An accidental interview with artist-filmmaker Lewis Klahr

Read Marketa Uhlirova’s interview with collage artist Lewis Klahr (whom we featured in our last Miami festival in March 2019). It comes out of a private email conversation that was never intended to be published…


What draws you to all these old magazines and found objects that you use in your films? Is it partly the process of collecting?

No, I’m not a collector, though I clearly have some impulses in that direction. But I actually do the opposite of what collectors and archives do – they preserve, I acquire for their use value for my collaging and ultimately damage or destroy them.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 17.37.50

Does it have something to do with a kind of nostalgia (which I personally think of as a kind of longing but not one that carries wholly negative connotations)?

This has a lengthy answer of course but here are some summary ones: I’m interested in the pastness of the present. The most uncanny, inexplicable thing I have ever experienced is the difference between now and then. I am interested in describing lived time – one of my favorite type of films are films that tell time (like Max Ophuls’ Letter From An Unknown Woman). That is, films that portray large periods of time and the changes that occur between them. My films False Aging and The Nimbus Trilogy are good examples of my version of this. As for nostalgia, I think people often feel threatened by it because they think it means one is embracing some former era wholesale, with all its problems brushed and hidden under the rug. I know my personal sense of nostalgia is far more specific and limited than that. For instance, disappeared styles of design, like the way American cars looked in the mid-20th century, up to 1965, or the richly saturated colors found in magazine and comic book printing until around 1970 – all this activates my sense of nostalgic longing.



What do you think is in the past for us today?

The understanding of the present, knowledge of history. The present always contains trace elements of the past that hide in plain sight around us whether it’s a building, vintage clothes, a media conveyance system that is outmoded and then returns with a vengeance – vinyl records, for instance. Also, the past is constantly growing: it’s this sentence I just finished typing (and you reading)! I’m fascinated by the distinction or borderline of when something stops being defined as contemporary and is instead defined as past and outmoded.

There are so many wonderful moments within your films, and I admire the way you make something once so commonplace and trivial seem so strange and moody and even at times sinister.

Thanks for noticing! You are onto a key aspect of my version of the surreal – it has a strong dollop of pragmatism mixed in.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 17.45.35

By the way, what is that sheet with women’s names and the PUSH signs in Elsa Kirk? I interpreted it as some kind of porn jukebox interface. Am I totally on the wrong path?

I love your interpretation of this! But no, it’s nothing that exotic or illicit. It was some kind of contest from the late ’50s, early ’60s in candy/newspaper stores where you paid to pick a girl’s name and the name was punched out – underneath the name revealed whether it was the winner. If it was, you received a prize. I bought it at the turn of the century, at the Rose Bowl thrift market in Pasadena which still runs every second Sunday of each month. In my film I used it to show that Elsa’s name wasn’t included. In the elliptical crime narrative I was telling, I meant it to reveal that Elsa had disappeared, escaped after successfully pulling off whatever seduction con scheme she was involved with that left the men clothed only in barrels.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 17.35.58 I think there is a wonderful way in which you create cinematic spaces from flat images and how the camera travels across the images to suggest stories/causes and effects. Do all the films have stories for you?

No, they don’t. In fact, my recently completed feature-length series Circumstantial Pleasures, which contemplates the current zeitgeist with contemporary images, isn’t at all narrative. But all the films I sent you do have very developed stories. I have of course a detailed sense of these stories, since I’m doing the telling but I’m very aware that they are open to interpretation due to how much exposition my storytelling omits. Only rarely do people “read” their stories the way I intended. I consider that to be ultimately a strength of the work that they are openly evocative of multivalent narratives.

Circumstantial pleasures

To me, your films are studies of cinematic languages as much as anything (while also being these assemblages and collages of once-popular-culture).

I agree. But there are many ways to understand what my films are up to. Which brings to mind one of my favorite moments in Tourneur’s Out of the Past where late in the film, Robert Mitchum’s private detective character is employing a cab driver whom he doesn’t know and Mitchum speculates/thinks aloud about the nature of the trap he’s fallen into. The cabbie responds diplomatically, not interested in getting involved and concerned to keep his distance – “I always say everyone’s right.”


