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The New Era of Silent Movies, Part III

'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari' (1920), dir: Robert Wiene

‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (1920), dir: Robert Wiene

The enviable state of Lloyd’s legacy is the exception rather than the rule as silent movies used nitrate film stock which was highly inflammable and prone to deterioration if not stored in ideal conditions. Prints struck from nitrate negatives imbued the image with a lustrous sheen (from which the term ‘the silver screen’ was derived) but they proved to be unstable.

Sadly, only 14% of the 11,000 films produced in the US between 1912–1929 have survived in their original 35mm format (source: Library of Congress) and of these 5% are incomplete. In all, 11% of the remainder exist in inferior formats such as 16mm or in foreign language prints (which invariably used different shots as the export version would be filmed by a second camera simultaneously or subsequently if a different cast were used).

Unfortunately, a curator of one of the largest libraries of silent movies in America is said to have told her staff that if only one can of nitrate film showed signs of deterioration they were to destroy every reel of that particular film, rather than splice out and dispose of the affected section. For this reason numerous films by major studios that were entrusted to this archivist have been lost forever.

Ernst Sezebedits, Chairman of the F.W. Murnau Foundation, concludes that there is no choice but to put all their resources into saving these films before it is too late:

“If these films are not adapted to digitization now, they will simply no longer be visible. That is, this film heritage will disappear from the world.”

Essential Silent Movies

‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ 2014 restoration (Kino), Robert Wiene

‘The Man Who Laughs’ (Kino), Conrad Veidt

‘Metropolis -Reconstructed and Restored’ (Eureka), ‘Spione’ (Eureka), and ‘Dr Mabuse – The Gambler’ (Eureka), Fritz Lang

‘Pandora’s Box’ (Second Sight) and ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ (Eureka Masters of Cinema) Louise Brooks/G.W. Pabst

‘Faust’ (Eureka 2 disc edition), ‘Nosferatu’ 2013 restoration (Eureka), ‘The Last Laugh’ (Eureka) and ‘Sunrise’ (Eureka), F.W. Murnau

‘L’ Argent’ (Eureka) Marcel L’ Herbier

‘Iron Mask’ (Kino) and ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ (Cohen Film Collection), Douglas Fairbanks

‘Vampyr’ (Eureka) and ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (Eureka), Carl Theodor Dryer

‘The General’ 2 Disc (Cinema Club), ‘Sherlock Jnr’ (Kino) and ‘Steamboat Bill Jr’ (Kino), Buster Keaton

‘The Gold Rush’ (Criterion Collection) Charlie Chaplin 1925 original is preferred to the 1945 edited version with voice-over made by Chaplin in order to renew his copyright.

‘The Definitive Collection’ (Studio Canal), Harold Lloyd


Kevin Brownlow ‘The Parade’s Gone By’ (University of California Press) and ‘Hollywood-The Pioneers’ (Harper Collins)

James van Dyck Card ‘Seductive Cinema: The Art of Silent Film’ (University of Minnesota Press)

Grieveson and Kramer ‘The Silent Cinema Reader’ (Routledge)

Paul Merton ‘Silent Comedy’ (Arrow)

Joe Franklin/William K. Everson ‘Classics of the Silent Screen’ (Citadel Press)



‘Hollywood’ (You Tube)

Paul Merton’s ‘Silent Clowns’ (You Tube)**

‘Unknown Chaplin’ (Network)

‘Harold Lloyd ‘The Third Genius’ (RTM)

‘Buster Keaton-A Hard Act To Follow’ (Network)

Read: The New Era of Silent Films Part I and Part II

**A special mention, too, for pianist Neil Brand who has been introducing UK audiences to the delights of silent cinema with his one man show ‘The Silent Pianist Speaks’ and accompanying comedian Paul Merton’s ‘Silent Clowns’ tour.

