I Was Hippodrome’s First Victim

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I got an early heads-up on the programme for this year’s Hippodrome Festival of Silent Film, unspooling in scenic Bo’ness in March (18th-22nd), and it’s exciting stuff. I think the choices have been getting bolder each year as the films play to packed houses. It’s one thing to run Chaplin films with live music, it’s another to add Ozu to the mix. This year we have forgotten movie stars and filmmakers known to silent buffs but unfamiliar to the general public, but the loyal audiences of Bo’ness can be trusted to trust the Fest in turn and show up, knowing it’ll be worthwhile, even as a devoted crowd of silent movie buffs descends on the sleepy town for whing-ding, I believe it’s called.

Very excited about William S. Hart’s HELL’S HINGES, to be accompanied by Neil Brand and the Dodge Brothers. They performed along to BEGGARS OF LIFE last year and it was unbelievably entertaining. There’s still a lot of love for westerns among the older generation in Scotland so I think this chance to discover one of the earliest important cowboy stars will only create an appetite for more. This could be addressed further down the line with Tom Mix, Borzage’s early self-starring oaters, or THE COVERED WAGON and THE IRON HORSE.

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The screening of ANNIE LAURIE pleases me greatly because it was something I suggested a couple of years ago — I have no idea if my hint found its way to the right ears, or if it’s just a coincidence. The Scottish connection makes it a natural choice, and Lillian Gish is overdue for an appearance. It’ll be great to finally see a good print, especially with the Technicolor sequence.

Also Scottish-themed, in a way, is Oscar-winner Kevin MacDonald’s documentary CHAPLIN’S GOLIATH, telling the story Eric Campbell (he of the eyebrows), who liked to claim he was from Dunoon (due west of Bo’ness on the opposite coast). Fresh information, as they call it, has since come to light, but I’m glad MacDonald got his Scottish-funded doc made before research cut the legs from under it… It’ll also be great to see the man-mountain E.C. on the big screen, menacing Charlie as usual.

Surprise choices CHILDREN OF NO IMPORTANCE and SALT FOR SVANETIA continue to broaden the fest’s scope in bold new directions. I’m excited about the rarely-seen SYNTHETIC SIN with Colleen Moore, and favourites PICCADILLY, THE NAVIGATOR and the Barrymore DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE all make appearances with exciting new music.

A shame there’s no Jane Gardner this year, but addicts can check out her trio at The Wash House, Portobello this weekend, with screenings of THE BLACK PIRATE on Friday and SEVEN CHANCES (with ONE WEEK) on Saturday. Yay!

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6 Responses to “I Was Hippodrome’s First Victim”

  1. So where DID Eric Campbell come from?

    Got the documentary with a release of Chaplin Mutuals a few years back; was intrigued that Campbell was a musical stage success before being lured to silent film.

    One issue: They suggest Chaplin tried to clone Campbell after his demise, even considering Oliver Hardy. I thought it odd I’d never seen reference to a Chaplin-Hardy connection anywhere; and it later occurred the accompanying film clip of Ollie in Campbell makeup may have been from a Billy West mock-Chaplin. Was there anything to that at all?

  2. Campbell was from Cheshire, England. He just liked the idea of being Scottish.

    Given that the documentary is premised on a falsehood, it might be credible that other errors have crept in… But I’m looking and I can’t find that bit. There’s footage of other actors auditioning in Campbell beard and eyebrows, but no Ollie, though Stan Laurel is quoted on the soundtrack at that exact moment.

  3. ‘Annie Laurie’ first came to my attention in 1998 when Janet McBain gave me a copy of her wonderful commemorative catalogue to accompany the Scottish Reels programme at Pordenone ‘Scotland in Silent Cinema’. Well worth getting your hands on if you can.

  4. I’ll look out for it! Might be the kind of thing we could have in the Art College library.

  5. I must be misremembering then. But still, the idea of Chaplin testing mock Campbells is sort of disturbing. Although it’s certainly not unheard of for comedy teams and musical acts to try and duplicate a departed member.

  6. They are labelled as replacement auditions but it is quite possible that Chaplin was testing different actors for a role involving a beard. Something about it didn’t seem completely convincing. One actor is a small man who happens to have a Campbell beard, another is a big man with no beard,

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