Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2012
Programme includes The First Born, Another Fine Mess, The Black Pirate and Safety Last!
Eddie Harrison looks at the highlights from this year’s celebration of silent film taking place at the Hippodrome in Bo’ness
Shhh … ! Whisper it quietly, but it’s fair to say that 2012 is likely to be the biggest year in silent cinema for nearly eight decades. The global success of Michel Hazanavicius’ glowing tribute The Artist means that silent films currently have their biggest audience share since the 1920s, providing an ideal taster for the second annual Hippodrome Festival Of Silent Cinema. A weekend of rare classics, together with live musical accompaniment, the festival celebrates the centenary of the Bo’ness cinema and also serves as a useful primer for anyone with a freshly acquired interest in the silent era.
‘It’s true that The Artist, and also Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which features clips from the films of Harold Lloyd and George Méliès, have definitely contributed to the growing public perception of silent films,’ says festival director Allison Strauss. ‘So while some of the audience are cinema aficionados enjoying nostalgia, many are also experiencing silent films for the first time, and are on their own personal voyage of discovery.’
In the climate of 3D, IMAX and seat-shaking D-Box auditoriums, the silent revival is a throwback to the original values of cinema-going. Fans of The Artist’s lovelorn George Valentin and Peppy Miller will find plenty to enjoy in the opening night film, 1920s hit Show People, in which the rise to stardom of Marion Davies’ ingénue Peggy Pepper neatly predates the story of Hazanavicius’s film. With the Hippodrome restored to its 1920s heyday and a retro dress code to match for the screening’s champagne reception, it’s a perfect way to channel nostalgia for the sartorial and cinematic glories of the past.
Further introduction to the joys of silence come in the form of newly restored The First Born, co-written by Alfred Hitchcock’s wife and collaborator Alma Reville, while there’s also a chance to catch up on familiar comedy classics like Another Fine Mess with Laurel and Hardy and Harold Lloyd in Safety Last! There’s also an early film from Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu I Was Born, But …, vintage thriller A Cottage on Dartmoor, and the closing gala is Douglas Fairbanks Sr in The Black Pirate, one of the first feature films to screen in two strip Technicolour and recently restored by distribution company Park Circus.
‘Part of this year’s festival programme specifically looks back to 1912 because it’s the Hippodrome’s centenary, but I think that what generally captures people’s imagination is that silent films offer a very different kind of storytelling from today’s cinema,’ says Strauss. “It’s great to see today’s audiences laughing, gasping or just getting caught up in the glamour of great films which they’ve never seen before.’
The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Hippodrome, Bo’ness, Fri 16 Mar–Sun 18 Mar.