Silent classic revived at the EP

BRIDPORT’s Electric Palace has a special film and music event on Sunday 16th September, when a rare silent film, Beggars Of Life will be shown, with a live musical accompaniment by The Dodge Brothers, followed by a Q&A with three leading cinema experts.

Beggars Of Life, made in 1928 by William A Wellman, and starring Louise Brooks, one of the greatest actresses not only of the silent era but of all cinema.

After the film there will be a question and answer session with Mark Kermode (The Observer chief film critic, Radio 2 film expert, and BBC television Presenter), Neil Brand (writer, musician and presenter of the BBC4 series Sounds of Cinema : The Music That Made The Movies) and Dr Mike Hammond (associate professor, film department, University of Southampton).

Wellman made Beggars Of Life after his Best Picture win for Wings, at the inaugural Academy Awards. It is a gripping drama, adapted from Jim Tully’s best-selling classic of hobo literature, casting the icon of the silver screen as a girl on the lam after killing her lecherous adoptive father.

Dressed in boy’s clothes, she navigates the dangerous tramp underworld with the help of a handsome and devoted drifter (Richard Arlen) and encounters the dangerous, but warm-hearted hobo legend Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery).

Loaded with stunning visuals and empathetic performances, this dark, realistic drama is Brooks’ best American film and a masterpiece of late silent era feature cinema.

The Dodge Brothers – including Neil Brand – have established a reputation for their brilliant music and for accompanying silent films, which were, of course, never actually silent! Before sound arrived in Hollywood in 1928 the movies always had some noise associated – sound-track or live accompaniment. The Dodge Brothers are steeped in that tradition; making rackets to stories to raise an eyebrow, infect your feet with rhythm, and prompt maybe a laugh or a tear.

They have played to silent films at major venues including the Barbican,  National Film Theatre, BFI and National Media Museum. In 2014 The Dodge Brothers were the first band to accompany a silent film at Glastonbury Festival.

They say: “Our approach is simple: we derive our music from what might have been played in the cinemas in towns such as Clarksdale Mississippi, or Troy Alabama. We bring the jug band/skiffle style to westerns and hobo films.

“With Louise Brooks and Wallace Beery in Beggars of Life (William Wellman,1928) we take as our inspiration the music of Bukka White (Po’ Boy), Charlie Poole (Goodbye Booze) and Furry Lewis (Kassee Jones).”

Each performance is unique – as is Bridport’s Electric Palace, built in 1926, where the Dodge Brothers promise to bring a barnstorming wall of sound “with washboards, banjos and a whole lotta heart.”

Bryony Dixon, curator of silent film at the British Film Institute, says: “Never has a film and a band been more perfectly matched than Beggars of Life and the Dodge Brothers – deep dish Americana, rail-riding hoboes and Louise Brooks – they were made for each other.”