EVENT REVIEW: Gateshead Silent Film Festival @ St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Gateshead (31.01.20) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Gary Chaytor

If I possessed a bucket list, then watching a silent movie on the big screen with live accompaniment would have been on it. It’s one of those things you don’t get the chance to experience often, so I eagerly grasped the opportunity to attend the Gateshead Silent Film Festival 2020.

This annual event, now in its fourth year, was hosted in the impressive Gothic setting of St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Gateshead in collaboration with Side by Side Arts and Culture Vulture. The setting was perfect – toasty warm (with fleecy blankets on offer for added comfort), atmospheric lighting, convivial well-stocked bar and fresh pizza made to order – and the vibe was cool.

The evening began with the pre-1918 Charlie Chaplin comedy short Police – incredible to see what could be achieved at a time when CGI was not invented, and the actors all performed their own stunts. The main event was the classic silent horror Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, released in 1921. I’ve always loved this story and found the intertitles particularly fascinating. It was hard not to chuckle at the overdramatic acting however – we’ve come a long way in the last 100 years, as so we should.

Unfortunately, the live accompaniment on piano was not what I had hoped for. Call me naïve, but I was expecting something more in line with what the audience would have experienced at the time. This musical accompaniment was repetitive, not representative of the era and not matched with the action on the screen. Clearly a talented musician, pianist Stuart Angus took on a massive undertaking to accompany two hours of silent film in total and should be applauded for that, but I came away feeling my enjoyment could have been enhanced by a different score.

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