Conrad Veidt in 'The Man who Laughs' (1928), dir: Paul Leni

Conrad Veidt in ‘The Man who Laughs’ (1928), dir: Paul Leni

The Houseguest (a playlet)








Tell me, my friend, have you ever loved someone so completely, so passionately that when they departed this life, you wished you had the courage to follow them, though you dreaded what might await you? I am not ashamed to confess that I have loved this intensely, with every fibre of my being. And though the loss of such a love has brought me acute anguish, the like of which you cannot imagine, I have not regretted having loved and lost, as the poets would have it.

I can’t imagine anyone having been as ill-used as myself, but I want you to know that there was a time when I knew true happiness and the memory of that blissful union is what has sustained me. Though I had lived a full twenty years before my beloved and I met, it was only from that day that I felt truly alive. Before then I merely existed.

Love is the very reason for living. Is it not? Without companionship, affection and the unspoken understanding that binds two souls who are in complete accord, we are merely sleepwalking through life. And I should know, for I have been in that wretched state now for what seems like an eternity.  And yet, I could not follow the one who was so dear to me into the unknown. The one who gave meaning to my life. Oh, believe me, I tried. More than once during those empty days that followed my bereavement when I thought that sorrow weighed upon me so heavy that it would stop my heart from beating and the blood from coursing through my veins. No living thing should have to endure being left alone in the dark after the very breath of life has been extinguished; when all that one has believed in ceases to have significance, leaving only memories. And what are those but vapour, a vague impression, a vivid dream that is glimpsed and is gone?

With their parting the loved one ceases to be real. Like those words you are writing so furiously lest you miss every element of my confession. And yet, despite my grief I could not summon the courage to end it. At the critical moment I could not make that leap of faith into the abyss.

It was not a question of fear or of belief. For if there is a heaven—and we have only the word of the clergy that there is (and this from those who do not seem over eager to forgo their terrestrial wealth and power for the promise of celestial reward)—, if there is a heaven, I know there is no welcome for me there. For I have been unfaithful to my love, having sated my hunger and desire with others. At first I was ashamed and cursed myself for my weakness, but then I realized that I could not help myself. I was at the mercy of a compulsion. Once you have known such desire, you must satisfy the craving. There is no denying it. Once you have drunk from the wellspring, from the fountain of youth, you must quench your thirst again and again, or you age more rapidly than if you had not known love in the first instance. If you are a passionate being as I am, you cannot live without it. It is an addiction.

I trust I am not shocking you. I have been alone for so long I have become somewhat indifferent to the sensibilities of others. And besides I have not entertained a guest – not since…

…but it has not always been so. In my youth I had a most enviable reputation as a socialite and a gracious host renowned for my lavish soirees on which I spent a considerable part of my not inconsiderable fortune. The remainder I squandered in empty and extravagant revelries after my bereavement in a vain effort to assuage my grief.

And over the ensuing years as my house fell into disrepair my fortune depleted to the point where I now condescend to accept employment to keep body and soul together. Yes, as demeaning as it is to one of my station, I have acceded to necessity and now ply a trade of sorts.


And inevitably, the years have also taken their toll upon my body as they did upon my house. I have aged and decayed none too well, I confess. But I bear up. A little rouge to bring a blush to these pallid cheeks, a touch of greasepaint to mask the lines etched in my face and I have taken twenty years off my life. Ah, if only–


You remain unmoved? Greedily recording my confession in that immaculate copperplate hand that betrays a clinical detachment to the specimen you have chosen to study. But then this admission is precisely what you have travelled so far to hear, is it not? And, after all, I have much to confess.

How I envy you, your life among the gay whirl of society. And would gladly exchange it for my seclusion were it not for the bitter sweet memory of that love I speak of. The love that haunts me. I know that I am doomed to live alone and estranged from bustling humanity. I have paid a most dreadful price for my dissolute ways and excesses, but now I must endure the solitude that only the insane and the inconsolable must suffer. To experience the bitter-sweet longing of love and lose it once is torture, but to suffer the loss over and over again, as I have in my vain attempts to relive the one great love of my life, is a pain that gnaws at the very fabric of my being, at the burning ember that is all that remains of my soul.