Lewis Klahr is an American collage artist working in the moving image. His films have been exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe, and collected by major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art.

New Screening Dates for The Inferno Unseen

If you haven’t yet had a chance to see The Inferno Unseen (2017) with the brilliant score by Rollo Smallcombe, here are some future screening dates. We will be updating these as and when new dates are confirmed.


The Norton Museum of Art, Miami - 29 November 2019

BE IN OPEN festival (Moscow & St. Petersburg) – May/June 2019

Bucharest Fashion Film (Bucharest- 13 April 2019

Miami Design District / Miami Film Festival (Miami)  - 8 March 2019

Psylence Festival (Pontio, Wales) - Saturday 24th November 2018

Helsinki International Film Festival (Helsinki) – 28 September 2018


Also, read here Marketa Uhlirova’s essay about the making of the film, published in Notebook.




In March 2019 we presented Layering: Fashion, Art, Cinema  in collaboration with Miami Film Festival and Miami Design District. Over three days of screenings and discussions our programme delved into some of the creative affinities between fashion, cinema and art.

See our highlights below…


billboard web rec

Our billboard at the Design District in Miami in the run-up to the festival.



A sneak peak from our 16mm screening of Jose Rodriguez-Soltero’s underground film Lupe, which was held at the fabulously atmospheric Nite Owl Theater.

nayib cropprojector crop

Nayib Estefan, who runs the theater, and the 3 projector set-up we had there



Our panel discussion The Art of Fashion Film, chaired by Christian Larsen, associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and featuring film scholar Tom Gunning, filmmaker Vitoria de Mello Franco and Fashion in Film curator Marketa Uhlirova.


To find out more about our Miami programme, click here to read a feature in the Feb/March 2019 issue of Cultured Magazine.


Miami, 8–10 March 2019

Paradise Plaza

Night Owl Theater


We are proud to partner with Miami International Film Festival and Miami Design District to present a three-day festival featuring film screenings, talks and panels that explore creative affinities between fashion, cinema and art. Highlighting a range of poetic sensibilities in showing dress and the adorned body in motion, the festival mixes up artist, avant-garde and underground cinema with early advertising and documentary films, as well as contemporary fashion films. With shorts by major artists, designers, filmmakers and image-makers, including Sonia Delaunay, José Rodriguez Soltero, Nick Knight, John Maybury, Charles Atlas, Iris van Herpen, Mat Maitland, Nino Oxilia and Jacques Baratier shown alongside anonymous works, Layering presents an intricate spectrum of creative approaches and encounters.

The programme is curated by Marketa Uhlirova and assistant curator Caitlin Storrie, and featuring guest speakers Tom Gunning, Eugenia Paulicelli, Vitoria de Mello Franco and Christian Larsen.

To see a PDF version of the programme, click here.

‘How do I Look? Mirrors and Dressing in John Cassavetes’s Opening Night (1977)’

In this essay artist Kim Coleman explores themes of female ageing, dressing, acting and mirroring in John Cassavetes’s 1977 masterpiece Opening Night. The text is an amended version of Coleman’s introductory notes to the film, shown on the opening night of our festival season Wearing Time: Past, Present, Future, Dream at Curzon Soho in March 2017.

Click here to read the essay.

Fashion in Film Festival at Museum of the Moving Image, New York. 6-22 April

In April we returned to the Museum of the Moving Image with our latest season Wearing Time: Past, Present, Future, Dream, co-curated by Tom Gunning and Marketa Uhlirova. Thanks to everyone who came!

