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  • Writer's pictureSouth West Silents

Silent Films and The First World War

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

October 2018 might seem rather quiet compared to our recent September 2018 lineup. The main reason is due to Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto 2018, Italy. After all, it is the best silent film festival in world!

After our return from Italy we will be back on form with the return of our regular monthly screenings. Our totally free Club Screenings return at last, October 2018 will see us celebrating the work of Swedish film actor Lars Hanson, while at the Cube Cinema we are celebrating the work of the great Lon Chaney with a special screening of The Penalty (1920) with a special DCP from Lobster Films, Paris and live music by by our good friend Stephen Horne, just in time for Halloween as well!

But November 2018 sees another busy month for us as we mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. We have four very rich silent film events, spread over the course of November in and around the Bristol area. Below you can find our entire line up. As always with our screenings, we pick the best quality prints available for each event and the best accompanying music possible. We hope you can join us…


Tickets are £14 (£12 con) and are available from or, 0117 923 0164. / Doors open at 6.00pm for a 6.30pm start.

Abel Gance’s (La Roue, Napoléon) epic war film, J’Accuse, turns 99 this year. Released in 1919, the film includes real battlefields of the first world war on screen, and depicts the very real tragedy and horror of war.

The ‘return of the dead’ sequence at the end of the film was shot in the south of France, using 2,000 soldiers who had come back on leave. Gance himself recalled: “The conditions in which we filmed were profoundly moving… These men had come straight from the Front – from Verdun – and they were due back eight days later. They played the dead knowing that in all probability they’d be dead themselves before long. Within a few weeks of their return, eighty per cent had been killed.”

This devastatingly affecting film will be screened in the nave of the Cathedral, with an organ improvisation from the celebrated organist and composer, Dr David Bednall. With a running time of over two and a half hours, there will be an interval partway through the film to allow a short break for audience and organist alike.

John Gilbert Karl Dane The Big Parade 2

One of the most highest-grossing films of the silent era, King Vidor’s masterpiece that is the First World War epic The Big Parade (1925), was adapted from the work of veteran Laurence Stallings and tells the story of an idle rich boy, played by matinee idol John Gilbert, who joins the US Army’s Rainbow Division and is sent to France to fight in the First World War. The film traces his adventures, friendships, and a love affair with a charming French girl (Renée Adorée).

Routinely cited as one of the first and greatest anti-war films, Vidor’s film is a genuine epic and was one of the most sweeping productions of the silent era.

Recorded orchestral score by Carl Davies will accompany the film.

Fragment of an Empire

Fragment of an Empire (1929) sold out in record time at the London Film Festival 2018 so we are thrilled to be screening this great film straight after the UK Premiere of this new restoration thanks to our friends at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. This new DCP presentation will be accompanied by the fantastic John Sweeney.

A shell-shocked First World War soldier regains his memory after ten years and returns home to St. Petersburg, finding peace and justice but also heart-wrenching change. “Where is St. Petersburg?” he cries as he stands lost in the new cityscape of Soviet Leningrad.

Fridrikh Ermler’s Fragment of an Empire has been referred to as the most important film in Soviet Cinema. It’s a bold claim, but justified by the synthesis of a powerful personal story and the critique it allows of the revolution as seen by a soldier stuck in a Tsarist past. The film opens in the chaos of a bloody battle in 1914 and follows with an extraordinary evocation of the main protagonist’s returning memory. As played by regular Ermler lead Fiodor Nikitin, his response to the social changes he sees is both moving and politically astute.

An exhilarating hymn of solidarity, this masterpiece has long been available only in truncated prints missing its most celebrated imagery…. until now!


November 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of The Great War. As part of our mini WW1 and Silent Film Season we conclude with a very eye opening Club Screening discussing the way in which films were exhibited on the Western Front.

Making his SWS Club Screening debut and taking on this rather unique trail we have our good friend Chris Grosvenor, a PhD student based at the University of Exeter.

Chris’ thesis ‘Cinema on the Front Line’ examines the role of the cinema as it intersected with the lives of those who served for Britain during the First World War, shining a light on a largely unacknowledged history within the discipline of film studies and military history. Chris is particularly interested in the history of cinematic exhibition for military audiences on the front lines themselves, often in very close proximity to the dangers of the battlefield.

More broadly, Chris’ research interests include silent cinema, British film history, exhibition studies and the work of silent comedian Charlie Chaplin.

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