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Marion Davies & Ronald Colman + Fritz Lang 'Metropolis' Screening

Ronald Colman, Constance Talmadge in Her Sister from ParisThe four-film series "Sound and Silents” – part of the wider “Birds Eye View Film Festival” celebrating women filmmakers – to be held at London's bfi Southbank and the Barbican from March 6-10.

The four screening silent films are: King Vidor's The Patsy (1928), starring Marion Davies; Sidney Franklin's Her Sister from Paris (1925), starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman (right); Cecil B. DeMille's Chicago (1927), with Phyllis Haver and Victor Varconi; and Lotte Reiniger's animated The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). All four films will feature live musical accompaniment.

The most enjoyable of the four is Sidney Franklin's Lubitschesque Her Sister from Paris, which offers Constance Talmadge at her screwballish best – and this before screwball comedies became known as such. In the film – written by frequent Lubitsch collaborator Hans Kräly – housewife Talmadge decides to spice things up with hubby Ronald Colman by pretending to be her wordly sister (from Paris). George Cukor would remake it in 1941 as a Greta Garbo vehicle called Two-Faced Woman. The film lost (a little) money and turned out to be Garbo's last. Jane Gardner will provide a “specially commissioned” live musical accompaniment for Her Sister from Paris.

Marion Davies in The Patsy

King Vidor's The Patsy has its ups and downs, but Marion Davies' imitation of fellow silent-screen stars Lillian Gish, Mae Murray, and Pola Negri is a masterpiece of comic acting, while the now totally forgotten Orville Caldwell proves himself a likable leading man. The Patsy will have another specially commissioned musical accompaniment, this one by Gwyneth Herbert.

Phyllis Haver, Victor Varconi in Chicago

Chicago, for its part, has Victor Varconi at his handsomest and Phyllis Haver at her sluttiest. In my view, Haver's ambitious, selfish, self-centered Roxie Hart is a much superior comic performance to any I've seen by Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and all other revered comedy geniuses of the silent era. Cecil B. DeMille, who had made the pious (and all but unwatchable) The King of Kings that same year, opted to have assistant director Frank Urson credited as the official director of the eye-popping Chicago. Rob Marshall should have watched this one before directing the dreadful – and dreadfully miscast – (Oscar-winning) 2002 remake. Patti Plinko will provide the live musical accompaniment.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a bit on the slow-moving side. In fact, I'd say it's less a “movie” than animated “performance art.” If you look at it that way, Prince Achmed a stunning piece of artwork. Mira Calix will be present to premiere her new musical accompaniment for this animated classic.

Metropolis Fritz Lang
Metropolis Fritz Lang

“Maybe you've heard the buzz about Metropolis,” reads a newsletter from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. “The incredible discovery of long-lost footage from director Fritz Lang's masterpiece. Found in a vault in Buenos Aires, the complete film has been reconstructed and restored by the F.W. Murnau Foundation.” The restored 1927 silent classic starring Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, and Gustav Fröhlich had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on February 12.

Come next July, SFSFF will screen the restored version as part of its 15th anniversary festival. The screening will be accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.

Back to Metropolis at the Berlin Film Festival: The sold-out screening at the Friedrichstadt Palace was beamed simultaneously to about 2,000 fans at the snowy Brandenburg Gate. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra provided live musical accompaniment for the film.

“The extra footage (totalling 30 minutes) had been transferred to 16mm so the new scenes could not be restored to the same aspect ratio of the 35mm original,” explains Kaleem Aftab in The Independent. “Consequently, in the latest restored version there is a slight resizing of the picture when the newly inserted scenes are shown and they are marked with black lines, in contrast to the pristine restoration of 35mm footage. This does not detract from the overall film. Holes in the story have been plugged and the added footage rachets up the tension dramatically. There are far more reaction shots throughout, whole new sequences and a fresh pacing which emphasises the feeling of the perils to come.”

Photos: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung / Museo del Cine

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