"We didn't need dialogue. We had faces."

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“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”

So eloquently put by Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. If you care to watch a silent movie it was probably made between 1895 and 1930, sound came in around 1927. These fascinating films enable us to see a generation of artists asserting themselves and exploring all the new possibilities of a completely independent art form never seen before. 

Silents were never a ‘genre’ as such they refer to the way a film was made, within that framework there are still inherent virtues, in these days of atmosphere enhancing sound effects and hyper- real visuals we can only yearn for something a little more subtle and clever. 

Over the course of two days, South West Silents and No 6 Cinema are proud to present a mini season of Battleships of the Silent Era right at the epicentre of Portsmouth’s world famous Historic Dockyard. This mini season, made up of a true classic title from the era and two very much forgotten British produced silent films; Battleships of the Silent Era will give you an insight, as well as plenty of sea faring action, into the silent film world of the Battleship. 

Battleship Potemkin became a firm favourite amongst movie goers from the moment it was released, Eisenstein’s film about a 1905 naval mutiny was both revolutionary in form and content. It is a true masterpiece which still makes an impact today and showed how film was used to help build a nation’s identity.

Two very much forgotten British silents Zeebrugge and Nelson will have their first airing on the big screen in a very, very long time. April 23rd 1918 saw one of the most daring raids of the First World War with the Royal Navy attempting to blockade the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge, a key U-boat base for the German Navy. This gem of a film recreates the heroic attack with a mixture of drama, authentic WW1 material, including captured German footage as well as some of the most advanced special effects of the time.

Maurice Elvey’s masterpiece on the life and career of Admiral Nelson was a major passion project for Britain’s most prolific film director. Elvey’s action packed film is an education but also entertaining with stunning cinematography and razor sharp action sequences mixing model shots and animation. Part of the film was shot on HMS Victory, making Nelson the only feature film ever made on the Royal Navy’s most famous ship.

Zeebrugge and Nelson will have a live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Martin Pyne. Films are courtesy of the BFI.


Fri 28th Sept: 7.00pm Battleship Potemkin (1925) d.Eisenstein. Recorded score.

Sat 29th Sept: 4.15pm. Zeebrugge (1924) d.Bramble, Woolfe. Live musical accompaniment.

Sat 29th Sept: 7.00pm. Nelson (1918) d. Elvey. Live musical accompaniment.


We are also screening a fascinating film about the discovery of a cache of discarded silent films found buried under a swimming pool in the Yukon, Canada. 


Dawson City: Frozen Time charts the story of how a large number of silent films and rare footage of other historical events was found buried in sub-arctic conditions since the time of the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1920’s.

The films were originally sent to remote locations to entertain the gold diggers but it was too much effort or too expensive to return the films after use, the films were unceremoniously dumped. Lucky for us years later they were dug up, not gold nuggets but celluloid treasure, found preserved in the permafrost. Of course they’re not in perfect nick but good enough to salvage something from and especially exciting as it was believed that a lot of the films that were found had been lost for ever.

Dawson City: Frozen Time will be screened on Thursday 27th Sept at 7.00pm.


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