NSFF 2020

The third edition of the Nederlands Silent Film Festival took place on January 9, 10, 11, 12, 2020. Festival director Daan van den Hurk: ‘Silent films are more relevant than ever and often very topical. About 65% of all silent films has been lost or has exploded (nitrate is highly flammable). Historians and restorers spend their lives tracking down lost films and film music.’

Thursday 9 January 2020

It’s a common occurrence in the movie industry, still to this day: two films based on the same source material competing against each other in the same year. This phenomenon is as old as Methuselah. Or rather, Maritana, in this particular instance, because back in 1923, THE SPANISH DANCER and ROSITA crossed their cinematic swords, as both were inspired by the 1872 opera Don César de Bazan. THE SPANISH DANCER (1923) is considered to be the superior of the two, especially because of Pola Negri’s performance as Maritana. She steals the show as a gypsy dancer and fortune teller, who’s trying to keep the jealous King of Spain at bay. In her personal life, she also had a way of winding men – and the press – around her finger. She wasn’t just an actress, she was a style icon, who lived flamboyantly and exorbitantly. She’d either drive her white Rolls-Royce (with white velvet interior and ivory door handles), or take strolls with her pet. ‘Pet’ appeared to be a broad concept in Negri’s case, since she was known to occasionally take her pet tiger for a walk down Sunset Boulevard. The silent film was musically accompanied LIVE by Daan van den Hurk (piano) and Tijn van der Sanden (guitar).

Friday 10 January 2020

The Russian experimental silent film (during the Soviet era) MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1929) isn’t actually a film. It’s a visual experience. Directed by Dziga Vertov and edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova, this documentary (including also staged fragments) is a cinematic whirlwind, a masterclass in filmmaking. It took them three years to finish the film. At the time the film was not well received at all. Colleague filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein even called it ‘pointless camera hooliganism’, but nowadays the film is considered one of the highlights in film history. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA was musically accompanied LIVE by Meg Morley (piano).

Film historian en Chaplin biographer David Robinson holds a lecture about forgotten star Aimée Campton. Fragments of her ‘Maud films’ were musically accompanied LIVE by Daan van den Hurk (piano). ‘Only one year ago, you would have searched in vain for any mention of the name of Aimée Campton in film history,’ Robinson writes. ‘Since then however, two films have surfaced to reveal the charm and wit which also gave her a brilliant two-decade starring career – now equally mysteriously forgotten – on the Paris stage.

‘Aimée was an English girl, born Emily Cager in Brighton in 1882, who became a dancer with The Tiller Girls – the world’s first precision dance troupe. The Tiller Girls appeared at the Folies Bergère in 1900, and Emily stood out for her personality, her singing, and her cute English accent. Within a year, now renamed Aimée Campton, she was a star, and the wife of France’s premier comedian Charles Prince (better known by his alter ego Rigadin). After this she regularly starred in her own shows. When she had time she would link up with the handsome actor René Hervil, to make an intermittent series of films featuring the character Maud. The films launced Hervil on a long and distinguished career as a director. The two Maud films that have surfaced in the past year are smart and sophisticated: the earliest, LES CHARMES DE MAUD (1912), fearlessly anticipates MeToo.

‘A new chauvinism overtook France at the end of the First World War, and Aimée, with her cute accent, was suddenly rejected. Forgotten, she found consolation in the arms of the new proprietor of the Folies Bergère, Paul Derval, with who she remained until her death in 1930.’

In the French comedy LES DEUX TIMIDES (English title: TWO TIMID SOULS) a man is accused of physically abusing his wife. He’s undoubtedly guilty, but receives the highest possible prison sentence because of his shy, nervous lawyer. After he’s released, he’s out for revenge. He takes it upon himself to seduce a woman who’s the lawyer’s object of affection – which is not too difficult, given the lawyer’s too ‘timid’ to ask her to marry him. LES DEUX TIMIDES (1928) is light, sharp and elegant; trademarks of René Clair. He used to be one of the biggest French directors of his day, famous for THE PHANTOM OF THE MOULIN-ROUGE (1925) and his breakthrough film ENTR’ACTE (1924), among many others. The film was musically accompanied LIVE by Maud Nelissen (piano).

Saturday 11 January 2020

It’s one of the common misunderstandings about silent films: the fact that, by definition, they’re all in black and white. Actually, filmmakers used to experiment quite a lot with color, using all kinds of techniques. Our afternoon presentation FANTASY OF COLORS is about just that: color. Colorful silent films and shorts were selected, to show how resourceful they were in the early days of silent film. Typical Dutch scenes, comedies and dream sequences will be shown, among many other fantastical things. All films and shorts were musically accompanied LIVE by Anne-Maartje Lemereis (piano).

