When we are young we look to the future; when we are old we look to the past. The same might also be true for film festivals, and if at fifteen years of age Abertoir is not yet old it certainly might be approaching venerability. Accordingly, Silent Horror Shorts (SHS) is this year in retrospective mood, its programme consisting of eight films selected from the twenty-five screened here over the past seven years.
With tongues firmly in cheeks, the films we’ve selected show how early cinema thrived on the fantastic and the ghoulish (we say horror, we really mean a guy in white sheet). But the charm, the sense of fun, and the general creativity of the genre has been around us since the very start of film itself.
All the scores have been specially commissioned and written for Abertoir, performed by our much beloved pianist Paul Shallcross. Paul will be also bringing some light-hearted insights into the films themselves, and especially some mistakes to look out for!
Those Awful Hats (D.W. Griffith - 1909, USA)
Un homme de Têtes (Georges Méliès - 1898, France)
Two more disparate filmmakers could hardly be found to share the start of a programme. Yet both were among the greatest of the early film pioneers: Méliès the originator of film editing, and Griffith the creator of the feature film (Birth of a Nation). And, as the two films reveal, both were highly imaginative and inventive filmmakers.
Prelude (Castleton Knight - 1927, UK)
The director's debut film and his only essay in the horror genre. This film apart, Castleton Knight's career is largely remembered for his documentary films – the 1948 London Olympics and the 1953 Coronation.
The Black Pearl (Segundo de Chomón - 1908, France)
An early film by the Spanish director whose later work became much influenced by Méliès' innovations in multiple exposure and stop-motion. Perhaps the best description of the film comes from the lips of one of the festival's selection committee who, after a first viewing, exclaimed with a great laugh, “totally bonkers”.
Voyage autour d'un Étoile (Gaston Velle - 1906, France)
A now largely forgotten filmmaker, but surely the penultimate shot of this film is the original ancestor and inspiration for a famous sequence in Mary Poppins.
The X-Ray Fiend (George Albert Smith - 1897, UK)
An Over-Incubated Baby (Robert W. Paul - 1901, UK)
Röntgen discovered X-rays in 1895, the same year that the Lumière brothers gave the first cinematic projection of film. By a curious coincidence Auguste Lumière, after his work on film projection, resumed his scientific career and became a pioneer in the use of X-rays to examine bone fractures. Baby incubators were a somewhat earlier invention.
Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (Percy Pembroke - 1925, USA)
In the ten years before the start of his film partnership with Oliver Hardy in 1927, Stan Laurel - the star of this spoof on the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story - was a well-known stage and film comedian. He was a lifelong ad-libber and verbal quipper and his witticisms became almost as well-known as his acting; this from late in his life when illness had seriously incapacitated him: “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again.”