Archive for Silent Cinema

From Horror to Ecstasy – Dave McKean Turns Silence into Expression

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Dave McKean, Silent Cinema, Transmission Atelier, Uncategorized with tags , , on 26 April, 2012 by SeanChase

On February 26th, 2012, something rather extraordinary occurred:  The Artist, a contemporary silent film won the ‘Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year‘.  Almost coinciding with this momentous occasion is the fact that a few days later, March 4th marked the 90th anniversary of what is my favorite film of all time, Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie des Grauens, directed by German silent filmmaker Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau.  On March 4th, the film had its gala preview showing back in 1922.  The film, for those who aren’t familiar with it, has become an iconic classic among the annals of horror films and is one of the most visually poetic of the films often collectively referred to as German Expressionist cinema.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok and Greta Schröder as Ellen.  In the starkly climactic scene of the 1922 film “Nosferatu”, the vampire Count Orlok is lured to his demise with an offering of blood by the virtuous and virginal heroine, Ellen Hutter.  As she sacrifices herself to his monstrous appetite, Count Orlok is diverted and unaware of the passing time, thus rendering him helpless to the lethal first rays of sunlight.

“Nosferatu” (2010, mixed media).  Dave McKean’s marvelously expressionistic interpretation of the same scene in the film.  One of the great examples of his ongoing “Nitrate” series of paintings which are a glorious homage to classic films of the early era.  The use of tortured angles, rich textures, and chiaroscuro effects would have met with great approval from the film’s director F.W. Murnau.

Many of these silent films possess a symbolic quality and a visual poetry that most modern films lack entirely.  The filmmakers of the Expressionist movement took advantage of the environment in which the story played out and used it to serve as a visual metaphor for the emotional state of the characters.  Cinematographers and cameramen employed new techniques in moving the camera around while shooting, in addition to placing an emphasis on the contrast between light and shadow.  Meanwhile editors experimented with cutting scenes so as to create the illusion of geographical and emotional continuity from one shot to the next.

It was a new era and because no one had ever laid out the rules or guidelines for what couldn’t be done in the cinema, many filmmakers approached their craft with an experimental curiosity, both in terms of the subject matter that they explored and the way in which they went about creating the haunting imagery being shown on screen.

The ominous figure of Mephisto, played by German character actor Emil Jannings, hovers over the town as his colossal wings fan a miasma of plague on the people.  This classic scene from F.W. Murnau’s 1926 film “Faust” was a showcase not only for special effects of the day, but also a wonderful opportunity to display the operatic scale of the battle between good and evil in the cinematic medium.

“Faust” (2007, mixed media).  Dave McKean’s impressive take on the memorable scene.  The way in which he has fabricated the effect of the wind and the cloud of plague blowing over the rooftops is extremely creepy and stylistically rivals the same effect achieved in the film.

Interestingly, there has been in the past few years a growing appreciation and understanding of why silent cinema is so special.  While film scholars and cineastes have long championed silent films for their artistic merits and their technical innovation, many modern film audiences have until recently dismissed them as relics of the past, but now with the this new recognition that silent films are receiving, many movie goers are reevaluating their initial stance on these classics.  No more are they being viewed as fading relics of redundant or obsolete technologies.  Finally, more people are beginning to see their artistic value and the important part that they played in the continuing evolution of the movie industry.

Without the films of Georges Méliès, Robert Wiene, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Victor Sjöström, Paul Leni, and others, we wouldn’t even have had the wonderful European art house films of the past 50 years.  And these are but just a few of the great filmmakers from Europe.  There were many wonderful silent film directors in America and throughout other parts of the world.  Taking that into consideration, the long lasting effect of these films cannot be understated;  they are an essential part of our culture and of cinematic history.
Continue reading

Dave McKean demolishes Dante Gabriel Rossetti in fair fight.

Posted in Antique Fairs, Century Guild Events, Comic Conventions, Silent Cinema with tags , , on 28 April, 2009 by Thomas Negovan
Der mude Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921) by Dave McKean, 2008

Der müde Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921) by Dave McKean, 2008

What could inspire me to take down an 1880s Pre-Raphaelite pastel from the wall of my boudoir? Yes, the inheritance of a castle in Tuscany might be reason to pack everything up and head to the docks; but I mean, assuming that I am continuing to sleep in said room and want to wake up to something beautiful and inspirational…?

