It’s great that so many classic movies are now available for home viewing – but nothing compares with seeing them as they were made to be shown, on the big screen. So far I’ve only managed to see a relatively small number of older films in this way, but I’ve found they tend to stick in my mind more vividly than those I’ve only seen on TV. Last weekend I was lucky enough to be at the historic Hackney Empire cinema in London for the premiere of the BFI’s (British Film Institute) new restored print of Hitchcock’s silent boxing/romantic melodrama The Ring, accompanied by music from Soweto Kinch’s jazz band. I won’t write a full review (there are many excellent reviews of this film online, which I can’t add much to) but just wanted to say something about this movie and the BFI’s Hitchcock season. The Ring is one of the ‘Hitchcock Nine’ which the BFI has been busy raising money to restore – his nine surviving silent films. The £2million target to restore all of these with brand new musical scores has almost been reached, and four restored silent movies are being premiered as part of the London 2012 Festival, but the BFI is not quite there yet and still needs more donations.
Sorry not to have updated for a while – I’ve been busy and then was away on holiday. However, this is just a note to say that I was interested to hear a report about how Birmingham Central Library has discovered what could be the UK’s largest collection of silent movie scores, including a unique Charlie Chaplin theme tune. The library’s Youtube channel also has two videos showing Ben Dawson, a pianist from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, playing some of the music discovered in the collection and talking about the pieces.
The BBC did a short report about this which mentioned that the scores may be used to help create music for nine silent Hitchcock films being restored by the BFI. A couple of brief snippets of unnamed films from the BFI archives (I don’t think they are the Hitchcocks) are set to music here and I think there may be a glimpse of John Barrymore in the first one, although to be honest I’m not sure if it is him or not – he is wearing a wig and doesn’t stand in profile. If anyone can answer this one either way, I’d be interested to know.
I was excited today to discover that the British Film Institute in London has a comprehensive-looking Howard Hawks season coming up in January. The list of movies is on their site with an introduction by David Thomson. It will include Hawks’ earliest surviving film, Fig Leaves (1926), and other silent rarities, as well as early talkies like The Criminal Code (1931) and many better-known films from the rest of his career. As well as the silents, I’m also extremely tempted by the thought of seeing my favourites like The Crowd Roars (1932) and Ceiling Zero (1935), both starring James Cagney, as a troubled racing driver and womanising pilot, or Twentieth Century (1934), with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard – or The Dawn Patrol (1930), starring Richard Barthelmess, on the big screen. Realistically, as it is a long way to London, I’m not likely to be able to see more than one or two of the wonderful array of films, but will report back on this blog on whatever I do manage to see, anyway!
The BFI has also got what sounds like a great Frank Capra season running at the moment. On top of its programme of showings, it has ongoing appeals to restore nine rare early Alfred Hitchcock silent films and to find 75 “most wanted” lost British films – including missing features starring Errol Flynn, Laurence Olivier, Dorothy Gish, Peter Lorre, James Mason, Phyllis Calvert and many more famous actors, and also including work by directors such as Hitchcock, again, and Michael Powell. I don’t know if they have had any luck in digging up copies of any of these missing treasures, but here’s hoping.