Femme Fatales & Clowning Women in Sound & Silents
This week we present a selection of three of our very best live music to silent film commissions ever in: Sound & Silents, BEV’s mini-season of live music to silent film. The events including The Temptress with music from Natalie Clein in which Greta Garbo stars as a melancholy vamp in an emotional rollercoaster with live musical accompaniment from the Classical Brit Award Winning cellist, My Best Girl accompanied by The Elysian Quartet; A delightful romantic comedy starring Mary Pickford with music from the only British string quartet of its generation dedicated exclusively to contemporary and experimental music and I Don’t Want to be a Man! accompanied by Zoe Rahman + The Danger Girl accompanied by Juice; A fantastic double bill of silent comedy featuring Ossi Oswalda and Gloria Swanson with music from the acclaimed jazz pianist and experimental vocal trio. Although we have been blogging like mad about the musicians we have not said much about these iconic films. Screened originally as part of our festival seasons Screen Seductresses: Vamps, Vixens & Femmes Fatales and Clowning Glories: Women in Film Comedy Before 1930 here’s a bit about each upcoming film, the musians compositions and some fascinating articles about femme fatales and funny women.
In The Temptress Narcissistic Elena drives every man she meets to despair. One of her victims, Manuel
Robledo tries to escape, but this time Elena is in love and she follows him from Paris to his native Argentina… Stockholm-born Greta Gustafsson changed her surname in 1924 and still today ‘Garbo’ connotes Hollywood glamour. Alluring and enigmatic, the glorious MGM star is a true cinematic icon.
Natalie Clein says of her live acore to the film: “In the case of film, music is of course the great manipulator. This adds a completely new and challenging dimension when improvising live because not only are you reacting to the flow of the moment but you have to stick closely to what you are watching. It’s a challenge – but last time was so much fun I’ve come back for more!” Full interview here
Our amazing retrospective programmers, Kelly Robinson and Ingrid Stigsdotter, gave us some insight into some of cinemas first celebrities and most alluring vamps including Greta Garbo in an earlier BEV blog The Vampish A-list Sex Symbols of the 1920s read it here.
Last year in the Independent article Whatever happened to the femme fatale? Sheila Johnston begins:“They came prowling out of the shadows, wreathed in smoke, wisecracks and stolen mink; women no better than they should be, with only trouble in mind. They never needed to diet, displayed but a flickering interest in men for money, power and meaningless sex, and were more likely to accessorise with a gun than a Chihuahua.” Read the rest of this fascinating article here
My Best Girl, directed by Sam Taylor and starring Mary Pickford is the tale of Maggie. Maggie falls in love with Joe, her new colleague in the stock room, unaware that he is the son of the department store owner working undercover to prove his business skills.
Mary Pickford was hugely influcial in early Hollywood, she co-founded United Artists with others such as Charlie Chaplin and has been hailed as ‘a natural’ comic.
Elysian Quartet on the score to this laugh a minute comedy: “It’s an improvised film score. We know what’s going to happen and when, but the actual notes that come out are all improvised apart from a few points where we have decided on a chord sequence, or an effect. There is nothing written down. We have been improvising whole gigs for a while now, so it was a natural progression to start improvising to film. When we received the film we watched it a few times, then we started working it out scene by scene, deciding what needed pointing out and what could be left.” Full interview here
I Dont Want to be a Man! is directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Ossi Oswalda. Rebellious Ossi’s father
hires a guardian to educate his daughter. Escaping from house-arrest dressed as a man, Ossi begins to investigate whether life is more liberated this way. Funnily enough Ossie Oswalda was known as ‘the German Mary Pickford’ due to her equally brilliant comic ability. The Danger Girl, directed by Clarence C. Badger stars Gloria Swanson. When vampish Helene (Swanson) uses her charms on Bobbie, Gloria breaks up the pair by disguising herself as a man to seduce Helene.
Zoe Rahman on her composition: “I watched the silent film a few times with drummer Pat Illingworth so we could get a clear idea of the story line and characters. We then each dug out a few albums from our record collections and played different tracks in accompaniment to see how different styles of music would affect our experience of watching it and to give each other an idea of what we thought might sound good with the film. We then tried playing along to the film (Pat on drums and myself on piano) to see if we could just improvise some ideas – that was really hard! After a lot of trial and error we eventually came up with themes for specific characters/scenes, around which we improvise, so the music isn’t a fixed composition as such – we play it differently each time, although the structure and themes stay the same – it keeps us on our toes!” Full interview here
In Time Out last year Cath Clarke’s article Funny Girl discussed women in comic cinema through the ages “Perhaps Hollywood is looking in the wrong place for comediennes..” she says. See the article here.
Arabella Weir’s article in the Guardian Dynamite Dames muses on similar topics “when it came to getting the laughs (the women) got as good (if not better) crack at the whip as the guys.” read it in full here.