Silent Cinema, The Blue Bird
(L-R) Robin Macdougall as Tyltyl and Tula Belle as Mytyl. Image credits: Paramount Pictures

Hippfest: Making dreams a reality with The Blue Bird

4 mins read

Cinema is a constantly changing landscape. Not only do the stories we tell reveal our deepest desires, but the technology we use to tell them sometimes borders on fantasies themselves.

Right now, we are on the cusp of the AI revolution. Ethical debates are being waged in Hollywood over de-ageing actors and digital doubles. With all this innovation it is easy to forget where we started. But the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival won’t let you forget.

Scotland’s first and only silent Film Festival, Hippfest, returned to its home at the Hippodrome in Bo’ness on Wednesday night with their glittering opening film The Blue Bird (1918).

Based on the 1908 play by Maurice Maeterlinck, The Blue Bird, is a fantasy adventure, dazzling audiences for a century.

One night siblings Tyltyl and Mytyl are tasked by the fairy Bérylune to find the bluebird of happiness. Their journey takes them to faraway lands, glimpsing wonders and horrors alike. But they may find that what they seek is closer to home than they might think.

Director Maurice Tourneur obviously valued simplicity in the story so that his images could take centre stage. Each frame could easily be mistaken for a painting. Tourneur used broad strokes of imagination to translate the wildness of childhood dreams to the screen.

“People have been trying to turn their dreams into reality forever, long before we had the tools to actually do it.”

Part of the intrigue of silent film is picturing how contemporary audiences would have received The Blue Bird when it was first released. You have to imagine that after four years of war, audiences would have been hungry for escapism.

Tourneur offers ladies clad in silks and crowns, unlike anything a household suffering under a war economy could have seen. His costumes and settings ooze luxury as we are guided through the palace of the night and of happiness, each more decadent than the last.

Plus some of the visual effects that Tourneur pulls off probably left cinema fans in the same kind of awe that James Cameron achieves in Avatar.

Wednesday night’s screening was accompanied by the world premiere of a new commission by Sonic Bothy. The ensemble is award-winning for its experimental and contemporary music. They add another layer of reverie to the already fantastical imagery.

Do not be scared away from this gorgeous piece of cinema because of its silence. It is amazing what can be gleaned from the raising of a brow or the twitch of an upper lip. Silent film is the “show not tell technique” taken to the extreme and it trusts us to understand.

If you take anything away from silent film, take this. People have been trying to turn their dreams into reality forever, long before we had the tools to actually do it.

The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival runs until Sunday, March 26. Book tickets here.

Featured Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling

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