Laugh Out Loud 

Neil Brand

Festivals always pose difficult choices, so I only caught part of this programme early films and comics. Fortunately I arrived at the right moment – Dog Outwits the Kidnappers (UK 1908). This starred the two leads of the more famous Rescued by Rover (UK 1905), the young Barbara Hepworth and the family dog Blair. As in the earlier drama the intrepid canine rescued the Hepworth’s daughter. Notably the rescue utilised an early motor vehicle, demonstrating that at his period dogs were the safest drivers on the road.

It was followed by The Elusive Pickpocket (France, 1908) who proved not only light-fingered but possessed of magical powers. He was also an anarchic character, as were the maids in the two following comedies. Cunégonde’s Family is Coming Over (France, 1912) in which the maid used her family, fantastic zeal and a huge volume of water to clean and then wreck the home of her bourgeois employers. A Nervous Kitchenmaid (France, 1908) was sadly incomplete, but had an exhilarating sequence of plate smashing.

The quality of the prints screened was exceptionally good: a friend confirmed this was true of the whole programme. This was the result of obtaining new prints from four major European film archives. Good work by the Festival staff. The rest of the programme included the Italian clowns Tontoli and Kri Kri: the home-grown Tilly: the aforementioned French films: and several dramas and actualities.

Accompanying this varied selection at the piano was one of the UK’s premier accompanist of ‘Silent Film’, Neil Brand. The selection that I viewed and heard ranged from the suitably rumbustious to the more quietly evocative. And the Town Hall auditorium provided a great venue for live music. It seems Neil was accompanying some of these films for the first time: playing ‘blind’ so to speak. He claims that this is a challenge that he enjoys.

The programme was a particular pleasure given the infrequency of Early Film screenings on good 35mm prints in our Northern climes. Hopefully, more next year.

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