Spring Silents: Silent Screwball
Our biannual silent cinema party honours the smart, dry and fast comedy of the late 1920s – coming not just from Hollywood but from Moscow as well.
The speed, the overlap and tangle of rapid fire dialogue with pratfalling limbs – all the thrills of ‘screwball’, battle-of-the-sexes comedy – makes it one of the favourite genre marques of classic Hollywood sound movies of the 1930s. That screwball might have antecedents in late 1920s silent comedy is not merely forgotten, but seems counter-intuitive: how can a movie be smart-mouthed if it can’t say anything at all? But screwball talkies flowed from, and were so much a natural evolution of, the Jazz Age rom-coms of the late 1920s. Dipsy and fey screwball divas like Lombard and Hepburn were just mouthier (and lankier) sisters of those 1920s embodiments of female economic and sexual liberation, the flappers and ‘It Girls’. Clara Bow, Coleen Moore, Marion Davies and Louise Brooks were silver screen goddess, but also outsmarters of the men in their lives – whilst camouflaging their maneuvers so the men didn’t notice. Key directors of classic 1930s screwball, like Howard Hawks, often made their apprentice films with these ladies of the silent ‘20s. Or like Ernst Lubitsch, were masters of silent comedy who just iced their comic cake with screwball dialogue when sound came in. Or, like Victor Fleming and Melvyn LeRoy, learnt their screen craft in 1920s silent screwball comedy – and maybe practiced it with a mojo they never quite got back with the coming of sound, despite their success with prestige projects in the 1930s.
As for the ‘lack’ of dialogue… in part, Spring Silents will re-introduce you to the lost art of the late 1920s caustic comedy title card, where some of America’s greatest wits (many women, including fashionable New York comic writers like Anita Loos and Dorothy Parker) were slumming it by twisting straight and flat movie plots into bouncy screwball pleasures, with the smart turn of a few written words.
As was true in Hollywood is almost as true elsewhere. Spring Silents also begins a look at the work of the great Soviet Russian filmmaker Boris Barnet, a series that will continue on into November and with the director’s sound films. Barnet’s silent films sit in the context of the famously theoretically principled Soviet cinema of the 1920s and of peers such as Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, Kuleshov and Pudovkin. Yet they unexpectedly, playfully, also drew on Soviet Russia’s love of 1920s Hollywood comedy models like Chaplin and Lubitsch.
Spring Silents will also intersect with our centennial tribute to Hollywood’s oldest studio, Universal, by exploring the work of one of leading ladies of the studio’s ‘Bluebird’ melodramas of the 1910s: Australia’s first movie star, Louise Lovely.
The season also explores two international NFSA collection projects. First we continue to look at films from the Corrick Family Collection of early cinema from France, the UK, the USA plus the Corrick’s own film productions.
Early this year Autumn Silents looked at the New Zealand Film Archive’s recent collaborative project, with US film archives, to begun to restore some of the dozen’s of lost USA movie gems that have survived only in NZ film collections. Now we’ll check back on our own similar NFSA Repatriations project, ongoing since the 1980s, to preserve unique and otherwise lost films made in Europe and the US. Some of these surviving nitrate film materials long ago contributed to the preservation of silent cinema’s classics (most famously Metropolis). But early films by master Hollywood filmmakers like Jacques Tournier, William Wyler and Melvyn LeRoy have also been found, saved and preserved in the NFSA collection.
Spring Silents is a unique Australian silent cinema program, with most films screening on original 35mm film and with live accompaniment.
Special ticket prices apply to all sessions. Live accompaniment at most sessions, with guest performers including Mauro Colombis and Joshua McHugh.
Selected screenings supported by the Embassy of the United States, as part of the American Movie Treasures series. Special thanks to Ambassador Jeffrey L Bleich. Thanks to Trevlyn Gilmour (Public Affairs Section, Embassy of the United States).
Thanks to: Österreichische Filmmuseum / Austrian Film Museum; Andrew Youdell, Fleur Buckley (The British Film Institute); National Film Preservation Foundation; Daniel Bish (George Eastman House); Rob Stone (Library of Congress); Museum of Modern Art, New York; Geraldine Higgins (Hollywood Classics).
Showing only events for Spring Silents: Silent Screwball (show all events).
- Sorry, no upcoming events were found