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Here is an excellent Radio 4 programme all about silent filmmaker Percy Smith who specialised in detailed studies of the natural world. Named after one of his most famous films, The Balancing Bluebottle (1908, also known as The Acrobatic Fly, above), this programme features two of the greatest silent film experts: Bryony Dixon and Luke McKernan.

Take a listen on BBC iPlayer.

As Luke McKernan has pointed out on The Bioscope, Percy’s famous The Birth of a Flower (1910), in living colour, is available to view online here.

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George Kennedy alongside James Stewart in Shenandoah (1965)

George Kennedy alongside James Stewart in Shenandoah (1965)

On Tuesday night (22nd April 2009) I had the great opportunity to attend a live interview with George Kennedy at the BFI Southbank. The conversation was preceded by a screening of Cool Hand Luke in which Kennedy played Dragline, the self-appointed leader of the prison gang who transforms into Luke’s most ardent disciple. His performance of rough masculinity contrasts well with Newman’s cooly confident title character.

I knew Kennedy primarily from his films with James Stewart such as Shenandoah, The Flight of the Pheonix and Fools’ Parade, but of course he has starred in a range of films such as The Sons of Katie Elder with Dean Martin and John Wayne, The Dirty Dozen, Demented with Joan Crawford and the Aiport and Naked Gun series.

When Kennedy took the stage he was gracious and talked engagingly about getting drunk with John Wayne, befriending Bette Davis and even hanging out with Leslie Nielson and O.J. Simpson in their Naked Gun days. I was also interested to find out that he had served in the airforce and went on to act as a technical advisor on Sergeant Bilko where he witnessed the artistry of the vaudevillians at work.

Of particular interest to me was his recollections of knowing James Stewart. To Kennedy, who never knew his father, Stewart became a kind of father figure. Without ever having a male role model in his life, Kennedy believed that Stewart embodied everything a man should be. Interestingly this rings true with our perceptions of Stewart through the virtuous characters he played on-screen. Kennedy had seen Stewart’s films in the 1930s, naming Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and felt extremely lucky to have worked with and known him. Indeed Kennedy talked of him with reverence and came to hold him in the highest regard of any male in his life. He did not mention the connection between his own wartime service in the airforce (he actually participated in the Battle of the Bulge) and James Stewart’s famously distinguished wartime service.

The evening was a rare opportunity, as would be the next night. It was revealed that Kennedy had flown to London with his old friend and co-star, Ernest Borgnine.

BBC Radio 5 Live

I will be one half of a debate on The Richard Bacon Show on BBC Radio 5 Live on Thursday 15th January at 12 midnight (Thursday night).

As the classic film expert I will be talking about how they don’t make ’em like they used to.

You can listen live on the BBC Radio 5 Live website.

Or listen again for up to a week after broadcast at Radio 5 or on the BBC iPlayer.

Sullivan's Travels (1941)  

The Ultimate Film Archive is a hand-picked chronology of films from each decade (starting with the 1940s), all of which I highly recommend you seeking out. Not an exhaustive list but it’s a start as further films are added.

How many of these have you seen? Either leave a comment or email me at classicfilmshow@gmail.com.

Have I missed any out? Any further suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 

It starts…

1940s

1940 The Grapes Of Wrath (USA, John Ford)
1940 Fantasia (USA, Walt Disney Productions)
1940 The Great Dictator (USA, Charlie Chaplin) … See all here

It has just been announced that Paul Newman has died yesterday (Friday 26th September 2008) after a battle with cancer. Until recently spokespeople for Newman had denied the rumour of cancer but it looks like the star had been suffering.

Truly one of the greats, I hope to commemorate his passing here on the Classic Film Show by looking back at some of his great performances.

I have just had word of an upcoming box set from Fox. It contains 12 discs and features two F.W. Murnau films (including City Girl) and ten by Frank Borzage, four of which are silents. This seems to be in the spirit of the monumental Ford at Fox box from last year. The box contains:

Silents
 
Sunrise (Murnau, 1927) 
City Girl (Murnau, 1930) 

Lazybones (Borzage, 1925)
Seventh Heaven (Borzage, 1928)
Street Angel (Borzage, 1928) 
Lucky Star (Borzage, 1929) 

Talkies:

They Had to See Paris (Borzage, 1929) 
Liliom (Borzage, 1930)
Song O’ My Heart (Borzage, 1930)
Bad Girl (Borzage, 1931) 
After Tomorrow (Borzage, 1932) 
Young America (Borzage, 1932)

This Summer I went to see a Buster Keaton film outdoors at The Scoop, a kind of amphitheater alongside the Thames by Tower Bridge.

Anyone passing by could have stopped and watched The General which continued to play during the chilly night. I took these photos of the film which in some ways is quite a surreal sight: a silent playing to the city itself, and to a curious, appreciative and bewildered stream of onlookers.

Movie stars are defined by a combination of what we observe of them on-screen and our perception of them outside of the cinema. This would include photographs, articles, interviews, books, posters and merchandise. Film stars and their star images often become far removed from the films themselves. Here are three examples of movie stars as part of the contemporary city. In this case, Charlie selling a shoemaker’s, Jimmy Stewart selling Stetson hats, and John Wayne’s name selling a six-shooter.

If you have any other examples of how classical movie stars have found their way into your city, please send them to me for posting at classicfilmshow@gmail.com

All photos by Christian Hayes.

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.

Today I am starting up a new series. Every week I will post a frame from a film and hopefully this will encourage readers to take a closer look at an image that would usually pass us by without us thinking. Also I would like all you brainy readers to tell me which film the frame came from. Maybe in the future there will be a prize to whoever guesses first, but for now it’s just a case of entering into the spirit of competition and one-upmanship which film lovers know so well. 

I will start with an easy one and a dash of colour:

Contact Me

Christian Hayes
classicfilmshow@gmail.com
christianhayes.net
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