A performance of two silent movies by Dmitri Kirsanoff with new piano scores by Peter Urpeth
I am delighted to be able to offer a unique silent movieexperience – a programme dedicated to two movies by Dmitri Kirsanoff (pictured above) celebrating the 90th anniversary of the release of his innovative feature ‘Menilmontant’, with new scores and, of course, live piano performance, offering cinema goers the opportunity to look anew at the work of one of European cinema’s over-looked and contested originators.
The featured films are –
Ménilmontant (1926 / B&W / Silent 39mins)
Brumes d’Automne (1929, B&W, Silent / 14mins)
Dmitri Kirsanoff remains an intriguing and often overlooked figure in European silent cinema and, as Santiago Rubín de Celis points out in his excellent introduction to Kirsanoff’s movies (available here), his work was often viewed as old-fashioned and inferior to that of better known experimenters and he remained something of an auteur in the dynamic Parisian new movie scene of the 1920s.
But I think history will judge him very differently, perhaps as the European film maker in his epoch who managed to create a blend of new filmic techniques with sustained and engaging narratives. And this programme will allow film audiences the chance to decide for themselves!
Usually associated with the development of Impressionistic avant-garde films in Paris in the 1920s, Kirsanoff’s best work (as these two films highlight) retained accessible but new and certainly unconventional narrative formats which were aided by the subtlety of his application of highly original new editing techniques.
As film theorist and critic Richard Prouty stated in his article ‘The Well-Furnished Interior of the Masses: Kirsanoff’s Menilmontant and the Streets of Paris’, (full article here):
Kirsanoff organizes his film around shock experience, which is a repetitive assault on the senses that provokes defense mechanisms. In the early twentieth century shock experience was recognized as a new aspect of urban life. It was a consequence of a mass industrial economy, which needed an expanding consumer sector to support it. The silent cinema mediated the new consumer culture and individuals’ desires to escape the deleterious effects of industrialization. Kirsanoff critiques this function of the cinema by revealing what the mainstream commercial cinema obscures – the conflict between shock experience and visual pleasure in the consumer economy.’
Kirsanoff maintained throughout his life that he had only very limited exposure to Dadaism and Surrealism in making his films; to the work of the likes of Man Ray or Duchamp, and he made movies through sheer dedication to an original aesthetic and in an impoverished isolation that was only relieved through the support of the Parisian cinema clubs.
Both films star Nadia Sibirskaia – Kirsanoff’s collaborator, muse and wife, and in both films Sibirskaia’s face is the focus of a great deal of the movie’s content – and for Kirsanoff the face was ‘the purest material of affection’. in the camera’s frame.
Sibirskaia, within the confines of Kirsanoff’s aesthetic, produces two performances of incredible, animated strength and presence.‘
Brumes D’Automne’ was described by Kirsanoff as kind of ‘poem to Nadia Sibirskaia’s face’, and the IMDB review reads:
‘Brumes d’Automne is a cinematic poem – an astounding, lyrical and avant-garde oeuvre wherein Kirsanoff gets hold of the titanic task of capturing the melancholy, nostalgia, hope and hopelessness of human inner sentiments. Nadia Sibirskaia (Kirsanoff’s first wife and his muse during his early oeuvres) reflects these aims perfectly and Kirsanoff transmits them to the audience in an incredible way:
‘The genuine autumn mood is exhibited in a superior, unique, painful and even magical manner. It is an exceptional film in which the autumn atmosphere and ethereal human feelings complement each other admirably. The audience is moved by evocative images from nature (falling leaves, rain, mist frozen landscapes), all beautifully photographed by Jean de Miéville. This, combined with the suffering the heroine must undergo, makes the film a melancholy masterpiece.’
Both films can be viewed on you tube:
My new scores to these films are based on strong melodic elements – a sample reel will be available here in the next two weeks.
My approach to composition for silent movies and live performance in the cinema is always that of an accompanist – the film takes centre stage and the music is designed to support the audiences’ experience of the film whilst fulfilling that sense of a special event in the cinema that only live music can bring.
If you are interested in hiring this event, please contact me via the booking / contact menu at the bottom of this screen, I am very happy to discuss your requirements!