Silent Shakespeare is a collection of early black and white silent films of Shakespeare's plays. These seven silent films are very precious and unique, providing a chance to see some of the earliest movie depictions of Shakespeare. In the early days of cinema, filmmakers attempted to elevate the cultural status of the new medium by working from classic texts and Shakespeare was a very popular choice. Rare and carefully crafted, the Silent Shakespeare films contain special effects such as hand-stencilling and tints. Created from nitrate prints in the BFI archives, Silent Shakespeare includes the earliest Shakespeare play committed to celluloid, King John in 1899. Silent Shakespeare contains the only one of the four scenes to have survived - King John's death scene. There is a five-minute film of The Tempest, made in the UK in 1908 and a Richard III from 1911. A Midsummer Night's Dream (1909) and Twelfth Night (1910) were filmed in the USA, while King Lear and The Merchant of Venice were both filmed in Italy in 1910. Judith Buchanan, lecturer in Film Studies at the University of York provides an introduction and commentary. Although the films are silent, they are accompanied by a new musical score composed by Laura Rossi.
King Lear (Re Lear) was directed by Gerolamo Lo Savio in Italy and released on the 21st of December 1910. Lear was played by Ermete Novelli. Francesca Bertini, who plays Cordelia, was later to star in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 alongside Robert DeNiro and Gerard Depardieu. Lo Savio also directed The Merchant of Venice included on the Silent Shakespeare DVD and later directed silent films on the Borgias as well as operas such as Rigoletto and Carmen. Although only 16 minutes long, King Lear is noteworthy for its beautiful colour, a result of careful hand-tinting of each frame of the film. Silent Shakespeare is available on DVD.
The Silent Shakespeare films include:
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
Produced by the BFI
Introduction and commentary by Judith Buchanan
Accompanied by a new musical score by Laura Rossi
Running Time - 88 minutes