If silence is golden, then the era of silent movies must be platinum.
Tonight’s audience at Ilkley’s King’s Hall evidently thought so. In spite of the bad weather, more than 300 nearly filled the hall to enjoy Paul Merton and pianist Neil Brand’s presentation of half a dozen examples of the art of silent films from 1914 to about 1928, including the whole of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances.
Merton, who kept his own input to a necessary minimum, wisely chose this Keaton classic as a suitable Valentine’s night theme. The pursuit of true love never runs smooth as Keaton showed, being madly pursued by hundreds of would-be brides in veils and then scores of boulders down a long, sloping valley.
There were excerpts from Charlie Chaplin, including hilarious and ingenious chase scenes from The Circus, Harold Lloyd performing in hair-raising stunts on an open-top bus and Laurel and Hardy as two escaped convicts doing the same on the scaffolding of a skyscraper.
Silent Clowns, the title of Paul Merton’s show, showed what these masters of action mime could do and was surely one of the highlights of the first ever Ilkley Film Festival.
The reaction to these films, from old and young alike, proved beyond doubt that misfortune and the chase – either running to somewhere or running from someone (Buster Keaton was doing both) – remain the essence of visual comedy. These films have been making people laugh the world over for more than a century.
More next year, I hope. There’s an audience for it. Both Bradford Council and Ilkley Parish Council, along with other sponsors, are to be congratulated for backing this festival.
It concludes on Sunday and includes a 90-minute programme of archive footage from West Yorkshire Film Archive called Ilkley Through the Ages, on at King’s Hall from 11am.