The programme included screenings, talks and debates taking a wide-ranging look at the relationship between fashion, cinema and time. On the opening night we presented the US premiere of The Inferno Unseen  in collaboration with MUBI and Lobster Films  brought to life by Rollo Smallcombe’s live electronic score, plus guest speakers including Alistair O’Neill, Jessamyn Hatcher, Francesca Granata, Ashish Pant and Drake Stutesman. Other highlights included a beautiful 4K restoration of Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece The Color of Pomegranates (Sayat Nova, 1969), Mitchell Leisen’s rarely screened Lady in the Dark (1944) with Tom Gunning’s introduction, and Czechoslovakia’s adaptation of Stanislav Lem’s sfi-fi novel Magellanic Cloud (1953) Ikarie XB-1 (1963, released in the US as Voyage to the End of the Universe).

Click here to read the New York Times coveragehere for a Nowness article about The Inferno Unseen and here for j.b. spins blog about we like.

Click here for the full programme at MoMI.

With grateful thanks to Mary Lapides for supporting our opening event!


Click here for an Italian Vogue article about our programme at Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi, which took place 24-26 January 2018 in collaboration with IUAV University of Venice. The programme explored dress in motion and time from the perspectives of fashion, cinema and art.

Here are some of our highlights:


16mm test run for Christine Noll Brinckmann’s film Dress Rehearsal (1979) featuring Karola Gramann.


Kiri - Martina - Marketa

Kiri Inglis (MUBI), Martina Malobbia (Palazzo Grassi) and Marketa Uhlirova (FFF) presenting The Inferno Unseen (2017), a new cut of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished film from 1964. The film was co-produced with Lobster Films.


Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani colour test

Rollo Smallcombe performing his live score to The Inferno Unseen, which he also co-edited.

On screen: Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani’s colour test, The Inferno Unseen.



“It felt like such a unique place to perform. The city and the audience were fabulous.” – Rollo Smallcombe



The atmospheric auditorium at the Teatrino at Palazzo Grassi, restored by Tadao Ando in 2013.


Caroline Alessandra Nanni

Caroline Evans, Alessandra Vaccari and Nanni Strada in conversation during IUAV’s Fashion Aperture workshop. Nanni Strada showed her film Il manto e la pelle, originally commissioned by the Triennale di Milano in 1974.


Nannis film

Il Manto e la pelle. For more on Strada and the workshop, go to Contessanally’s blog post.


An exciting last-minute addition to our Venice programme

With huge thanks to the Archives françaises du film, CNC, we have just added a beautifully restored ‘Sonia Delaunay’, film to our programme at Palazzo Grassi. This rare fashion film is an exquisite showcase of Sonia Delaunay’s ‘Simultaneous’ dresses and fabrics, quite possibly made at the artist’s Parisian studio and home at 19 Boulevard Malesherbes.


Dating around 1926-7 and filmed using the tricolor additive Keller-Dorian process (later also known as ‘Kodacolor cine film’), the film presents Delaunay’s geometric designs in rich colours. Read about our collaboration with Palazzo Grassi here. (Images courtesy CNC)


We are thrilled to announce a three-day programme of screenings and workshops this January, organised in partnership with the Università Iuav di Venezia. The programme explores the links between fashion, cinema and art.

Where: Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi, Venice

When: 24–26 January 2018

Click to see the full programme


Between 11–26 March 2017 Fashion in Film Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with a season curated by the festival’s director Marketa Uhlirova and the cinema scholar Tom Gunning, exploring the  connections between fashion, cinema and time.

Go to the festival page


Watch our trailer here:

The festival ran across major London venues, including Barbican CentreCurzon cinemasGenesis CinemaCentral Saint MartinsRioPrince Charles Cinema, Picturehouse CinemaThe Horse Hospital and The Hoxton.

A huge thank you to all our speakers, venues, sponsors, partners and supporters, and a big thanks also to our audience! Click on the link above to see who supported our 2017 London season.

Artist Michelle Handelman talks to Aya Noel about women, identity and costume as a state of mind

New York-based artist Michelle Handelman, whose film Irma Vep, The Last Breath was included in our latest season WEARING TIME: PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE, DREAM, talks to Aya Noel about women in cinema, fluid identity and costume as a state of mind.

