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Silent Movie Special

Friday 12 June 2009, 13:00

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

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With my band The Dodge Brothers I recently got to play along to a live screening of a silent movie. With us was Neil Brand, whose mellifluous skills as a silent movie accompanist have been widely celebrated by Paul Merton among others, and a jolly and rather revelatory time was had by all.

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    Comment number 21.

    Dr K.

    Surely, honourable mentions must go to a couple of films last year that started (at least) in a wholly visual way? I refer, of course, to the opening sequences of Wall-E and There Will Be Blood, which both unfolded without dialogue. Both are tours-de-force of modern cinema.

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    Comment number 22.

    Wall -E tried to have its cake and eat it. Why spoil the film's brilliant first half with a descent into cliche and conventionality?

    Critics were quick to overlook the poor second half of that fim. The director's insistence also that film did not have an eco message did not ring true. Also there's the wider problem with regards to Pixar being part of of huge multinational, and the themes and meesages many of its films have.

    I feel critics have been very quick to give any Pixar film their utmost praise. Despite not having made a bad film yet, they've hardly produced one masterpiece after the next, as the media like to make out.

    The Toy Story films and the Incredibles are probably the most deserving of their plaudits, while the others, although very good, do not come nowhere near any of Walt Disney's classics.

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    Comment number 23.

    "We've lost the ability to tell stories through facial gestures, to tell stories through static camera shots that allow actors to emote in a way that is simply visual rather than verbal."

    Without wishing to seem overly curt, I think that's little more than lazy journalism...

    There was discussion end of July '07 - when Bergman & Antonioni died within the same week - arguing that a particular breed of cinema had expired & no film-maker would ever be afforded sufficient time, finances or creativity to make such films again. The tenor of most commentary was one of a lost age never to be recovered, a style of film-making consigned almost to archival existence, accessible only through DVD, BlueRay & the occasional independent retrospective. 'Twas the final confirmation of the dying throes of art-cinema, or so a number of talking heads would have us believe. To qualify as a talking head, it seemed, it was necessary to be in excess of 50 years of age, intrinsically involved with the history of cinema - whether that be creatively or purely academic - & to be male.

    Another criteria, or so it seemed, was to have little appreciation of how fresh auteurs & artists serve to organically progress cinema, borrowing & maniplulating & subverting everything the great masters provided but for a whole new age of cinephile. Which brings me neatly back to your somewhat glib comment...

    In the Mood for Love relays it's story almost entirely through gesture, stillness & music, & Tony Leung & Maggie Cheung's extraordinary struggles with repression. The Return succeeds as a film about absence & allusion purely because Andrei Zvyaginstev allows the bleakness of landscape, the brusque ambivalence of the father & the lingering vulnerability of the 2 sons to drive the rite-of-passage forward with a strange skewed logic all of it's own. Uzak is almost defiant in its languorous pace, playing out the constant physical presence of both cousins avoidance of one another as they shift about the darkened apartment, until the resultant thaw prods them toward some sort of mutual acceptance. La Vie Nouvelle, whilst perhaps not to everyone's taste, is excoriating in its depiction of how life can become so grim, so hopeless, so extreme & yet, conversely, peripheral that something as seemingly mundane as speech & communication are rendered obsolete as each character unravels to an almost feral state.

    Equally, as has already been alluded to in others' previous entries, films such as Wall-E, Hunger & The Man Who Wasn't There use dialogue either as a skeleton on which to hang or as a poetic accompaniment to the physical communion of the film's characters. All of these films mentioned, quite deliberately, are unashamedly international & inclusive in their production & themes, & all were released within the past 10 years, engaging a plethora of young, vibrant film goers with the very essence & core beauty of visual art. As the late great JG Ballard continually inferred, there is a great danger in dwelling too much in the past & indulging that most pernicious sickness nostalgia...


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    Comment number 24.

    hi like this blog - Although the intro is a bit more Benny Hill than Charlie Chaplin...

    A few years ago my family, including various children of all ages accompanied my dad to a Buster Keaton showing, including music by an Austrailian band called 'Blue grassy Knoll'. We all felt we were going out of a duty to indulge 'grandad' a bit worried the children might find it boring....

    I have never before or after seen a group of children laugh so much at the cinema..Buster Keaton was unbelievably talented, and particularly in the use of facial expression. We have since see Paul Merton on his tour and been similarly enthralled...


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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

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