Silents at Leeds Town Hall

The great pipe organ

The great pipe organ

The Leeds International Film Festival has tradition of screening films from the Silent Era with live musical accompaniment. This year there were two such events, both in the Victoria Hall. This concert hall is blessed with a large pipe organ, an accompaniment I have not heard for some time. The instrument offers a great variety of sounds, timbres and volumes. So the resident organist Simon Lindley bought a distinctive musical dimension to the films.

The first screening was the Soviet Classic Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin1925). This was in a digital version of the Deutsche Kinemathek restoration. The quality of the image was impressive, especially for a film produced eighty years ago. The digital frame rate was slightly fast in some of the rapid montage sequence is justly famous. However, the film also has passages of a more restrained tempo and even lyrical moments. The organ accompaniment was able to give great and varied play to these changes.

The second film was a German classic, Faust (1926) directed by the legendary F. W. Murnau. The projection used the recent Eureka version with the original German titles. The film has impressive sequences that utilise the German expertise in chiaroscuro lighting and in the use of models and special effects. And the famed actor Emil Jannings dominates the film with his characterisation of Mephisto. The organ proved to be extremely appropriate for the religious themes in this work but also for the melodramatic sequences at the climax. This was a lunchtime screening and the Hall was packed.

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