Around 1912 to 1913, the French company Société Lux produced comedies featuring the main character Cunégonde. The surviving films showcase the same actress playing either an unruly maid or a ferocious wife. However, the true identity of the actress playing Cunégonde remained a mystery until recently. In her presentation, Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator Silent Film at EYE Filmmuseum, will explain step by step how she managed to discover who this actress was. This illustrated lecture also includes screening of the Cunégonde films, all survived within the Desmet Collection at EYE. The films were musically accompanied LIVE by Meg Morley (piano).

Because of the overwhelming interest for Slapstick Saturday, this edition, this program moved to another location to house as many people as we can, from Pand P to Parktheater Eindhoven. Laurel and Hardy are debutants on Slapstick Saturday. In ANGORA LOVE (1929), the silent film duo is dealing with a goat that’s following them around – even into their bedroom. The animal eats everything it encounters, and Hardy’s pants are no exception. They try to hide the goat from their landlord, who’s getting his goat (as one would say, back in 1929) because of all the racket and the smell coming from their room. The plot of ANGORA LOVE was reused a year later for Laurel & Hardy’s film LAUGHING GRAVY (1930), with a puppy instead of a goat.

Charley Chase is back on Slapstick Saturday after his silent film DOG SHY, which was shown at the festival the prior year. In WHAT PRICE GOOFY? (1925). Charley is married to a woman whose jealousy is out of control. Her friends are even spying on Charley when he’s out. When he’s visited by a Harvard professor – also a woman! – and she leaves her nightgown lying around, he has to put his best foot forward to hide it from his wife.

The main feature of the evening is Harold Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST (1923). Lloyd used to be – along with Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel & Hardy – one of the biggest silent film makers of his day. The scene in which he climbs a tall building to find himself hanging from a big clock, is one of the most famous images in the history of film. In the film, Lloyd works at a store, when his boss is in need of a clever publicity stunt. Lloyd recommends his friend, who has the nickname ‘the human fly’. It’s decided he will climb the building from the outside, to draw attention. However, the human fly kind of forgets about a police officer who’s still after him. Lloyd has no choice but to take his friend’s place, and starts climbing. He’ll be relieved when he reaches the second floor, but things don’t go according to plan, because the human fly can’t shake the police officer. That means Lloyd is forced to just keep climbing and climbing…

Sunday 12 January 2020

It’s turned into a tradition: Daan van den Hurk (film pianist and director of the NSFF) gives a lecture on Sunday morning about silent film – and the musical accompaniment in particular. Not just the history of the role that music plays in the silent film tradition, the art of improvisation, and silent film tablature, will be addressed. Because after theory it’s time to put things into practice. After the lecture, Van den Hurk gives a LIVE masterclass. The audience closely observes what it’s like to accompany images on the silver screen, from behind the piano, in a packed theatre, while a soundless film is playing.

It’s part of the mission of the NSFF: ‘It’s important to show the next generations that the silent film’s not a primitive predecessor of the current blockbuster movies, but a unique, independent art form.’ That’s why we presented our program for young, old and everything in between: ‘CHAPLIN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY’. Three of Charlie Chaplin’s classics were shown: KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE (1914), THE VAGABOND (1916) and THE IMMIGRANT (1917).

As always, Dutch silent films – or films shot in The Netherlands – are highlighted during the NSFF. This year, we have a ‘double bill’, starting with DE BERTHA (1914). An exciting story about a ship that’s about to explode, a special ‘telegraph machine’, and a love story.
The second feature is DER GEHEIMNISVOLLE CLUB (THE SECRET SOCIETY) (1913), a German film which was shot in The Netherlands. With just as much suspense, the story is about a secret group of conmen who fake their own deaths to collect insurance money. The film’s climax features the canals of Rotterdam; a sort of Amsterdamned, 75 years before Dick Maas directed the Dutch eighties action classic. In this case, the chase takes place in Rotterdam; Amsterdam’s city nemesis.

We wouldn’t have Star Trek, Terminator, Total Recall, Blade Runner, Queen’s music video for ‘Radio Ga Ga’, The Matrix, and the appearance of C-3PO without METROPOLIS (1927). Fritz Lang’s science fiction masterpiece inspired and to this day continues to inspire numerous writers and filmmakers. If you want to experience this vision of the future, and see for yourself where your favorite directors got their inspiration, emerge yourself in the final film of NSFF 2020, which will be musically accompanied LIVE by the NSFF Trio (piano, bass, drums), directed by Daan van den Hurk.