Archive for Neil Brand

The Sunday Intertitle: Usher??!!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2022 by dcairns

Although NOT FOR SALE, the film which thrust Ian Hunter upon an unready world, has a great intertitle in which two lady residents of a boarding house complain that the food is terrible, but it’s ALL-ENGLISH MEAT, my favourite intertitle so far at the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival was shown by Professor Lawrence Napper in his lecture on Nurse Edith Cavell and her cinematic legacy. In the 1915 NURSE AND MARTYR, as the patriotic if foolhardy nurse stands before the German military judge, he has a flashback to an act of kindness she had done him — pulling a thorn from his paw showing sympathy at the death of his son — but then his face hardens and he bangs his fist and says, via title card, “BAH — SHE IS ENGLISH, SHE MUST DIE.”

Nothing of that kind in the day’s highlights, which for me were CITY GIRL and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. Murnau’s film was accompanied by Neil Brand and the Dodge Brothers, who gave it energy and brought out the emotion with a largely improvised score that was at times almost pop — and worked. I’ve never enjoyed the film so much or been so moved by Mary Duncan and Charles Farrell’s romance, which, in its early scenes in the city, has something of LONESOME about it.

My programme notes for Epstein’s Poe adaptation are here. Stephen Horne and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry accompanied this one on piano, harp, vocals, and just about everything else. “Not as much banging on the piano as I’d expected,” someone said, but the versatile Horne made up for that with some genuinely startling screams. The harp made everything beautiful as well as disturbing, which was exactly what the film called for.

I had made the error of donning a pair of trousers upon which I had previously spilt superglue, and at one point the tension became so great I shattered my trouser leg.

The various bus and train journeys also enabled me to finish one Martin Beck and start a Rex Stout.

Today — a Laurel & Hardy triple bill, THE NECKLACE (a Chinese rarity, adapted from Maupassant), THE UNKNOWN, and L’HOMME DU LARGE.

Thus Spake Zorro

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2022 by dcairns

A fun-packed day in Bo’ness for the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival yesterday — and more today and tomorrow. My programme notes are online this year, you can access those for THE MARK OF ZORRO here. And the whole history of programme notes is up here.

Fred Niblo’s swashbuckler of old California — his finest film, I think — looked stunning on the Hippodrome’s big screen, in its Photoplay restoration and with Neil Brand and Frank Bockius accompanying it on piano and percussion (amazing feats of synchronization, quite apart from the romance and excitement). A treat.

Earlier in the day I saw Lawrence Napper lecture on the filmic history of Nurse Edith Cavell, as prelude to Herbert Wilcox’s 1928 DAWN, starring Sybil Thorndyke as the patriotic nuse. Discussing the case, we all agreed to disapprove of Nurse E.C., since she was smuggling British soldiers home under the cover of the Red Cross — undermining that organisation’s whole existence. We reckoned if she’d been a German doing the same thing, the British would have shot her too.

Anyway, the film, accompanied by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius, was suspenseful and made with some skill, though heavy on the intertitles. Maybe it was partly because the Belgian print screened (the film exists in two cuts) was titled bilingually, but doubtless British silent cinema’s tendency to prolixity was also a factor: whenever you got one title card, it spilled onto a second, the writers just having too much good stuff they wanted to say.

Today I hope to see NOT FOR SALE, CITY GIRL and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER — a Murnau, an Epstein, and the first-named will be my first experience of W.P. Kellino, and Ian Hunter’s first film. Expect some reviews or reactions shortly.

Going Underground

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 20, 2021 by dcairns

Can any filmmaker have run out of spoons so early and so catastrophically as Anthony Asquith? His silent films are great, even when they have one foot in sound (A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR). I’ve been unable to see THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS, and have heard great things about his 1931 war movie, THE BATTLE OF GALLIPOLI. THE LUCKY NUMBER has definite moments. But sometime after that, his whole approach seems to change, and the expressionist shadowplay is replaced by photographs of actors talking, talking, talking. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is certainly well cast, but I glanced at it recently and was pretty put off by the flat and unimaginative filming. There was Miles Malleson, talking about a book, which he had in front of him, but which was completely framed out. Asquith, I felt, was not only not thinking in pictures, delivering mere literal coverage, he wasn’t even paying attention to the WORDS.

But look!

UNDERGROUND, screened at Hippfest with Neil Brand’s exuberant and eloquent score, is entirely something else. It makes an epic (melo)drama out of pieces of everyday life — admittedly ending in a spectacular running battle between hero Brian Aherne (very appealing) and the brute, Cyril McLaglen. The days when a brute might be played by someone named Cyril. And when the Underground and Battersea Power Station could form dynamic, menacing and even glamorous settings for movie action.

The kind of thing Britain is now absolutely unable to do, it seems — though maybe Edgar Wright’s return to London will provide some visual energy.

More here.