As we noted on these pages a few weeks ago in our Edinburgh coverage, no UK film-festival worth its salt these days omits to feature a silent film in its lineup – preferably one starring Richard Arlen. And after Bradford showcased Arlen’s charms via Beggars of Life and Edinburgh likewise with Feel My Pulse, the 56th London Film Festival (LFF; October 10-21) carries on the baton by selecting what’s probably the most famous picture Arlen was ever involved with, William Wellman’s Wings (1927), screening on Oct 10.
Often erroneously described as the first Best Picture winner at the Oscars – no such category existed at the time, and the gong picked up by F W Murnau’s Sunrise (for “Unique and artistic production”) more closely corresponds with what we’d now call Best Picture – Wings is a 143-minute World War I epic that was the Top Gun of its day. Arlen and Buddy Rogers play knights of the skies, but both stars are comprehensively outshone by female lead Clara Bow – not known as the “It” Girl for nothing – and outswaggered by dashing newcomer Gary Cooper in an early walk-on role.
With the notable and overwhelming exception of Douglas Fairbanks, distaff performers of the silent era retain much more interest and allure all these decades on than their male counterparts. As well as Ms Bow in Wings, the LFF’s reliably excellent Treasures section this year includes a couple of European dames who foreshadowed the likes of Garbo and Bergman by dazzling audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.
Polish temptress Pola Negri (whose recently-restored Mania was, as covered in a recent Tribune, a hysteria-inducing wow at the Wrocław film-festival this summer) is in The Spanish Dancer (1923) with Wallace Beery on Oct 21, while Denmark’s Asta Nielsen displays her vivacious charms in pioneering Norwegian romance Gypsy Anne (1920) on Oct 13.
Other Treasures notables this year include Jack Garfein’s little-screened Something Wild (1961; Oct 18); Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig (1968, Oct 14) and, perhaps best of all, an utterly irresistible double-bill of adult-themed ‘pre-Code’ quickies on Oct 17 comprising Mervyn LeRoy’s Heat Lightning (1934) and William Dieterle’s Jewel Robbery (1932).
The LFF’s other chief source of consistently worthwhile fare is the Experimenta section, which this year includes a tribute to Austria’s avant-garde giant Peter Kubelka: his collected works are shown as The Essence of Cinema on October 11, with a new four-hour documentary on the maestro, Fragments of Kubelka, scheduled for two days later and what sounds like an unmissable live “performance” of his new Monument Film on October 21.
A handful of non-Kubelka recommendations from Experimenta: Isidore Isou’s Of Venom and Eternity (1951; Oct 19); Thom Andersen’s Reconversão (‘Two Architecture Films‘, Oct 20); Luke Fowler’s The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper, and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott (Oct 10 and 21), and Ben Rivers’ short The Creation As We Saw It (‘Where the Magic Happens’, Oct 21).
Meanwhile, for those seeking gems which aren’t from the archives or the experimental fringes: Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (Oct 20/21) is the best British film of the year; Andrei Gryazev’s Tomorrow (Oct 17/20) could scarcely be more topical; Rachid Djaïdani’s Hold Back (Oct 17/20) illuminated Cannes this May and the merits of Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking (Oct 18/20/21) are summarised in our Venice coverage, elsewhere in this very magazine.
11th September 2012
for next week’s issue of Tribune magazine
Oct 10 The Poor Stockinger, The Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott (also 21st); Wings
Oct 11 The Essence of Cinema
Oct 12 -
Oct 13 Gypsy Anne; Fragments of Kubelka
Oct 14 In the Year of the Pig
Oct 17 Tomorrow (also 20th); Hold Back (also 20th); Heat Lightning + Jewel Robbery
Oct 18 Something Wild; A Hijacking (also 20th/21st)
Oct 19 Of Venom and Eternity
Oct 20 Sightseers (also 21st); Tomorrow (also 17th); A Hijacking (also 18th/21st); Hold Back (also 17th); ‘Two Architecture Films’
Oct 21 The Spanish Dancer; Sightseers (also 20th); A Hijacking (also 18th/20th); Monument Film; The Poor Stockinger, The Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott (also 10th); ‘Where the Magic Happens’.