Musical legend Jarvis Cocker gives us his top five picks of the festival

Did you know that as an art student Jarvis Cocker studied film on a course set up by the experimental filmmaker Malcolm Le Grice? That he graduated with a film about Angel Gabriel falling to Earth? Whose crown became a shower cap as it made contact with the Earth’s atmosphere? OK, probably too much information. Here Jarvis gives us his top five picks of this year’s festival programme:

E31. The Inferno Unseen – I’ve seen some of this footage before but I am really looking forward to seeing it made into some kind of end-product rather being simply a collection of visually amazing screen-tests.

sun ra22. Space is the Place – This is one of those that I’ve heard a lot about over the years but have never actually seen. I’m a sucker for space-related films & music so this is a double-whammy for me!

Martine Carol inÊMax OphŸls' LOLA MONTéS (1955). Credit: Rial3. Lola Montes – Sophie Calle told me that this was maybe the best-looking film ever. Who am I to argue?

Vertigo4. Vertigo – I’ve never seen it at the cinema. Some films are so powerful that you have to be careful how many times you watch them – but I reckon I could manage one more time…

Pomegranates015. The Colour of Pomegranates – I’ve only ever seen stills from this – which looked intriguing enough to make me want to see the film they come from.

Influential film scholar Tom Gunning will be resurrecting the Cinema Diva at the Horse Hospital

To kick off our 10th Anniversary Festival, its co-curator, the influential film historian Tom Gunning, will be hosting RESURRECTING AND RE-EDITING THE CINEMA DIVA. a programme of artist films from the 20th and early-21st century.

LR_Unfolding The Aryan Papers

The films invoke female stars from cinema’s past, re-imagining, and even re-assembling them from a later perspective that allows us to see them as incandescent images of desire clothed in costumes of fantasy and role play. The films featured are Rose Hobart by Joseph Cornell (1936, Unfolding the Aryan Papers by Jane and Louise Wilson (2009), and Irma Vep, the Last Breath by Michelle Handelman (2013/2015).

Saturday 11 March 2017, 18:30

The Horse Hospital

2017 Fashion in Film Festival Highlights

The first strand, ‘The Past: Returns, Recalls, Renewals’, delves into fashion and film’s capacity to return to – or suppress – the past. There is something uncanny about rediscovering an old familiar dress and indeed, it can awaken ghosts and revenants that return to haunt the living. No film has so well defined a modern sensibility of time as Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961), which sets its meditation on the past and memory within the most fashionable locations, the ‘Marienbad Spa’ (the film was in fact filmed in Bavaria). Clothing has the power to transport the wearer, and the viewer, to the past, but it can also be a marker of time. Narratives of aging and rejuvenation depend on convincing changes in fashions, hair, and make-up. Clothes can signal different times of day and accompanying rituals. As a major source of visual spectacle, Hollywood films in the studio era often announced the number of costume changes a leading lady would go through. Even a single garment can measure cinematic time: Hollywood classic Tales of Manhattan (Julien Duvivier, 1964) follows the story of a single tailcoat through the lives of five different owners. In the British wartime propaganda short In Which We Live: Being the Story of a Suit Told by Itself (Richard Massingham, 1943), a suit is not only the star but also the talking protagonist.

Tales of Manhattan, Julien Duvivier, 1942

The second strand, ‘The Present: the Fabric of Time’, explores fashion and cinema’s power to become manifestations of the present. How can dress or fabric embody cinematic time? How can the processes of making dress, wearing or fashioning oneself make time a tangible, felt entity? This strand tackles this most complex set of riddles largely through special events and talks, with an emphasis on performance, duration and process. In a world premiere at the Barbican, we are proud to team up with Lobster Films and MUBI to present a new cut of never-before seen rushes by French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, made in preparation for his film The Inferno (which remained unfinished in 1964). The awe-inspiring kinetic experiments will be accompanied by a newly commissioned musical score by Rollo Smallcombe. At Central Saint Martins, curators Alistair O’Neill and Inga Fraser will discuss British artist films of the late-20th century, which make explicit links between the materiality of dress and cinema. Works by Alia Syed, Alexis Hunter and David Lamelas will be considered in relation to the legacy of Annabel Nicolson’s iconic performance Reel Time (1973), which conjoined a film projector and a sewing machine through a loop of celluloid. Agnès Varda’s iconic film Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) represents time in its most pressing, existentialist form as it follows protagonist Cléo while she waits for the results of her cancer screening.


