ICONIC Scottish-Italian artist Eduardo Paolozzi, Scottish Album of the Year winner RM Hubbert and Chinese superstar Ruan Lingyu all feature in the seventh annual programme of Scotland’s only silent movie festival.
The latter is part of a focus in this year’s Hippodrome Silent Film Festival on the pioneering but largely forgotten women of early cinema — a time when there were more women working at every level in the film industry than there are today.
The festival, which is centred on Scotland’s oldest cinema in Bo’ness, opens on March 22 with The Grub Stake. This is a 1923 adventure created by the remarkable Nell Shipman, a silent movie star who turned down a studio career to work entirely outside the Hollywood system, running her own production company, directing, writing and starring in her own films and doing all her own stunts. She also built up a menagerie of about 80 animals who were her co-stars yet, despite being so extraordinary, hardly anyone has heard of her today.
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The festival includes The Goddess, a masterpiece of social realism featuring Lingyu, who died tragically aged just 24. Her funeral procession was reportedly three miles long and described by the New York Times as “the most spectacular funeral of the century”.
NOTABLE women in the programme include Phyllis Haver, star of the original 1927 screen version of Chicago, the festival’s closing film.
American silent film star Helen Holmes also features. She was star of the 119 episode cine-serial The Hazards of Helen, episode 13 of which will screen as part of this year’s Platform Reels event at Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway. Like Shipman, Holmes did all her own stunts – she also wrote the scripts and ran the company, although she was only credited for her starring role.
Audiences can learn more about these and other trail-blazing women of early cinema at two of this year’s Cuppa Events. Not So Silent Women is a talk on March 22 by Ellen Cheshire, a contributor to the 2016 book Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema, and Women in Chinese Silent Cinema. Next day there will be a talk given by Professor Paul Pickowicz from the University of California, San Diego.
ANOTHER remarkable woman featuring in 2017’s HippFest is Lorenza Mazzetti, novelist, painter and director of Together, a 1956 film featuring a young Eduardo Paolozzi in a lead role as a deaf-mute dock worker — a role Paolozzi relished, modeling his performance on Marlon Brando.
Mazzetti, part of the British Free Cinema movement, is now 89 and was celebrated last year at the Venice Film Festival in a new documentary titled Because I Am a Genius!
More highlights of the 2017 festival, affectionately known as HippFest, include The Informer, a film set in revolution-torn Dublin in 1922. What’s The World Coming To? is a gender-swapping 1926 film that takes place “100 years from now when men have become more like women and women more like men” and was co-written by Stan Laurel.
A Couple of Down and Outs, meanwhile, is the poignant 1923 tale of a soldier’s friendship with a war horse – made six decades before Michael Morpurgo’s best-selling War Horse brought a similar story to a global audience.
HOW DOES HUBBERT FIT IN?
ALL films in the programme feature live scores by an international line-up of musicians. These include the UK debut of Dutch Filmorchestra The Sprockets, with their vivacious score for delightful Cinderella comedy The Patsy, this year’s Friday Night Gala; Günter Buchwald and Frank Bockius from Germany, with their chilling soundtrack to 1928 psychological horror The Hands of Orlac, and familiar festival faces Neil Brand, Stephen Horne and John Sweeney.
The 2017 festival includes four special musical commissions with brand new scores composed by Scottish Album of the Year award-winning musician RM Hubbert for the 1926 Soviet film By The Law (Po Zakonu), pictured above.
Raymond MacDonald and Christian Ferlaino were commissioned for Together, and Jane Gardner & Friends for The Grub Stake.
The fourth HippFest commission sees the return of New Found Sound, a unique schools initiative that invites talented young people to respond musically to silent film, and is now in its seventh year, led by mentor Susanne Bell.
WHO IS BEHIND IT?
HIPPFEST is organised by Falkirk Community Trust with key funding from Falkirk Council and Creative Scotland. This year the festival is also supported by the British Film Institute’s Film Festival Fund, which supports festivals providing audiences across the UK with a greater film choice, as well as increasing audiences for specialised and independent British film. “At HippFest we are all about making cinema special – engaging the best musicians to accompany rarely screened titles, presenting those films in beautiful and atmospheric settings, seeking out the best restorations from the world’s archives, and generating an atmosphere of inclusion and fun with our audience,” explained festival director Alison Strauss.
“Since we established the festival in 2011, more and more people are finding out that early cinema is not clunky and out-dated, but rather is fresh and relevant, sometimes even colourful and never actually ‘silent’.
“Within our programme people will find unparalleled comedians, experimental work and revelatory new scores alongside youth projects, workshops for school children and grown-ups, a Speakeasy, walks, talks and exhibitions.”
For more information, go to bit.ly/hippfest