Archive for Stephen Horne

The Last Day

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2023 by dcairns

Some more writings on Hippfest will doubtless follow, but for now I will observe that no day that begins with Laurel & Hardy and ends with Anthony Asquith’s SHOOTING STARS is likely to be anything less than marvelous. We skipped the Chinese film, the Ukrainian egg-decorating workshop, and the “Platform Reels” at the Railway Museum, but still consumed quite a fulsome day’s viewing, with not only ANGORA LOVE and BACON GRABBERS and the Asquith, but Swedish comedy HIS MAJESTY, THE BARBER, previously enjoyed via lifestream from Pordenone.

The last two films gave us the chance to compare the accompanying style of John Sweeney and Stephen Horne. The multi-instrumental Horne was playing to a showy film, the twenty-five-year-old Asquith’s showpiece/showcase/showboat, and so flamboyance was not only permissible but demanded. The switches from piano to accordion and flute, and startling moments when two played at once, never pulled one out of the film, but occasionally encouraged one to view it from a kind of high angle. It worked beautifully.

John Sweeney tends to disappear into the film he’s playing for. You’ll never be aware of him in an obtrusive way, and you might forget he’s there. But, particularly in the case of HIS MAJ, the elegance and tact of the approach was a perfect match for the comedy of gesture and attitude.

I can’t decide between the two approaches, and anyway I don’t have to.

We also had a great chat with Meg Morley and Frank Bockius, who played for the L&H double bill and had accompanied THE MAN WHO LAUGHS the night before. The difficulties of the somewhat illogical construction of Paul Leni’s epic were raised, and this led on to the question of perhaps the ultimate silent movie bogeyman, and the question, How WOULD you produce live music for THE BIRTH OF A NATION?

I could say confidently that a justifiable approach would be period-authentic, giving the film the Wagnerian sweep Griffith wanted for it, and trusting the audience to resist being altogether seduced. I think what’s interesting about he film is (a) it’s vile and (b) it’s exciting blood-and-thunder melodrama. So letting it be both, and letting it condemn itself, seems fair. But if it were me — if, as in a dream, I suddenly acquired musical prowess and were ordered to sit at the upright and play along with Griffith’s toxic vision, I doubt if I could do it.

I might be just able to pound out The Ride of the Valkyries for the climax. I would fall stubbornly silent when Griffith is lampooning the Black members of the South Carolina legislature, my fingers stiffened into immobile sentinels at the gates of all that is decent.

Fortunately recorded scores exist. Let them stand. Don’t ask anyone else to musically incriminate themselves.

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.