The third strand, ‘The Future: What Does It Wear?’, will highlight the cinema as an important platform for expressing utopian as well as dystopian visions of the future. To give a concrete form to one’s idea of the future involves not only taking an imaginative leap into the unfamiliar, but also great resourcefulness and creativity in re-using what already exists. For the future to speak to us, we must be able to recognise ourselves in it; it has to show itself as an unfamiliar version of the present. With science-fiction masterpieces such as Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1936), Ikarie XB-1 (Jindrich Polak, 1963) and Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972), the audience will step into imagined worlds where costume and set design play the key role of giving the future a coherent and plausible look.

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 17.22.23

The final strand, ‘Dream Fashion: the Unconscious’ explores the relation between fashion and dreaming. If cinema itself has frequently been likened to dream, here we pursue more specifically its investment in the dream, reverie and fantasy as a realm in which fashion can truly flourish. Enchanting musicals Lady in the Dark (Mitchell Leisen, 1944) and the Japanese Princess Raccoon (Seijun Suzuki, 2005) will have viewers succumb to unpredictable temporalities in which unconscious recesses of the mind are expressed. And in the silent spectacular Aelita (Yakov Protazanov, 1924), Soviet Russia’s harsh social reality and its hopes of a better future are negotiated against the dream/nightmare of a ‘progressive’ Martian society kitted out in daring futurist-constructivist designs.

Among other films shown at the festival are: Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968), Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958), Tony Takitani (Jun Ichikawa, 2004), Lola Montes (Max Ophuls, 1955), Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1936), Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007), Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972), Beyond the Rocks (Sam Wood, 1922), My Fancy High Heels (Chao-ti Ho, 2010), and numerous short films from film archives and by artists, including Michelle Handelman, Jane and Louise Wilson and Jessica Mitrani.

In addition to festival curators, the speakers in this year’s festival include: Sir Christopher Frayling (author), Alice Rawsthorn (writer on design and art), Caroline Evans (fashion historian), Alex Fury (fashion journalist), Orsola de Castro (Fashion Revolution), Alice Wilby (Novel Beings), Timothy Long (fashion curator), Inga Fraser (modern art curator), Alistair O’Neill (fashion curator), Djurdja Bartlett (fashion historian), Cathy Haynes (artist and curator), Roger K. Burton (costume designer), Ian Christie (film historian), Alessandra Vaccari (fashion historian), Bel Jacobs (fashion journalist), Rosie Wallin (designer), and Silvia Vacirca (fashion and media scholar).

All silent films will be accompanied by a live musical performance by Stephen Horne.

We’ve done it!

We have reached our Kickstarter target, thanks to all of you who have pledged! Roll on the festival.


Miami Festival Highlights

brochure for web

In collaboration with Fashion Project BHS, our Miami festival hosted ten screenings, talks and discussion events over four days this January. The screenings included Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani (2004), Max Ophüls’ Lola Montes (1955), Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart (1936), Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens (1975), Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om (2007), Chao-ti Ho’s My Fancy High Heels (2010), and numerous shorts by artists including Cindy Sherman, Michelle Handelman, Jessica Mitrani, Jiri Barta and Lernert & Sander. Here are some of the highlights:

cathy & opening night

Fashion Project Director Cathy Leff introducing the festival & Fashion Project Space.


Kate Sinclair introducing the festival. Curators Marketa Uhlirova and Tom Gunning in conversation about cinema, fashion and time.

Our latest festival in Miami


28 January – 31 January 2016

In partnership with Fashion Project at Bal Harbour Shops, Miami.

