Napoleon France 1927

Sunday November 13th at 11.15 a.m. in The Victoria Hall


This silent film epic is screening in The Victoria Hall with a pre-recorded musical accompaniment. The film itself, directed by Abel Gance, is one of the outstanding achievements of European silent cinema. Epic well describes the over five hours which only take in Napoleon’s youth and early career. Gance and his production team, especially the lead cinematographer Cinematography by Léonce-Henri Burel, were in the vanguard of film technique in this period. In an early scene the mobile camera brings out the dynamism of young Bonaparte: and these techniques are paralleled on many occasions especially in a dramatic sequence in the French Assembly. The film makes extensive use of tinting and toning, reproduced in this version. Finally the film ends with a precursor of the Cinerama format, as the entry of Napoleon’s army into Italy is presented on three screens in a magnificent panorama.

The film has been transferred to a digital format. So whether this will be equal to the thrill of 35mm presentations has to be seen. However, Kevin Brownlow, who painstakingly restored the film over many years, made the point that it will look better than on the 9.5 mm gauge in which he first viewed it. And it will certainly look better than on a Blu-Ray or DVD. On the large screen at the Town Hall, 12 metres across, the framing will be about 27 by 20 foot. And the final triptych has been folded into a 2.39:1 frame, stretching across the entire screen. Added to this, the score that Carl Davis composed to accompany  film screenings, based extensively on music contemporary to the time, will be in 7:1 Dolby Surround Sound, and the Town Hall has good acoustics for music.

The film falls into three parts, though this screening has three intervals, so I am unsure where they will fall. Still, if you have never seen Napoleon on the big screen then this is a cinema must.


Part of this year’s film festival focuses on soundtracks so it seemed like a good idea to talk about music. Over the last few years I’ve found myself paying much more attention to what I’m hearing in the cinema as well as seeing. One of my  favourite recent soundtracks is Disasterpeace’s work for It Follows (2015) and it’s great to get the opportunity to hear it performed live at the Picture House at the end of the month (limited tickets available here).  There’s a similar electronic ambient sound to Cliff Martinez’s score for The Neon Demon (2016). Both soundtracks are influenced by John Carpenter’s music and I was hoping we might get a gig from the horror master at this year’s festival, alas it doesn’t look like we will.

A completely different sound can be heard in Carter Burwell’s score for Carol (2015), it’s such a beautiful piece of work and for me it may even be better than the already great film.


If you are interested in film music it’s worth listening to Saturday Night At The Movies on Classic FM (5pm Saturdays), presented by Radio Times film critic Andrew Collins each week they play two hours of music around a certain theme. It was a TV special this week but recently they’ve focussed on Hitchcock, animation and westerns. It’s available to listen to for 7 days online and is also on Freeview 731.

BBC Radio 3 also have a weekly film music programme Sound Of The Cinema (3pm Saturdays, also on iPlayer and available as a podcast) which centres each week around a current new release but play music from a wide range of films. Soundtracking is another podcast but slightly different because each week Edith Bowman talks to a film director about how they use music in film.

Back to the festival, focussing on soundtracks is an interesting idea and it has thrown up some great opportunities to revisit some films with wonderful soundtracks: Jurassic Park, Jaws, Drive, Pulp Fiction, Under The Skin, Blue Velvet, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Lost In Translation, The Virgin Suicides are all favourites of mine and there are many more featured in the retrospective.

Mavis!, USA 2015

Showing Sunday 13th March 4pm

Committee member, Bill Walton, urges you to go and see Mavis! this Sunday.

I haven’t seen the film Mavis! yet, but I have seen the trailer and, even better, I saw Mavis Staples performing live at Glastonbury last year. Loads of charisma, great songs, a sensational voice, an excellent backing band, and a powerful advocate of Black Lives Matter. If you like gospel and soul music, and want to learn more about the part the Staples Singers played in the Civil Rights movement, make sure that you catch Mavis!

We don’t normally share trailers on this blog but this one is a great taster of what to expect from the film featuring Prince, Bob Dylan and Chuck D.

Shirley Clarke Double Bill

Sunday September 27th from 1.30 p.m.


This is a must for film buffs and jazz buffs alike.

