The biggest misconception that people have about silent cinema is that it was silent. In fact, early cinema was never silent, as there would always be a musical accompanist present.
If you’ve had the chance to actually see silent films in this way then you’ll understand how wonderful it can be. It brings not just the films, but the whole era, to life, in a way thats difficult even for later cinema. It isn’t difficult to see why an audience in 1924 would enjoy silent film, because you’re enjoying it in the same way. Silent films stop being objects from an earlier, intangible past and become something that is current, a performance, something that engages with you.
If you’ve yet to experience silent films in this way, then this year’s British Silent Film Festival is a good place to start. It starts today and runs at the Barbican until Monday.
The use of sound and music in British silent cinema is the Festivals theme. It will be showing some of Britain’s best interwar silent films, many of which haven’t been screened since their original releases.
Musicians such as Neil Brand, Philip Carli, and John Sweeney will accompany the films, and there are a number of other presentations and events.
Highlights include the world premiere of the restored original score for Morozko, a Soviet film based on the Russian fairytale “Father Frost”; Yasujiro Ozu’s classic I Was Born, But…, and a lecture by Matthew Sweet from Radio 3’s Night Waves, on the stories behind the history of British silent cinema, and the role of gossip within it.