Scotland's oldest cinema to host silent film festival

Silent cinema: Festival in March.

Scotland's oldest cinema is to be the centre of the first film festival in Scotland dedicated solely to the great silent classics of the black and white age of Hollywood.

The Hippodrome cinema in Bo'ness will host what operators Falkirk Council say will be a new annual event in March, when it will show the silent masterpieces of stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, and the original
"It Girl", Clara Bow.

The Hippodrome opened in 1912 as the first purpose-built cinema in Scotland, but the A-listed building fell into disrepair before re-opening in 2009 following a £2m renovation project.

Around 20 films from the silent era, largely from the 1920s, will be shown at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema. The programme for the festival, which will be unveiled in the coming weeks, will include one of the greatest movies of the era, The Kid, starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, who began his career as a child actor in silent films and ended it as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family.

Music to accompany the films will be provided live by Neil Brand, described as "probably the best-known improvising silent film pianist working today".

Brand is acknowledged as the leading expert in silent film accompaniment and recently toured with the silent film fan and comedian Paul Merton.

Shona Thomson, producer of the festival, which will run from March 18 to March 20, said that she wanted each film showing to be an event in itself.

She said: "There is something very special about this. It seems to make perfect sense that this first festival is silent cinema.

"It's such a special space, and silent film is really all about the experience, as is a visit to the Hippodrome.

"It's a gorgeous building with a beautiful theatre, and so seems the right place to have every movie as an event, with live music, and even some explanation to the background of the film.

"There are some classics in the programme, but there are also some films which have rarely been seen, as well as some films from the Scottish Screen Archives.

"We want it to be as appealing to the general audience as it is to cine enthusiasts: and there are some great and hilarious films in the silent era."

She added: "We sometimes forget, but these actors were the first movie stars and they were massively popular: Clara Bow was receiving 45,000 fan letters a week at one point."

Councillor Adrian Mahoney, Falkirk Council's convener of leisure, tourism and community, said: "The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema is Scotland's first silent film festival in Scotland's first purpose-built cinema.

"It's great to bring the festival to Bo'ness and, in particular, the Hioppodrome, where once again the silent movie is king."

The building was designed by the Scottish architect Matthew Steele after being commissioned by the film-maker Louis Dickson in the early years of the 20th century. It opened on March 11, 1912 and is a rare example of pre-art deco cinema architecture as well as being Scotland's oldest purpose-built picture house.

It showed its last film, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, on August 16, 1975 before becoming a Bingo hall. It re-opened in February 2009 after lying derelict for a quarter of a century.

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