Receiving only its second public performance at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse on Sunday 19 August, The Lost Art of the Film Explainer found its host, Andy Cannon, offering his audience a DVD commentary with a difference as he brought a century-old drama to life on the big screen.
With Cannon, the Storyteller, standing to one side of Filmhouse’s Screen One and musicians Wendy Weatherby and Frank McLaughlin sitting on the other with cello, guitar and smallpipes, the scene was set as the trio introduced silent titles such as 1904’s Buy Your Own Cherries and 1912’s Mairi, The Romance of a Highland Maiden.
Recalling a once common scenario which would find a cinema manager describing the events of films for his/her patrons, Cannon’s narration helped to contextualise on-screen events. This was particularly important for Mairi, Scotland’s oldest surviving dramatic film, re-edited in 1953 and lacking the storytelling techniques common in cinema today.
Rather than simply being a way to spoon-feed silent cinema to modern audiences, Cannon revealed Mairi’s filming locations and other salient points not otherwise obvious to the casual observer, adding depth to the presentation.
The addition of narration and music was used to best effect in a screening of St Kilda – Britain’s Loneliest Isle, a short film detailing a visit to Scotland’s remotest island in the 1920s. As Cannon provided background to the trip and explained who some of the film’s “stars” were, Weatherby and McLaughlin’s haunting score and vocals added to the experience.
An exciting and compelling rebirth of a forgotten tradition, Lost Art of the Film Explainer is the perfect introduction to silent cinema for new audiences, while converts should simply add it to their “must see” list.
Visit the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema website for details of upcoming performances.
Listen to Andy Cannon discuss the Filmhouse event in an audioboo interview with Jonathan Melville:
Image by Graeme MacDonald, courtesy of Falkirk Community Trust.