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Alongside the marvelous Chaplin restorations now playing at the BFI Southbank in London there is yet another exciting season coming up next month.

Playing over 3 days (and therefore mimicking the festival itself) The Best of the British Silent Film Festival brings together a hand-picked selection of films screened since the festival began in 1998. The festival was sparked by growing concern over the lacklustre worldwide interest in British silent film. 

As an attendant of the festival earlier this year, I can tell you that the films shown were a revelation. Varied in their style and scope, an entirely refreshed perspective on cinema can be gleaned from a festival such as this. It proves that British silent cinema is as vital and fascinating as any other.

I would particularly recommend the enthralling presentation on the Olympic Games, presented by Luke McKernan who also runs the definitive blog on silent film: The Bioscope.

I will certainly be attending The Battle of the Somme, The Lure of Crooning Water and Triumph of the Rat. But I also hope to revisit the crime movies I saw earlier this year which will be re-screened. In fact I hope to take all three days in. See you there!

The Battle of the Somme

  • Sat 27 Sep 18:45 NFT1 book

Special preview of this ground-breaking propaganda film from 1916.

The First Born

  • Sun 28 Sep 20:40 NFT2 book

Miles Manders adaption about jealousy among the upper classes.

The Lure of Crooning Water

  • Sat 27 Sep 20:40 NFT2 book

One of the finest examples of the British pastoral film.

The Olympic Games on Film 1900-1924

  • Fri 26 Sep 18:20 NFT2 book

The early Olympics Games on film, including London 1908.

Triumph of the Rat

  • Sun 28 Sep 18:20 NFT2 book

Lavish, passionate silent sequel with Ivor Novello.

True Crime on Film

  • Sun 28 Sep 16:00 NFT2 book

Sensationalist illustrated history of true crime in film.

The Ware Case

  • Fri 26 Sep 20:40 NFT2 book

1920s murder mystery with a fabulous twist.

When All Films Were Short

  • Sat 27 Sep 16:00 NFT2 book

Lucky-dip programme of shorts favourites.


To coincide with the screening of Chaplin’s Keystone films, there is also an incredible (and free) exhibition of Chaplin merchandise and artifacts on display at the BFI Southbank. A combination of items from both the Bill Douglas Centre and the BFI’s own collection, it includes a fascinating array of original posters, toys, games and postcards. Titled ‘Chapliana’, it conveys how far Chaplin became embedded in popular culture during the 1910s and 1920s.

The prized piece in the collection is Chaplin’s original hat and cane. There are a few genuine hats and canes in existence since Chaplin used several throughout his career. This particular hat and cane is dated before 1921, the time at which Chaplin returned to England for the first time since leaving for America in 1912. Also featured is the costume worn by Robert Downey Jr. in the title role of Chaplin (1992).

The Chaplin screenings at the BFI Southbank are set to last for 6 months as all his short films from before 1921 are played in chronological order, an incredible 72 in total. Be sure to get there quick since the display is set to end on 31st August.

photos by the author


This is a real treat for fans of Chaplin and silent cinema more widely. All of Chaplin’s 35 films from his work at Keystone during 1914 have been reconstructed and restored by the British Film Institute and the Cineteca di Bologna. They will all be screened at the BFI Southbank in London during August and September. 

In the past these films have been branded as ‘primitive’, but in many cases the severely degraded quality of the prints worked against a proper appreciation of these early titles. The incredible popularity of these titles, as well as their lack of copyright, resulted in a heavy duplication and deterioration of the prints. In many cases the films were chopped into a variety of alternative versions with different titles which then went on to circulate for decades. This made the job of restoring and reconstructing these titles a particular challenge. Indeed the Keystone films are the last of Chaplin’s shorts to have been restored by the British Film Institute, following on from the Essanay and Mutual restorations.

Keystone was known for its breakneck comedies featuring quick thrills and chaotic chases, and in many ways these titles live up to that reputation. But the Charlie you see here is not the sensitive soul found in his later feature films. Here is character is rude, abrasive and violent while his virtuoso performances are wild, thrilling and unexpected. Chaplin’s performance style is unique to him: he manages to be many things at once. Not only does his dandyish gestures contradict the state of his clothes, but his body can often belie his face and vice-versa.

I was lucky enough to preview some of these restorations at the Charlie Chaplin Conference in 2005 and indeed they were revelatory. I will be attending every screening myself over the next two months (I will probably be the one taking notes) as a way of re-aquainting myself with these films.

Not only do you get to watch the glorious Chaplin himself as vivid as ever on-screen, you get to witness his early development as performer and director. You also get to see a slice of American cinema history that instantly poses several overlapping questions: what was popular American cinema like in 1914? What were films by independent studios such as Keystone like? What was the studio brand and how do they differ from the films of the larger studios that would emerge just after the war? Why were these films, and more importantly Chaplin himself, so popular? How far were these films and Chaplin’s performances performed by the British music hall from which he came?

The still above from A Film Johnnie offers a glimpse of movie posters outside a cinema in 1914. Interestingly they feature films from the studios Keystone, Essanay (a Bronco Billy title) and Mutual, the three studios that Chaplin himself would work at between 1914 and 1917.

Book below with the full schedule for August. The September schedule will follow.

 

Early Chaplin: Programme 1

  • Sat 9 Aug 16:00 NFT2 
  • Wed 13 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

Ninety minutes of early Chaplin, including his Keystone debut.

Early Chaplin: Programme 2

  • Sat 16 Aug 16:00 NFT2 
  • Wed 20 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

A programme of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone shorts.

Early Chaplin: Programme 3

  • Sat 23 Aug 16:10 NFT2 
  • Tue 26 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

Our third programme of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest films.

Early Chaplin: Programme 4

  • Thu 28 Aug 18:20 NFT2 
  • Sat 30 Aug 16:00 NFT2 

Our fourth programme of the Keystone movies of 1914.

Frank Sinatra squeezes Kim Novak as he sings on stage in this frame from Pal Joey (1957)

This May finds a season of films starring Frank Sinatra at the BFI Southbank in London (or as it’s really known, the NFT). Of course Sinatra has been acknowledged as perhaps the voice of the 20th Century, but he was also a fine actor, bringing the charisma and sensitivity found in his towering musical performances to the screen. While not a comprehensive season, the films on show do act as a thoughtful selection of his work.

His early roles as the skinny crooner are represented in Step Lively (1944) and Meet Danny Wilson (1951), as well as the thrilling On the Town (1949) where he starred alongside Gene Kelly as sailors on shore leave in Manhattan. From Here To Eternity (1953) was a key film Sinatra’s career. With his popularity on the wane during the early 1950s the supporting role he took in this Pearl Harbor drama earned him an Oscar and rejuvinated his career as an actor and recording artist.

Sinatra also stars in the glamorous High Society (1956) and Pal Joey (1957), an underrated adaptation of the Broadway show also starring Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. Sinatra also starred in some particularly serious roles, such as The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) (also with Novak) and the complex The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Two of his later films are also being screened:Tony Rome (1967) and The Detective (1968), and you even get the chance to watch a whole Sintra concert in This Is Sinatra!, a recording of a live show from The Royal Albert Hall from 1962.

But the film I’m most interested in seeing is the new print of Some Came Running (1958), which also stars the great Dean Martin in a Technicolor, Cinemascope production directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Find out more information about what’s playing at the season here.

If you have any Sinatra films that you could recommend me, please leave a comment and let me know.

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Christian Hayes
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christianhayes.net
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