Preview: Yorkshire Silent Film Festival


Metropolis Production Still

The Yorkshire Silent Film Festival is a new, collaborative venture designed to bring the magic of great silent cinema with live music to audiences across Yorkshire, especially to those who don’t have many opportunities to experience this type of screening.

For most of the first four decades of cinema, the films were silent. A trip to the movies, though, was anything but quiet, as the clicking of the projection equipment, a noisy audience and live music accompanied every show. Epic drama, swashbuckling action pictures, romantic melodramas, and of course the antics of the great silent film comedians delighted audiences around the globe.

TITLE-CARDThe first Yorkshire Silent Film Festival will take this experience to audiences across Yorkshire, through the month of July. Three of the UK’s leading silent film pianists, and a silent film harpist, will be improvising live scores to all thirty screenings. This is the biggest celebration of silent film and music Yorkshire has ever seen!

Highlights of the festival include: centenary celebrations of twelve of Charlie Chaplin’s short comedies; great silent stars like Louise Brooks, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy; the first opportunity for audiences outside London to see a newly discovered silent film starring the great escapologist Harry Houdini; two films by silent cinema’s greatest female director, Lois Weber; European classics like Metropolis; the last MGM silent, starring Lillian Gish – The Wind; and rarely-seen, wonderful British silent films, including Shooting Stars and Hindle’s Wake.

The Wind

The Wind

Producer Jonathan Best said: “Yorkshire has a special importance in the history of film – the first moving images were shot in Leeds. And Holmfirth was the home of one of the earliest British film makers, James Bamforth. Yorkshire is one of the places in which silent cinema was born. There are silent film festivals in Scotland and in London and the South West, but nothing in the north of England. We thought we should put that right – so here is the first of what we hope will be an annual event, the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival.”

“Every screening we do will have live music, often improvised by a silent film pianist. If you’ve not experienced silent film with live music before, I hope that this festival will tempt you to try it! It’s a unique combination of classic film and live performance – it’s like nothing else. We promise you a good night out with Yorkshire Silent Film Festival and we look forward to welcoming you to a screening in one of the eleven great Yorkshire locations we’re visiting.”

“All the silent film music will be improvised by our pianists – each player sits at the piano, watching the film with the audience, and creating a live score there and then. No two screenings of the same film will be identical – it’s always truly original music and a unique blend of classic film and live performance.”

Metropolis Production Still

Metropolis Production Still

The weekend of 1st, 2nd and 3rd of July the festival travels to various locations in Holmfirth and Leeds.

At Choppards Mission (Holmfirth) there will be a Paramount Pictures version of the much-loved story Peter Pan, with live harp score by silent film harpist Elizabeth-Jane Baldry. At Hepworth Village Hall, it’s Laurel and Hardy’s Comedy Club – a trio of great comedies from the funniest double act in all of silent cinema and the northern drama Hindle Wakes based on the play by Stanley Houghton; an unconventional love story shot on location in Manchester and Blackpool in the 1920s. One of the best British silent films ever, and a great night out. (Pianist Lillian Henley will accompany Laurel and Hardy’s Comedy Club and Hindle Wakes).

On Sunday July 3rd the festival moves to Leeds where there will be a day of silent cinema with live music at Hyde Park Picture House – one of the UK’s most beautiful independent cinemas. Still with its original auditorium gas lamps, and a red-plush interior, Hyde Park Picture House is cinema-going the way it used to be, with a real sense of magic. Here you can see Harry Houdini in The Grim Game – a spectacular drama of revenge and daring exploits which sees Houdini dangle from a skyscraper while escaping from his chains, and crash planes…these are some of Houdini’s most amazing stunts and they’re recorded here exactly as live audiences in the early twentieth century would have seen them.

Safety Last

Safety Last

There will also be the fizzy 1920s comedy, Orchids and Ermine, starring Colleen Moore – little known now, but in the 1920s she was one of the brightest comedy stars in the movies. She plays Pink Watson, a receptionist at a cement factory, who dreams of marrying rich! The film includes the very first appearance of Mickey Rooney – here only six years old and playing a very small in stature millionaire. Shot on location in New York, this is classic 20s comedy, witty and charming from first shot to last.

During that afternoon of Sunday 3rd July there will be a quartet of mind-bending surreal films by Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Louis Buñuel and Hans Richter. This will be a free screening!



And the weekend finale is the great Lillian Gish in The Wind. The last great silent film released by MGM, and Lillian Gish’s final silent film too, this is the story of a southern belle (Gish) who has been uprooted to the Texas desert and is driven almost out of her mind by the relentless desert winds. Shot in the Mojave Desert by the great Swedish director Victor Seastrom, they used eight aircraft propellers to create the gales of wind, and the shoot was reportedly one of the most arduous in film history! It’s a highly dramatic, emotional and unforgettable film – the last great silent film to come out of Hollywood. (The films will be accompanied by Lillian Henley and Jonathan Best, improvising live piano scores).

Further events take place in Leeds, Sheffield, Scarborough, Helmsley, Doncaster, Leyburn, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Hebden Bridge and Hull throughout July.

Sheffield dates (at The Showroom) are: July 9th Lois Weber’s The Blot, July 10th Pandora’s Box, 
Jul 20th Harry Houdini in The Grim Game and
 Jul 27th Enthusiasm (Symphony of the Donbas). The first Yorkshire Silent Film Festival is 1st-30th July 2016, hopefully it will be an annual, summer event, reaching people in new places each year.

Twitter: @yorkshiresilent