Friday, August 1, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Silent Film Festival in Thailand, August 7-13, 2014

Three early films by Alfred Hitchcock, including his first feature, are among the highlights of the first Silent Film Festival in Thailand from August 7 to 13 at the Apex cinemas in Bangkok’s Siam Square.

Organised by the Thai Film Archive and the British Council, the festival will feature seven silent films, all accompanied by live piano performances.

The Hitchcocks – three of the nine features he directed in the silent era, and all painstakingly restored by the British Film Institute – are his debut The Pleasure Garden, The Ring and a masterpiece, The Lodger.

Other offerings are Prix de Beaute from France, Nerven from Germany, Little Toys from China and The Water Magician from Japan.

The fest’s opener is 1925’s The Pleasure Garden, about the messy relationships of a pair of chorus girls. Hitchcock’s obsessions are evident from the first frame, which depicts a cascade of chorus girls’ legs tripping down a spiral staircase.

From 1927, The Ring is about rivalry between boxers, both in and out of the fighting arena. It’s Hitchcock’s only original solo screenplay – when talkies came in, the visually fixated director tapped other writers to help with dialogue.

The big event of the festival will be the closing screening of 1927’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, which will be held in Siam Square’s landmark Scala theatre and feature musical accompaniment by world-famous Thai composer and conductor Trisdee na Pattalung.

Described by Hitch himself as “the first true Hitchcock movie”, the thriller has foggy London beset by a series of murders by “the Avenger”. His victims, all young blonde women, are discovered each Tuesday night. Ivor Novello stars as a mysterious new lodger in a boarding house.

“I think these films demonstrate how Hitchcock built himself to become the Hitchcock we know,” says Chalida Uabumrungjit, deputy director of the Thai Film Archive. “No matter if it is a drama, melodrama or suspense, Hitchcock’s silents hint at his ability to manipulate the visual elements.”

More visual splendor comes from Japan with 1933’s The Water Magician (Taki no Shiraito), a tragic love story set in the Meiji period and directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, and from China with Little Toys. Also from 1933, and directed by Sun Yu, Little Toys stars Ruan Lingyu as an artisan toymaker whose world is ripped apart by the death of her husband disappearance of her son.

From France, 1930’s Prix de Beaute is perhaps better known for being the first talkie made by starlet Louise Brooks. She portrays an ordinary typist at a Paris newspaper who suddenly decides to enter the Miss Europe beauty pageant. Her dialogue and singing were dubbed for the sound version, but of course it’s the silent one that’s showing in Bangkok.

The oldest entry in the fest, 1919’s Nerven by director Robert Reinert, taps into the mood of post-war Germany as it deals with the political disputes of an ultraconservative factory owner and a leftist teacher who is secretly in love with his rival’s sister.

Apart from Trisdee on the closing night, two other pianists will take turns accompanying the films, Maud Nelissen from the Netherlands and Mie Yanashita from Japan. Both world-class silent-movie pianists, they have performed all over the world.

The Silent Film Festival in Thailand runs from August 7 to 12 at the Lido cinemas and on August 13 at the Scala. Tickets are Bt100 at the Lido, Bt500 for the closing-night gala at the Scala, and can be purchased in advance from the box offices. All films will have English and Thai intertitles. Here is the schedule:

  • August 7, 8pm, The Pleasure Garden (Lido)
  • August 8, 8pm, The Ring (Lido)
  • August 9, noon, The Water Magician; 2pm, talk with accompanists Mie Yanashita and Maud Nelissen (free with Thai translation); 4pm, Prix de Beaute; 6pm, Little Toys, 8pm, Nerven (Lido)
  • August 10, noon, The Pleasure Garden; 2pm, “The Silent Hitchcock”, lecture by Professor Charles Barr (free with Thai translation); 4pm, The Ring; 6pm, Nerven; 8pm, Little Toys (Lido)
  • August 11, 8pm, Prix de Beaut้e (Lido)
  • August 12, 8pm, The Water Magician (Lido)
  • August 13, 8pm, The Lodger (Scala)

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