In the days before CGI…
The power of silent cinema remains undiminished. Indeed in the last Sight and Sound poll of the greatest films of all time, no less than three silent films were included in the top ten: ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ (1927), ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (1929) and ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1927) (and, for good measure, ‘Battleship Potemkin’ (1925) weighed in at No. 11).
And it’s not just critics who enjoy these pioneering works. Audiences continue to flock to screenings of silent films, as evinced by the continuing success of the Gateshead Silent Film Festival, which is back again in 2020 to kick-start the year in fine style. And their Friday night offering is a real doozy. Things will get underway with a pre-1918 Charlie Chaplin comedy in which this genius of pre-talkies cinema goes through his paces. 100 years ago, Chaplin was one of the most famous people in the world and it’s great that his films can still be enjoyed as a communal experience. This will be followed by an interval in which Scream for Pizza will be on hand with their always amazing selection of pizzas, which will be available to buy. And then the main event of the evening will see a change of mood befall the gothic setting of St. Mary’s Heritage Centre. Brace yourself for a rare screening of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ (1920).
Many people believe that the horror film in the US began with ‘Dracula’ (1931). Not so. There have been many adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Victorian tale, but this version remains absolutely one of the most powerful. This is almost entirely down to an extraordinary performance from John Barrymore in the title role(s). Most of us know the story: Dr Henry Jekyll, physician and scientist, is a good fellow – all be told. When he’s not busy trying to discover new cures, he’s tending to the impoverished. But when George Carew (Brandon Hurst) – in an effort to knock Jekyll’s halo off kilter – takes him to a dance hall for the first time in his life, the good doc gets exposed to the temptation of sin. He’s fascinated, but also fears for his mortal soul. What’s a man to do? Concoct a potion that will him allow him to indulge his fruitier side, of course – as an alternate personality. Step forward the altogether wicked Mr Hyde. A lot of actors have tackled this beast of a man, but Barrymore’s performance remains definitive. His grotesque appearance is aided by make-up but is almost entirely down to the way the actor inhabits the role, his physical contortions suggesting unremitting malevolence and a soul that has long since blackened. It’s almost hard to believe it’s the same actor playing both roles. If you need a stiff drink then you’ll be pleased to know that the bar will be open.
If you can get any sleep that night, then make sure you return to St. Mary’s Heritage Centre on Saturday morning. This is when the festival will change gear with Funny Bones, which will feature a real blast of family friendly fun. Great stars like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd will be on hand with their jaw-dropping acrobatics and slapstick skills. You will be able to buy refreshments pre-show and afterwards Scream for Pizza will once again be on hand to fulfil all your pizza needs.I’ve used the word ‘silent’ to describe the above films and shorts, but, needless to say, they’re not really silent. Just like when they were first screened, these works will feature live accompaniment on piano, and doing the biz over this weekend will be Stuart Angus.
Get set for thrills, spills and belly-laughs.
Gateshead Silent Film Festival: Charlie Chaplin + Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Friday 31 January, 7pm, £10/£15; Funny Bones, Saturday 1 February, 10.30am, St. Mary’s Heritage Centre, Gateshead, £5. https://www.gateshead.gov.uk/article/13389/Gateshead-Silent-Film-Festival-2020-Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde...