Tag Archives: 1930s


The Water Magician / Taki no shiraito
d. Kenji Mizoguchi / 1933 / Japan / 98 min
Silent Film & Live Music series @ Barbican (London, UK)

Still from The Water Magician

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the American film industry was clamouring to update to the latest sound technology in the hope of capturing an ever-lucrative market share, Japanese cinema audiences were beholden to a vastly different way of experiencing the moving image.

Developed from long-practiced traditions of Noh and kubuki theatre, films of the silent era – both local and imported – were interpreted for Japanese audiences by live benshi narrators, who would relate the story, give voice to the characters and apply their own personalities to an entirely unique brand of cinematic storytelling.

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d. Tod Browning / 1931 / USA / 75 mins
w/ live score by Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet
@ Hackney Empire (London, UK)

Dracula, with live score by Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet

Re-scores can be a tricky thing. The temptation to over-experiment sometimes threatens an inglorious failure, and the desire to play it safe can leave a re-score seeming dull and unimaginative. Curious, then, that someone might attempt to score of a non-silent, particularly a film which, though driven by action, was adapted from a stage production and is therefore largely reliant on dialogue.

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d. Fritz Lang / 1931 / Germany / 105 min
Viewed on: Sky Arts 2 (UK)

Still from Fritz Lang's M

There is an unmistakable brilliance about German director Fritz Lang’s capability of mood, his innate ability to create a cinematic atmosphere that, far from being a result of working within German expressionism, seems to be the very thing that made that movement – of which he was a vital part – so great in the first place. M is, of course, Lang’s first talkie, and it’s here that Lang’s capability of mood feels most apparent.

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The Golden Arrow
d. Samuel Bischoff / USA / 1936 / 68 mins
Viewed on: Turner Classic Movies (UK)

When I sat down to watch The Golden Arrow, it did seem, for a time, that it had started with the second reel. I suppose, maybe, this was no big thing for a film made in the days when you would often walk into a picture theatre running continuous shows, but something told me it was part of a much larger problem.

Indeed, it is only when Davis first appears that any cohesion arrives on screen in this rather muddled wedge of high society manners and low society slumming. And even then, it takes a full half hour of its sixty-eight minute running time before the ‘real’ story kicks in, with less of a ‘penny-drop’ and more of a shuddering clunk.

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Shall We Dance
d. Mark Sandrich / USA / 1937 / 116 mins
Viewed on: BBC Four (UK)

More than any other type of film, there is something about the pairing of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire that allows me to leave my brain at the door. Not in a bad way, you see, but simply because these films are possibly the ones that make me think the least, and I think that is excellent. I think.

It is a pretty silly film, when you think about it, but I didn’t. So, in honour of my unthinking attentiveness to Fred and Ginger, here one of the film’s mighty fine dance routines. Get yr skates on.

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