Shirley Clarke was an important independent filmmaker in the USA. She directed numerous short and feature length films between the 1950s and the 1980s. Most fell into the field of documentary. She also won a number of awards, of which the 1989 Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Artists Award is possibly the most apt.

The Connection is an example from what we would call  ‘the beat generation’. It is a fine adaptation of a play by Jack Gelber. It also includes music by a number of jazz luminaries including saxophone player Jackie McLean. The film runs for 110 minutes and is in black and white academy ratio.


Ornette: Made in America (1985) is in the modern widescreen and in colour. The subject is one of the truly great players of the modern jazz era: Ornette Coleman. I still treasure vinyl recordings of this master at work. Clarke’s highly praised film gives us not just the music but also the context of this outstanding artist.

Sadly the director, the playwright and the jazz men are no longer with us. So this is a welcome posthumous tribute to key contributors to the culture and art of North America.

Scalarama, 2015

Various venues between September 1st and 30th.

Scalarama heading

This ‘unofficial month of cinema’ runs throughout September. Following the mantra ‘Go forth and fill the land with cinemas’ there are a varied range of events in major urban areas in England and in Scotland: there is also an event listed in the north of Ireland. To help punters there is a free Newspaper which includes listings which can be found at the various venues: in Leeds I picked one up at the Hyde Park Picture House and at the Arch Café.

As well as listings the Newspaper includes a range of articles on the various forms of cinema. The filmmaker Peter Strickland looks back at his experiences, including visiting one of the key venues for alternative and counter cinemas, The Scala. I remember many fine screenings there, including great all-nighters. Other writers sing the praises of 35mm, digital and [even] VHS. This is cinema in all its shapes and guises.

At the Hyde Park on Saturday September 12th at 11.00 p.m. we will have La Grande Bouffe (Blow-Up, France, 1973), a film that rather puts John Waters in the shade. And there is a Scalarama Special on Saturday September 26th themed round Creatures of the Night.

There will be two more of the excellent films from Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. On Sunday September 13th at 3.00 p.m. we have Provincial Actors (Aktorzy prowincjonaini , 1979). The film was co-scripted and directed by Agnieszka Holland. She worked in Polish film as a writer, director and occasional actor. The film is set in a small town, [partly filmed in Lodz] as a theatre company prepare a classic play for performance. On September 22nd at 6.30 p.m. there is The Illumination (Iluminacja, 1973) written and directed by Kryzstof Zanussi, another major filmmaker drawn to moral concerns. The protagonist in the film works as a physicist and the film explores his search for identity: his personal life affected by the larger social world.

On September 27th there is a double bill of films by US independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke. One film is a must for jazz enthusiasts, Ornette – Made In America (1985). Alongside this is her early and rarely seen The Connection (1961), a fine film adaptation of a ‘beat generation’ play. You can read about her in the profile in the Festival newspaper.

Other film venues in Leeds are also participating in the Festival. There are several screenings at Minicine, at the Oblong Cinema, and individual screenings at Little Reliance Cinema and Leeds Queer Film Festival. And there are events at The Heart and the Arch Café. You can check events here and in other cities on the Scalarama website, impressively put together. Note, fresh events are being added, so check the website and do check individual events, I have discovered a couple of minor errors. If you going to the Hyde Park over the next week you may enjoy among the trailers a showreel of the films on offer. It make September a great month for film buffs.

The Music of Mali

As TIMBUKTU starts it’s run at the Picture House, projectionist and music aficionado Mike Shapowitz , gives us a brief overview of the music of Mali.

The music of Mali is as rich and varied as the country itself. Consisting of eight regions and a number of ethnic groups, local languages and cultures supersede colonial borders which preserves a distinct regionalism. Much of the cultural heritage can be traced back to the West African empires that controlled vast areas of the region for several hundred years in the early to mid 1000’s. Musical tastes also transcend some expected divisions both ethnic and political; songs of Tuareg rebellion alongside Bambara hip hop.

Many cultures in the region are traditionally attached to a birth caste system. The Griot caste was a repository for oral tradition and they were expected to be historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets and/or musicians. Griots would also use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment. Most villages had their own Griot, who told tales of births, deaths, marriages, battles, hunts, affairs, and hundreds of other things. There are many great Griot families that trace their ancestry back for many generations. The Kouyaté line of Griots that exists to this day has its roots in the Mali Empire. Continue reading