Review: Slapstick Festival 2013 - Silent Comedy Gala, Colston Hall, Bristol, 8/10 (Ken McCormick)
IN a world of 3D, HD and surround sound, a silent film might seem as obsolete as its grand old contemporaries, the wind-up gramophone and Ford Model T.
Granted, the art form made an astonishing return from the dead with the Oscar-winning hit The Artist - but the novelty of that film's success is underlined by the lack of big-budget silents currently in the Hollywood pipeline. It did, however, remind people that having no sound never stopped those early film makers from telling a cracking story, often more effectively than their 21st Century counterparts can with the help of CGI and Dolby Digital.
Bristol's Slapstick Festival is now in its ninth year of dusting down old, near-forgotten classics so they can make audiences laugh again.
The festival's showpiece gala showed three works by giants of the silent movie era, introduced by comic Victoria Wood, who warmed things up nicely with some jokes of her own.
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The first film, Georges Melies' 111-year-old A Trip to the Moon, brought laughs as much for its quaint special effects as its surreal science fantasy story and jibes at pompous astronomers.
Narrating was actor Paul McGann, one of a number of stars on stage and in the audience, including Barry Cryer, Stephen Merchant, Nick Park and all three Goodies.
Buster Keaton's short 1921 comedy The Goat showed how far both technology and technique had moved on since Melies' heyday, with some fantastic slapstick stunts and set-pieces as the hero is chased by cops after being mistaken for a murderer.
Top billing went to Harold Lloyd's comedy feature Kid Brother, a real masterpiece shot through with hilarious physical gags but also with a thrilling plot that had the audience in suspense, even as they laughed.
Vital in bringing all three films to life were the musicians who provided a live accompaniment, including two newly-commissioned scores premiered on the night.
Stephen Horne, the Bristol Ensemble and European Silent Screen Virtuosi did an outstanding job of matching each pratfall, plot twist and wistful look with a musical phrase, particularly during the 70-minute non-stop performance to Lloyd's film.