A Night at the Cinema in 1914

Jun 24 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Charming

Festival Theatre: Fri 23 June 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Varied and constantly intriguing, A Night at the Cinema in 1914 provides both historical perspective and live entertainment.

In an event presented by the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Will Pickvance provides live piano accompaniment to a selection of silent movie shorts. The programme was originally devised in 2014, featuring a selection of short films curated by the BFI from a century before, in an attempt to show what an evening at the cinema would have been like.

Silent Cinema at the Festival Theatre- Pic: Greg Macvean

And what a disparate selection the films undoubtedly are. The pre-First World War newsreels are certainly slanted towards parades of troops; reflective of the military build-up of the period and poignant not only in the light of what was to come. They also show the blindness of the top brass to the real nature of warfare at the time, with their obsession with cavalry, and the only artillery on show being more like cannons than machine guns.

A tiny clip of Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested while trying to deliver a petition at Buckingham Palace seems at once to be very long ago yet still terribly relevant; which is more than can be said for the episode of melodramatic serial The Perils of Pauline, whose exaggerated acting style is unfathomable to modern audiences

The comedy fares slightly better. The ‘Pimple’ short from comedian Fred Evans, while frighteningly slow-moving, contains hints of much of later absurdist British comedy; Florence Turner’s face-pulling has more than a hint of Karen Dunbar about it. The closing Chaplin film is in a different league to everything else, suddenly catapulting us forward decades in its modernity and assured cinematic techniques.

Anatomy of the Piano

A sequence of a blacked-up actor playing an ‘Indian Rajah’ is not even welcome on historical grounds, however, and Pickvance’s attempts to undercut it with more modern songs strikes an odd note.

This is the only false step the accompanist makes, however, with his playing being very fine throughout, reinforcing and enhancing the various clips but never drawing undue attention to itself.

There is a decidedly lop-sided feel to the evening, with the first section being Pickvance’s introduction, meaning the audience is in the unusual position of heading for the interval after only fifteen minutes.

That first ‘half’, however, is as intriguing as anything that follows, with an excerpt from Pickvance’s Anatomy of the Piano, and a sequence with Tim Vincent-Smith drawing live on screen to piano accompaniment. This adds a level of intrigue and novelty that is thoroughly appropriate, hinting at the immediacy and excitement audiences at the birth of cinema must have felt, and that today’s stale superheroes-by-numbers productions will never recapture.

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Friday 23 June 2017
Run ended
Will Pickvance Website: http://www.willpickvance.com.
Facebook: pickvance
Twitter: @willpickvance

Will Pickvance is appearing during the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 with a new show Pianologues at Summerhall.

Wed 2 (preview), Fri 4 – Sat 20 August 2017
Daily: 7.40pm (1 hour)
Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL (Venue 26)
Tickets and details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/pianologues-will-pickvance


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