Cinema: Silent but golden age

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As technological advances drive the cinema industry forward, filmmaking has always adapted to new technology and embraced ways to tell stories differently.

However, change hasn’t always meant the end of the traditions of the art-form. When 2011’s The Artist cleaned up at the Oscars, people were won over by the silent film; reminded perhaps that silents were once the only films available and that people were once as thrilled by them as they now are by modern blockbusters.

Sheffield’s run of silent film, brought us by Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, kicks off this weekend with an extravaganza of silent treats at Abbeydale Picture House. Just so we are all clear, these films may be silent but their musical accompaniments are far from it. With pianos, percussion and even an orchestra it will be an audible treat!

The opening film, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, is one of his best-known silent films and Hitch’s masterful use of tension and dread was already fully evolved for this terrifying serial killer mystery. For me, the legacy of this film can clearly be seen in his later work – for example in Shadow of a Doubt and Suspicion – as the danger is even closer to home than the mysterious and troubling lodger. Neil Brand’s new score for the film will be performed by the Orchestra of St Pauls, so the film really comes to life!

There are eight further screenings; from Mickey Mouse to Greta Garbo; late night horror to the most epic film of them all, Ben Hur! There’s certainly something for everyone to get their teeth into – both for newcomers to this kind of cinema and for seasoned silent fans alike.

Following this weekend celebration of Silent Cinema, there are three further screenings in Sheffield, at the Showroom, to cater for some already whetted appetites. Dragnet Girl, (May 10) from the godfather of Japanese cinema Yasujiro Ozu, is a late silent. Made in 1933, this film comes after the birth of sound and at the height of silent film storytelling. It will be a particular delight to see this accompanied on the harp. Certainly, in my memory we’ve not had a harp before in the Showroom so it will be great to see this. Soviet comedy, The House on Trubnaya, (May 23) sounds like a contradiction of terms.

Despite its clearly Soviet themes of unions and the petit bourgeoisie, this is lighter in its tone; and as the USSR is well known for its accomplishment in the silent film genre, it’s a joy to see on the big screen. Finally for Sheffield, Neil Brand will return to accompany the tragic tale of a clown whose livelihood is threatened by the coming of the jazz age. The Danish film, A Golden Clown, will be a brilliant end to the festival’s Sheffield offerings this year.