But here I am again, playing to the gallery, wringing every wretched line of this pathetic melodrama that has been my life. And for whom? An audience of one.  I think it best that we part here, my friend. I am due to take the stage in a few minutes. You have seen my act once and I must confess, I stick pretty much to the same ‘business’ every performance. The locals are easily amused. They leer at the lithesome dancers in the neighbouring tent and they stare like frightened children at the exhibits, our carnival of horrors, our circus of freaks of which I—it appears—am the principal attraction. But once a man of the legitimate theatre, such as yourself, has seen our tawdry little entertainment, there is no profit in sitting through it again.

So I bid you farewell and a safe journey back to England. I trust you enjoyed your stay in our country. Oh, and good luck with your book, should you finish it. Though I’m still not convinced that your choice of title is a wise one. You would be better using my real name. Though I must say, I cannot imagine those genteel ladies of London pouring over such horrors no matter what title you give it. You’ll be hounded from your lodgings before the ink on the first reviews are dry.

Mark my words, Mr Stoker, you will regret the day you met me.

© Paul Roland 2013

Nosferatu, film poster (2010) by PanDisegnos

The Haunting of Charles Dickens

The Victorians were very fond of ghost stories and the most popular authors of the period relished competing with one another to see who could make their reader’s flesh creep the most. One of the era’s best loved storytellers was Charles Dickens, though surprisingly the author of ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and other classics was not a believer in the supernatural. In fact, Dickens was a hardened skeptic until he had a disquieting paranormal experience of his own…

Read the rest of this entry

H.P. Lovecraft – The Cult of Cthulhu

From: Dark History of the Occult (2011) by Paul Roland 
The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

In a dark and forbidding corner of one of London’s more obscure occult bookshops stands a rack of extraordinary prints depicting hideous bug-eyed creatures that would give even the keenest naturalist nightmares. Should a customer take an interest in the display, the balding, bespectacled owner will emerge from behind the counter to explain the significance of these loathsome beings. Such creatures, he will tell them, are not figments of the artist’s fevered imagination but elemental spirits he encountered on the astral plane.
The fact that these eldritch horrors bear a striking resemblance to the winged and multi-tentacled entities described by the American pulp horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937) is due, we are to understand, to the fact that Lovecraft had encountered these very same creatures during his uncommonly vivid dreams. Lovecraft dismissed them as mere ‘Night-Gaunts’, but then he felt compelled to do so, because he had a genuine fear of being overpowered and driven insane by the power of his own imagination. He did not want to die in a lunatic asylum as his father had done. Consequently, in letters to friends and admirers, the Providence-born writer readily admitted that his ‘black pantheon’ of nameless horrors was ‘one hundred per cent fiction’.
And yet many practitioners of the forbidden arts argue that artists and writers possess an acute psychic sensitivity as a consequence of exploring the furthest regions of their imagination, which stimulates the areas of the brain associated with extrasensory perception—a latent faculty the mass of humanity might have lost during the course of our evolution. Read the rest of this entry

Paul on tour in Greece

Poster announcing Paul's gig @ the Gagarin 205 Live Music Space, Athens

Poster announcing Paul’s gig @ the Gagarin 205 Live Music Space, Athens

Paul will be playing at the Gagarin 205 Live Music Space in Athens tonight, 15 December 2012.

Last Tuesday, 11 December, he appeared on the Greek TV show “Radio Arvyla”, a satirical news show, on the Thessaloniki-based TV channel ANT1. Paul played an acoustic medley of “Re-Animator” and “Gabrielle” (the latter being a popular song in Greece) for which he was joined by his 14-year-old son Joshua on bass guitar.

On Wednesday, 12 December, he appeared at the “Ζωντανή Μαύρη Τρύπα” (the Black Hole Live) club in the historic Ladadakia quarter of Thessaloniki supported by Giannis Kyratsos. Videos of the performance can be found on Paul’s facebook page and on the Paul Roland Music Television and the kazandbtv YouTube channels.

Following a press conference in the chic Floral bar yesterday evening, Paul with be playing the Gagarin 205 club tonight supported by Jenny Benwell (violin) and Joshua Roland (bass). Guests are Mani Deum, Athens.

For more information, please visit Paul’s facebook page or that of the PRAS.