I met Dave McKean in passing at the 2004 San Diego Comic Con. We spoke briefly about Egon Schiele and- a mutual favorite- the visionary Jean Cocteau.

Our second contact was this last summer, again at the San Diego Comic Con. I was happy to see Dave walking up toward our booth and reintroduced myself. In the course of the afternoon, talks went from the Vienna Secession to German Expressionism, and rested on…

Silent Cinema.

Dave McKean, Kristan and Grant Morrison, Thomas Negovan, and Gail Potocki after San Diego Comic Con 2008

Dave McKean, Kristan and Grant Morrison, Thomas Negovan, and Gail Potocki in front of the Century Guild booth after San Diego Comic Con 2008

The visuals of the silent film period are something that I am very passionate about, and with our other mutual interests it made sense that this would be an area of interest to Dave. What I could never have imagined was that silent films are what inspired him to become an artist in the first place, and that he had just recently begun honoring that inspiration with a series of new works titled “Nitrate”.

The Student of Prague (Henrik Galeen, 1926) by Dave McKean, 2008

The Student of Prague (Henrik Galeen, 1926) by Dave McKean, 2008

I acquired three of the works before you could walk from one end of the convention center to the other (which takes a pretty long time, actually, but you know what I mean) and after storing them for a few months had them delivered to Chicago just this past weekend. As good as I knew they would be, having seen Dave McKean artworks in person before, these FAR and away exceeded my expectations, and I will say without hesitation that they are his finest work. Textural and sculptural, symbolist and expressionist, haunting and romantic, I have lost sleep admiring them late, late at night. And for the last two days? I can’t wake up soon enough to see them.

Der Mude Tod (The Tired Death)... Better known to us Americans as the film Destiny.

Der müde Tod (The Tired Death)... Better known to us Americans as the film Destiny. And, yes, that is a velvet Wizard's cloak (from the Lyric Opera, circa 1918) on the back of my door.

Untitled (Méliès) by Dave McKean, 2008

Untitled (Méliès) by Dave McKean, 2008

We (Century Guild) are hosting an exhibition of Dave McKean’s Nitrate paintings July 17th and 18th at the Portage Theater in Chicago. Six of these masterpieces will be on display, along with a collection of rare silent cinema posters for historically important titles such as the seminal horror serial Homunkulus, the decadent 1919 story Opium, the early Fritz Lang- scripted film Totentanz (The Dance of Death)- with many of these posters, the examples on display are believed to be the only copies to have survived the wars and turbulence of the last century, especially in Germany in the time during and following the second World War.

Nitrate and Kinogeists exhibition postcard- July 17-18 in Chicago

Nitrate and Kinogeists exhibition postcard- July 17-18 in Chicago

I cannot recommend this exhibition highly enough.  We have some special surprises planned, are screening some of the films that inspired the films, and will show Dave’s magical film collaboration with Neil Gaiman, the fantastic MirrorMask…

We’re still working out the schedule; there will be a cocktail party for the CBLDF on Friday as a prelude to the opening, and we know the main show times, but we want to add some other silent films that inspired the Dave McKean paintings on the big screen during the weekend. Check http://www.centuryguild.net for updates.

Perhaps most importantly, for information on acquiring original and limited edition prints from the show, contact the gallery at “inquiries at centuryguild.net”

(In the meantime, my dog claims she is having strange dreams from “The Tired Death” silently watching her as she sleeps…)

xO
T

Century Guild exhibition Nitrate and Kinogeists: July 17th features a screening of the gothic silent masterpiece.  Image on poster: Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926) by Dave McKean, 2008

Century Guild exhibition Nitrate and Kinogeists; July 17th features a screening of the gothic silent masterpiece Faust. Image on poster: Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926) by Dave McKean, 2008

Recently evicted Pre-Raphaelite girl, having a conversation with her new neighbour, a Parisian Métropolitain shield by Hector Guimard.

Recently evicted Pre-Raphaelite maiden, having a light conversation with her new neighbour, a Parisian Métropolitain shield by Hector Guimard (1900).