Friday, June 10, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: The Third Silent Film Festival in Thailand, June 16-22, 2016

Vampires, those fanged fiends who come out at night to suck our blood, have long been a staple of the silver screen, and one of the earliest examples of the genre, Nosferatu, will be the opening entry of the Third Silent Film Festival in Thailand, next Thursday, June 16, at the Scala theatre in Bangkok’s Siam Square.

Directed by F.W. Murnau, the 1922 German Expressionist horror was an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Names and details were changed when producers were denied the rights to the novel. So, for example, Count Dracula, as portrayed by German character actor Max Schreck, became Count Orlok. Stoker’s estate sued, and got a court to rule that all copies of the film should be destroyed. But just like vampires, Nosferatu was not so easily killed. And the film stands today as a masterpiece of cinema and an influential landmark in the horror genre.

Put on by the Film Archive (Public Organisation) Thailand, the Silent Film Festival will feature eight other films, including more examples of German Expressionism, from the master himself, Murnau, and others.

Among them will be Murnau’s The Last Laugh, about an elderly hotel doorman who feels disgraced after he’s put in charge of cleaning the washroom. Also from Murnau is his first Hollywood effort, 1927’s Sunrise, which many cinephiles consider one of the best of the silent era. It’s about a social-climbing farmer who falls in love with a city woman and attempts to murder his wife.

And the German slate is further filled out with 1925’s Variety, which depicts romance between high-flying circus acrobats. It’s directed by E.A. Dupont, whose Piccadilly was a hit with crowds at last year’s Silent Film Festival.

Sure to strike a chord with local audiences is a gender-bending 1921 German adaptation of Hamlet. Starring Danish actor Asta Nielsen and directed by Svend Gade and Heinz Schall, this version imagines what it would have been like if Hamlet was born female and disguised as a male to preserve the family’s lineage.

French film heritage is acknowledged in two entries, the romantic comedy Two Timid Souls from 1928, which was the last silent film by the French master Rene Clair, and 1920’s The Swallow and the Titmouse by Andre Antoine. Remarkably, The Swallow and the Titmouse spent 63 years on the shelf, unedited, before film editor Henri Colpi discovered more than six hours of footage. A World War I saga of families who operate river barges, Colpi trimmed the epic down to a tight 79 minutes.

Following on from the Silent Film Fest’s focus on early Hitchcock two years ago, there’s another example of the early British thriller, 1928’s Shooting Stars, directed by Anthony Asquith. It’s the twisting story of a film star falling in love with an actress whose married to another actor.

And no Silent Film Festival would be complete without an effort by one of the icons of the silent era – Buster Keaton. Paying tribute to the ever-daring comedy actor, who died 50 years ago this year, will be his laugh-filled western Go West from 1925. It’s the story of a hapless city slicker who lands a job on a cattle ranch.

Cue the music

A key component of the Silent Film Festival in Thailand is live musical accompaniment. As has been done in the past two years, world-renowned musicians who are experts in silent film are brought in just for the fest.

Performing on opening night will be German composer and multi-instrumentalist Gunter A. Buchwald. Acclaimed as a “world class improviser”, Buchwald has been performing with silent films since 1978, adding musical flourishes to more than 2,900 screenings.

He’ll alternate shows with Tama Karena, a New Zealander who has been the director of music at the Chinese International School in Hangzhou, China. He previously taught music in Hong Kong and at the New International School of Thailand. Kerena’s performances include the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy, which is the world’s top silent-film showcase.

Making opening night with Nosferatu at the Scala even more special will be the addition of Thai classical musician Anant Nark-kong, who will add traditional bamboo percussion to the accompaniment of Buchwald.

The Third Silent Film Festival in Thailand runs from June 16 to 22 at the Apex theatres in Siam Square.

The opening-night show Nosferatu will be at the Scala. Tickets are 200 baht. All other shows will be at the Lido, where tickets are 120 baht. Tickets are available now at the Lido box office.

For the schedule and more details, check or

(Cross-published in The Nation)

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