Passions: Why Hippodrome Silent Film Festival is well worth shouting about

Whether you’re already a silent film fan or just si-curious, it’s movie magic

While millions never move from the settee when it comes to watching films, or grudgingly go to the multiplex to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously priced popcorn, me, I’m going to Bo’ness.

Because the former mining town in Falkirk is the unlikely centre of the universe when it comes to… silent films.

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If the term has you thinking of pasty-faced folk mugging madly for the camera with no sign of a soundtrack, think again. For movies were never silent; from the earliest days there would be someone at the side of the stage, tinkling at the piano, their improvisations helping audiences feel free to laugh, cry or hiss the dastardly villain.

The Friday Night Gala offers a chance to dress up... and maybe meet your idolsThe Friday Night Gala offers a chance to dress up... and maybe meet your idols
The Friday Night Gala offers a chance to dress up... and maybe meet your idols

And the acting was often top quality; sure, it’s not what we think of as screen acting today, but when you’re having to convey three pages of story with one look, you have to be good. Bear in mind that not everyone could read in the early years of the 20th century, which led to people with the gift of the gab becoming “film explainers”. Who needs intertitles when there’s Billy from the local pub ready to tell the story and do the voices.

Of course there was filler, but plenty of great productions survive, made pin-sharp for screening to new generations. And so we come to Bo’ness. The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, now in its second decade, is held at Scotland’s oldest cinema. Every March the fabulous proto-art deco Hippodrome hosts a programme of dramas, comedies and family fare – kids can get in free by bringing a “jeely jar” (ask a grandparent!).

Stars such as Lillian Gish, Lon Chaney Sr and Anna Mae Wong live again, starring in fabulously melodramatic, but hugely effective fare. Globally famed musicians are on hand with specially composed scores to show just how great the likes of The Penalty, Piccadilly and The Goose Woman are.

As well as films, there are events. Maybe you’ll find a Speakeasy, learn to make Joan Crawford’s canapes or dress fabulously for the Friday Night Gala. I love the serials screened on the wall of the local railway station – see wonder dogs and undistressed damsels save the day as you snuggle under a blanket!

And all to thrilling live music.

Hippfest 2024 runs from 20-24 March, full details of screenings and events announced on 6 February, visit the website for tickets.

Martin Gray works at The Scotsman



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