The four-day festival is co-curated by Tom Gunning and Marketa Uhlirova and explores cinema’s fascination with the abstract relationship between fashion and time. Through celebrated classics, newsreels, documentaries, fashion films and artist films, this program explores cinematic clothing as a vehicle of reconnecting the past with the present and the future. The programme asks what concrete manifestations of time fashion and clothing enable in film: What kind of chronologies and histories? Origins and memories? Echoes and shadows? Projections, visions, or premonitions?

Full Programme

Download the brochure here

Most Beautiful Swiss Books of 2014

We are proud to announce that our latest publication, Birds of Paradise: Costume as Cinematic Spectacle, has been awarded one of the prestigious “Most Beautiful Swiss Books of 2014″ prizes! Join us to celebrate at the award ceremony and exhibition opening in Zurich on June 25th.

Our book will be displayed alongside other winners in an exhibition which will tour locations including Helmhaus in Zurich, Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris, Kunsthalle in Basel, Institut Curatorial de la HEAD in Geneva as well as venues in cities including Tokyo and Milan.

For more information please visit

Frame by frame: Dissecting the fashion moving image now. The 5th Fashion in Film Festival


The programme, curated by Hywel Davies and Marketa Uhlirova, was a vibrant series of panels and conversations designed to explore the recent rise of the moving image in the fashion industry.

It was held between 17–24 March 2015 in London’s Central Saint Martins, Somerset House and Hackney Picture House, and featured over 25 acclaimed industry practitioners and commentators, including Nick Knight, Caryn Franklin, Lernert & Sander, Quentin Jones, Caroline Evans, Alex Fury, Jessica Mitrani, Stephen Whelan, Marcus Werner Hed, Kathryn Ferguson, Jennifer Byrne, Nick Rees-Roberts, Pamela Church-Gibson, Oriole Cullen, Agnes Rocamora and more.

We are planning to make some of these conversations public, so watch this space!

Full programme

In Conversation: Alistair O’Neill on Guy Bourdin and Film

As a major retrospective exhibition of Guy Bourdin’s work opens at Somerset House, co-curator Alistair O’Neill shares thoughts on his own curatorial process, the photographer’s legacy and those elusive ‘fashion films’. Read here.

A Conversation with Mariann Lewinsky

Read our conversation with the brilliant and passionate film curator Mariann Lewinsky, one of the treasures of Bologna’s annual festival Il Cinema Ritrovato. Back in July this year we asked Mariann about her archival research, silent film performances and acting and, of course, fashion. With Caroline Evans, Marketa Uhlirova, Vincenzo Maggitti, Elif Rongen and Elizabeth Lundén.

Birds of Paradise: Costume as Cinematic Spectacle – Reviews and Awards.


The New Museum’s top of BEST BOOKS of 2014

Judith Mackrell’s review of the book for The Guardian

Pamela Hutchinson’s review for Silent London

AnOther magazine

Bright Lights Film Journal.

The book is edited by Marketa Uhlirova and published by Koenig Books, London, 2013. Find out more and buy the book from here: Now available from the University of the Arts shop and a healthy % of the proceeds goes towards organising the next festival! Buying from the UAL shop is a great way to directly support us.

Free download: Marcel L’Herbier Dossier

This dossier, edited and introduced by Caroline Evans and Marketa Uhlirova, is the first English-language publication on the French film director Marcel L’Herbier, to whom we devoted last year’s festival season.

This downloadable online publication brings together archival visual material, newly translated quotations and newly commissioned articles by Mireille Beaulieu, Tag Gronberg, Joan Tumblety and Nick Rees-Roberts.

The dossier will be updated with more articles later this year, so watch this space!

Access the Dossier here

No More Stuff?

Screening of Alexander Mackendrick’s 1951 classic Man in the White Suit, followed by a panel discussion examining the notion of ‘No More Stuff’. Panelists include Barry Curtis (Royal College of Art), James Wallman (author of Stuffocation), Cyndi Rhoades (Worn Again), Claire Pajaczkowska (Royal College of Art) and Rebecca Earley (Chelsea College).

Thursday 13th February, 6.00 – 8.30pm. Central Saint Martins, LVMH Lecture Theatre, E003. All welcome but booking is essential:

Organised with Adam Thorpe (Socially Responsive Research Group, CSM). The event is part of the Green Week at CSM.

