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British Silent Film Festival 2011

The 14th British Silent Film Festival, presented at the Barbican in London in partnership with the BFI, opens today, runs through Monday, and features a program that aims to recreate "the experience of cinema going from the Great War to the late silent period; looking at the unlikely relationship between radio and the silent film, celebrating the centenary of the birth of the British newsreel and hosting the world premiere of the restored musical score for the Russian fantasy film Morozko." Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky's 1924 film, "based on a well-known Russian fairy tale about a stepdaughter who is driven out to face the spirit of winter," is to be presented tomorrow "with a score that was specially composed by British composer Frederick Laurence for the film's 1925 London run, and hasn't been heard since." Here's more on the discovery of the score, its reconstruction and resynchronization with the film.

Update, 4/8: "Until recently, British cinema before the coming of the talkie was customarily dismissed as amateurish and genteel. That this opinion is fading away is largely due to the organisers of the annual British Silent Film Festival, who, for the past 13 years, have been screening neglected treasures from the archives, and rebuilding a sense of the talents who produced them and the people who watched." Matthew Sweet has tales to relate in the Guardian: "I was in at the beginning,' recalled Douglas Payne, a veteran actor who had played thoughtful heroes since Herbert Asquith was prime minister. 'Believe me, the British film industry developed through the efforts of the strangest conglomerate of humanity one could imagine. Of course, there were the visionaries, the pioneering spirits, the intellectuals; but in comparison with other industries, more than the usual percentage of adventurers, confidence men, and even a few of what used to be called in my youth, "white slavers." They saw the casting couch as the answer to their wildest dreams. I once mistakenly lent a dress suit to a producer. It was returned to me covered in blood, the by-product of discharging pox. Yes, you met all kinds of game in those days.'"

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