Silent Cinema: turning back the clock 100 years, with heart-warming results. (4 stars)

A new film and music programming strand at Edinburgh's festival theatre is re-introducing silent classics to audiences

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Silent Cinema - turning back the clock 100 years, with heart-warming results.

Buster Keaton's One Week

A critical and commercial flop at the time of its release in 1926, history has looked more kindly on Buster Keaton's epic American Civil War movie, The General. Now deemed one of the greatest films ever made, it was an astute choice for the Festival Theatre's new Silent Cinema nights, introducing a 21st century audience to the way filmmakers more than made up for the lack of sound with visuals.

But of course, there was sound – back then, and now – just not on the screen. In a bid to be as authentic as possible, the theatre had wheeled out a grand piano in front of the screen, and pianist Forrester Clifton Pyke followed every inch of the drama with his hands.

Likewise the hilarious short film which preceded it, One Week, a slapstick comedy in which Keaton and his new bride attempt to construct a build-it-yourself home in time for their house-warming party.

Both gave an insight into a bygone age, but reminded us that while fashions change, people remain much the same. We sat together as an audience – young children and teenagers right the way up to OAPs – enjoying the capers and laughing warmly together as one.

In an era when most films are watched in our living room, Silent Cinema used a piece of quality filmmaking with cross-generational appeal, and top-notch piano playing, to give everyone a real shared experience.

Plans are afoot to screen more silent movies in the future, with A Night At The Cinema in 1914, featuring short comedies, adventure films and newsreels, already scheduled for Fri 23 Jun. Looking back never felt so forward-thinking.

The next Silent Cinema event is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 23 Jun. If you're a silent film fan, you might also be interested in HippFest, Bo'ness, Wed 22–Sun 26 Mar.

A Night at the Cinema in 1914

  • 1914
  • US/UK
  • 85 min

Compilation created from BFI archive footage.

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