Stephen Horne takes silent film accompaniment up a notch

This year the brilliant Stephen Horne accompanies two of the silent films in the Marcel L’Herbier season, Le Vertige and L’Inhumaine. We have asked him how he does it. Interview by Sara Cozzarin

How do you approach your silent film accompaniments? 

 My approach varies from event to event, according to a number of variables. Some of these can be quite prosaic – for example, how busy I am or how much I’m getting paid! But principally my approach is dictated by the film itself. Silent films, just like today’s films, benefit from music which is broadly sympathetic to their tone and genre. This usually means music that is not overtly ‘outside the box’. But there are exceptions -for example, L’Inhumaine is a very strange, abstract film, so my music will hopefully reflect this.

Even if a score was originally composed for a particular film, I don’t usually refer to it. One thing I think most people don’t realise is just what a huge amount of time is required to learn to play an original score – and, just as importantly, synchronise it with the film. If a score survives at all, it will frequently be incomplete or not match the surviving prints of the films. I’m not against recreating original scores at all – indeed, I think they are fascinating. But that’s just not my specialism.

Whether you completely improvise or not, you clearly still must have the ability to respond quickly to the image in front of you. Is this particularly challenging? Are there any secrets of the trade?

I started accompanying silents at the National Film Theatre over twenty years ago, and at that time pianists were not given advance screenings of the films that they were booked to accompany. This meant that, for about the first ten years or so, I accompanied every film ‘cold’. This is less of an issue for silent film musicians starting now, with DVDs and the internet, but it formed the way I approached the job. Obviously, to do the job adequately in those circumstances meant having to be able to both improvise and react quickly – turn on a musical sixpence, so to speak. I now frequently seem able to anticipate how a film is going to progress, in a way that feels almost telepathic. But I don’t think this is unique to me – I think it’s a characteristic of my generation of silent film accompanist! Although I have now produced several fully composed film scores, my training was as an improvising accompanist and that’s still essentially how I approach the job.

You are known for using multiple instruments. Which ones, and why? Just how do you make the transitions seamless?

I’ve only been a so-called ‘multi-instrumental’ accompanist for the last few years. For a very long time I only accompanied films on piano. But then one day I started to incorporate the flute, which I had stopped playing after University, and a couple of years later the accordion. Almost immediately it became my ‘USP’ – which can be a bit of a trap, because people expect it of me now! But although I think the piano is still on balance the best instrument for a solo accompaniment, people do seem to like to hear a change of sound world, even if it’s only for a short while. And recently I purchased a Theremin which I hope to use for L’ Inhumaine. I’m not making any promises, though – at the moment the noise I make with it is more akin to a feral fox than the ethereal effect I’m hoping to achieve eventually!

Darius Milhaud’s original score for L’Inhumaine is notoriously lost. I am interested in how you are going to be approaching this film. Were there any sequences that you found particularly inspiring or challenging?

Milhaud’s score for L’Inhumaine was apparently an integral part of Herbier’s conception, so it would be fascinating to experience how it worked with the film. But it doesn’t survive, so for me it’s an academic point. One could put together a medley score out of the music that Milhaud was composing during this period, which would be a perfectly valid approach. But for me the most important thing is for the music to be authentic to the spirit of the film and sometimes this can best be achieved by using techniques that wouldn’t have been available at the time that it was made. For example, I think that L’Inhumaine was trying to create an otherworldly mood and it’s possible that music which might have been considered otherworldly at the time would not have that effect any more. I want to make the film work for the audience that is watching it, by creating something that will have an effect on them equivalent to the one the film is striving for. In general, I like to wrap my own musical bubble around a film. One that is essentially timeless – in the sense of not feeling either overtly then or now.

Highlights of If Looks Could Kill were on show in Copenhagen

Highlights of the Fashion in Film Festival’s 2008 season If Looks Could Kill were recently on show in Copenhagen. Take a look at the original 2008 season here. Look at the festival catalogue here.