Tag Archives: entertainment

Flatpack Festival presents: Another Fine Mess

The sixth Flatpack Film Festival kicked off with a great night showcasing several classic silent films. This was the first event of this year’s Birmingham-based film festival, which screens a glut of films for every taste from classics such as The Elephant Man to surreal and niche shorts like The Cat With Hands.

Another Fine Mess was a showcase of black and white comedies from the early part of the twentieth century, accompanied by the expertise of Neil Brand, a pianist who accompanies silent movies across the world (he also featured on Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns TV series).

After we had taken our seats in the (surprisingly warm) cathedral along with 200 others ranging in age from teens to pensioners, Ian Francis, Director of Flatpack, gave a brief introduction to the four day festival taking place at venues across the city. It was then on to the main event as Neil Brand highlighted the recent renaissance of silent film, undoubtedly spurred on by the success of The Artist.

The first film we were show was A Pair of Tights, from 1929, which centred around a pair of tight wads taking two (hungry) ladies on a double date. Resisting their date’s calls for a slap-up turkey dinner, the ‘pair of tights’ agreed to splash out on four ice cream cones. This prompted hilarious scenes involving revolving doors, amorous dogs and fist-shaking policemen, climaxing in what can only be termed reciprocal slapstick violence. It was a great introduction to the genre and you quickly forgot that Neil Brand was playing the piano in the room throughout, his compositions matching the drama and his emphasis perfectly timed with what was happening on screen.

Next up was one of the highlights of the night: a short entitled The Dog Outwits The Kidnapper (1908). What starts out as a very sinister tale of a toddler kidnapping turns rapidly into a heroic story of canine bravery. I won’t ruin it for you, as it’s available on YouTube in all its glory, but I will say though that from a personal perspective any film involving a dog dressed up, or driving a car, is a winner in my book.  See for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qApoxM41NGQ

Following these were some shorts illustrating the imagination, escapism and fantasy that characterised early black and white films. We were treated to eerie musical accompaniment for a man sneezing until he exploded (as funny as it sounds), a dramatisation of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (as if it had been filmed on an drug induced high), and a train journey through space to the sun. These were also some of the earliest first colour films, created by artists individually hand-painting every single film cell – an arduous task to say the least, but the results were undoubtedly astonishing to audiences of the time.

Then it was the final event, starring one of, if not the most famous double act in cinema history: Laurel and Hardy in You’re Darn Tootin‘ from 1928. Audience participation was key to the screening of this film, with a drum handed out to replicate the noise of a punch to the stomach, a triangle for a kick to the knee, and pieces of paper for everyone to rip during the fabulous final scene: a mass trouser ripping involving over a dozen characters.

Accompanied by rapturous laughter, Another Fine Mess was a great start to the festival and also a great introduction to the silent film genre, the piano accompaniment and introductions to each short by Neil Brand really enhanced the event. The mixture of ages in the audience shows the variety of appeal these films have, and the overall audio and visual experience were unlike those found in Cineworld, the Showcase or the Odeon, and more like that at the theatre or the concert hall – a refreshing change to say the least.

A final thought for those who may not be too familiar with the stars of the silent comedy era: if you grew up finding the Chuckle Brothers funny, you’ll be in tears watching anything involving Laurel and Hardy.

Words by Andy Newnham

Voice Festival UK: Birmingham regional round

Voice Festival UK came to the University of Birmingham on Saturday 25th of February for a regional round of its nation-wide competition. Three a capella groups from Birmingham, and one from the University of Leeds, sang their hearts out to win a place at the London final, with the ultimate hope of winning a cash prize and the coveted title of ‘Best UK University A Cappella Group 2012’.

While certainly thrilling for the contestants, the evening was extremely enjoyable for the audience also. Parents, friends and random spectators alike really got involved and it was clear there was a lot of support for the singers and the competition in general. The evening ran surprisingly smoothly, thanks to a great technical team and the funny and engaging compere, Matthew Saull. Evidently, a lot of work had been put into the event so as not to detract from the sole reason for being there; to hear the performances.

The night began with an excellent set of vocal arrangements by The Sons of Pitches. Dressed in matching, bright red boiler suits, the group came on to the stage in a burst of energy that was consistent throughout their performance. With mellow and harmonic tunes such, as Kimbra’s Settle Down, as well as an inventive and funny Club Medley, the group’s flexibility and choreography reflected their talent and definitely won the audience over.

The next act from Birmingham was a newly-formed  mixed-group, Voice Versa. Whilst more self-contained than the previous act, their performance was strong nonetheless. Their arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours was especially superb and caught the interest of the judges who gave them a special award for it at the end of the night.

Despite being the only group from Leeds, the men and women from 95 Keys stood their ground and delivered three powerful arrangements. Their rendition of Chicago, with solos by vocalists, J Fogel and Hannah Perlin, was especially moving and highly appreciated by the judges. The final group, the all-girls Birmingham Songbirds livened the night with their red dresses and fun choreography. Complete with Beach Boys and Spice Girls medlies, their act was vigorous and entertaining.

After an interlude with one of the University’s very own stand-up comedians, the judges came on stage, thanking all attendees and participants. Awards like ‘Best Choreography’ and ‘Best vocal arrangement‘ were deservedly given, building the suspense before revealing who was going to London. It had obviously not been an easy decision, but after much deliberating The Sons of Pitches emerged victorious. Their encore performance ended the night on a high; it was a successful evening and great advertisement in general for Voice Festival UK.

For more info on Birmingham University’s A cappella scene, click on links to the groups’ webpages and  University of Birmingham A Cappella Network on facebook.

Words by Elisha Owen