If you’re a silent movie fan and you happen to be in London this coming weekend, you are in a very enviable position, indeed. The Kennington Bioscope will be holding its sixth Silent Film Weekend. Hosted by the Cinema Museum, the Bioscope is a unique alliance of silent film historians, accompanists and collectors.
Michelle Facey, one of the Kennington Bioscope’s program directors, was kind enough to speak with me about the history of this unique silent movie series. She has been involved in the Bioscope’s programming since 2015 but found a new challenge during the 2020 lockdown. How could a friendly, intimate gathering of silent film lovers carry on during a pandemic?
“Cyrus Gabrysch started Bioscope in the first place and he has an innovative mind. He said, ‘Why don’t we do an online show?” and the thought terrified me. The idea of going from a live venue with film and pianos to something online.”
However, inspired by Ben Model’s successful YouTube silent comedy series, the Bioscope team quickly assembled a worthy online show of their own. They made it their goal to mimic the mood of their live performances as much as possible, with footage of their screening room to introduce the programs and even a live piano cam. Michelle introduced the films and material was provided by both archives such as the BFI, and the Eye Filmmuseum Collection, and by collectors and distributors like Christopher Bird.
The response to this quality presentation was immediate. “There was a show where we had someone watching live from St. Petersburg, various people watching in North America, some watching in Brazil, India, Denmark, the Netherlands and all over the UK. People who really appreciate and love our shows, people who would have never seen them.”
The lockdown ended, of course, and the Bioscope is back at its London home, but the streamed shows are still available for all to view on YouTube. Michelle has continued to program unique shows that dig deep into the archives. “Every time I look, there’s something new.”
Lost Film in London
And that brings us to the upcoming Silent Film Weekend hosted by the Kennington Bioscope. It’s a live event, no streaming, and promises to be a most fascinating collection of films accompanied live by Colin Sell, John Sweeney, Lillian Henley, Cyrus Gabrysch, and Costas Fotopoulos.
The Bioscope’s friendly relationship with collectors has meant that viewers have had a chance to see rare and even once-lost motion pictures held by individuals. This will certainly be the case this coming Sunday! On November 6, 2022, the Bioscope will be unveiling The Gold Diggers (1923), lost for nearly a century before collector Joshua Cattermole discovered a nearly complete nitrate print.
The Gold Diggers will be part of the Bioscope’s annual Silent Weekend, a two-day event on November 5 and 6. The event will also feature big silent era names like Erich von Stroheim and F.W. Murnau but there, true to the ethos of the organization, will also be new discoveries, such as the glorious presentation Cinema’s First Nasty Women, which covers misbehaved and uninhibited onscreen ladies of the silent era.
You can read about the programs and purchase tickets on the Bioscope’s website:
Congratulations to the Kennington Bioscope for their exciting upcoming weekend. Do go if you are anywhere near London and the rest of us will watch enviously from afar.
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