary, the film paid moving tribute to the many Scottish lives lost in this battle about which I’d previously known little: film as history reporting history and still educating after 85 years.
4. Buster Keaton and Carl Davis, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall
The RFH hosts the heavy metal-end of the live silent experience with Carl Davis’ Big Band blasting out power chords over two of Buster’s best. One Week (1920) and The General (1926). As usual the concert crowd mixed uneasily with the cineasts but we were all united in the shared pursuit of getting Keaton’s gags! We all laughed and clapped as one.
|Betty Compson and Raymond Griffith - Paths to Paradise (1925)|
5. Silent Laughter Saturday, Kennington Bioscope
Having missed the Bioscope’s weekender due to mountain-climbing charity commitments (we raised £18,500 for Parkinson’s UK on Snowdon) I was delighted to be able to make the comedy Saturday. With contributions from David Robinson, Kevin Brownlow, Tony Slide and others who have actually met the performers on screen, there’s a real connection with the likes of Stan and Ollie, Buster Keaton and the British Walter Forde.
It’s been a vintage year in Kennington with too many highly rewarding trips to mention – we should treasure every moment and the unique opportunity to watch silent film amongst people who know and understand!
|Annette Benson, naughty white dove and Brian Aherne|
6. Shooting Stars (1928), Leicester Square Odeon, London Film Festival Archive Gala
This year’s Archive Gala at the LFF is a tie for festival highlight with Stephen’s Horne’s superbly-scored Variety . Shooting Stars edges it simply because I hadn’t seen it before and it’s another example of a classy late-period British silent film. Some lovely moments of pure cinema from Anthony Asquith and super turns from ‘andsome Brian Aherne and bubbly Annette Benson
The much-travelled John Altman scored and played along with the Live Film Orchestra matching the film’s knowing take on the business of movies and the People of Show.
Shooting Stars is out on BFI DVD and Blu-Ray on 21st March - pre-order now!
7. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1921), with Donald MacKenzie, Troxy Cinema
Not for the film so much as for the whole experience of art deco, Wurlitzer-fuelled, pie and mash-propelled cinema watching! This is how our grandparents watched films and whilst the organ occasionally grinds it does so authentically.
8. We Have an Anchor (2015), Barbican
Having watched Godspeed You Black Emperor twice this year, it was interesting to see two of its members performing live accompaniment to Jem Cohen’s modern – mostly-silent – film about the beautiful isolation of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton. The film was spell-binding and the post-rockers did it full justice – with the clear lines of Jessica Moss and Sophie Trudeu’s violins especially impressive over so much amplified clang and strum.
9. Written in Dust (2014), Rio Cinema, Dalston
I got to see the last of Gareth Rees’ absorbing modern silent made in Beijing without necessarily the full range of permissions from the authorities. The result is a simple tale of love and ambition told very well by an exceptional young cast. Freed from dialogue, the narrative pulls you in to this desperately-optimistic world, aided by a live score from Ling Peng and Andrew Middleton which mixes old and new, as with the film, to create something that does justice to both.
Hopefully we’ll see more of this performance cinema in 2016.
|Janet Gaynor & Charles Farrell - Seventh Heaven (1928)|
Apparently KT Tunstall has been studying film composition out in California and it showed as she worked splendidly with a team including composer Max de Wardener and singer/saw-player Mara Carlyle in playing a hugely supportive live score for Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven.
Heart-warming fun all round and my daughter was delighted to see that whilst pop form is temporary, musical class is permanent. Lovely all round as I think I said several times to anyone who would listen.
|Regents Street Birthplace|
Sometimes the venue itself makes the experience… and the re-birth of the birthplace of British cinema was to be celebrated in its own right. A great venue with comfy seats, a cosy bar and easy access to the Victoria Line and next to a plaque celebrating the fact that various Pink Floyds attended the former Regent Street Poly in the days before the Azimuth Coordinator and the mother with the atom heart (ask your Granddad!).
|Laura Rossi and Orchestra Celeste - Jane Shore (1915)|
This is a total cop-out because I just can’t decide! Laura Rossi wrote a most excellent score for Brit proto-epic Jane Shore (1915) and performed it superbly at the BFI with Orchestra Celeste.
Then the Shona Mooney Trio re-patriated the cod-celtic Annie Laurie (1927) at the Barbican with considerable verve – they should have let us dance!
|Shona Mooney + Lillian Gish - Annie Laurie (1927)|
|Just buy it!|