Tears, laughter and seduction flow in the seven films featured in Nitehawk Cinema’s Vamps and Virgins, a series that explores the two sides of the leading lady spectrum in silent film. May – October, 2013.

The women of silent cinema have beauty, mystery, fascination and allure. Vamps wiggle and virgins squirm in silent film; their squeals and screams are never heard. The silent movie heroine is experienced as a vision, a memory in the mind’s eye or as a waking dream. Whether classified as a “vamp” or “virgin”, she is always beautiful because in the world of silence she is prized for her looks. In silence there is mystery.

Silent films are never silent, the music takes the place of voices and sounds as it makes the ordinary poetic and the extraordinary profound. Because of this, live musical accompaniment is the way to truly experience it. As part of its Live+Sound+Cinema series, Nitehawk Cinema presents exciting young bands with fresh musical approaches sensitive to silent film: Black Lodge, Mary Alouette, Guizot, Morricone Youth and Gersh/Reed are bands chosen to accompany films in this series.

Music is the lifeblood of silent cinema and like the blood that flows to the cheeks of virgins in embarrassment and vamps in moments of passion, emotions are pulled to the surface. As the waking dream begins, film heroine and film viewer become one. The silent movie immersion is complete. That is what Nitehawk Cinema is presenting in Vamp and Virgins silent film series.



tumblr_m46dksNGCD1r3owlzo1_400The Vamps and Virgin programming series begins with Louise Brooks personified as “Lulu” in Pandora’s Box (May 25/26). Lulu embodies a sexual allure that is simultaneously innocent, mysterious and dangerous. She is a vamp, a “baby vampire.” The second film in the series, The Passion of Joan of Arc (June 29/30), has Maria Falconetti acting without makeup or artifice. As “Joan” she is a defiant fortress of will; such a terrible and tearful portrait of uncompromising virgin purity driven into martyrdom is a subject rarely experienced in contemporary cinema.

In the cinematic silence of the roaring twenties, Clara Bow personified the flapper; a modern woman who wanted to be able to drive, drink and stay out all night if she wanted. Whereas a vamp might suck the life out of a man and drive him to certain doom, a flapper like Bow is more fun loving than decadent who  believes upper mobility is achieved through pep and sex. In It (August 24/25) Clara Bow plays a shopgirl who has her eye on the handsome owner of the department store she works in. Clara has ‘It’ and ‘It’ holds the promise of  many happy nights and sleep-in mornings in the mind of a weak willed prosperous man. Miss Bow’s tangled sleepy-time hair and fleshy bounce is the epitome of Brooklyn sass, manic Jazz Age energy and guilt-free sex appeal. You will love It.

600full-broken-blossoms-screenshotBefore the Jazz Age, it was the dark ages for women. In D. W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (July 27/28) Lillian Gish plays a girl living in poverty with a violent and abusive father. Seemingly her only escape is the questionable freedom of a life of prostitution or the squalor and slavery is in the form of a loveless marriage. She discovers a middle path through a chance meeting with an outsider: Cheng, a Chinese immigrant shopkeeper. But she is a white, virginal and underage. Their relationship is impossible in the time and place they live. There love is an illicit and tragic but because of this it is also transcendent and beautiful.


Bridgette Helm masterfully portrays both “virgin” and “vamp” in a double role in the sci-fi classic Metropolis (September 28/29). Helm plays the angelic “Maria”, leader of an underground workers movement in a society in which they are slaves. She is prophet and a mother to her followers with elements of both the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. Helm also plays the false Maria, a robot whose role is to destroy Maria’s revolution. The false Maria is nothing less than the “Whore of Babylon”, the apocalyptic figure of Revelation, rousing the workers into acts of violent sabotage. Then, in both The Cat and The Canary (October 26/27) and The Phantom of the Opera (October 31) virginal women must face unseen horrors with only their honor to protect them. For the viewers, the fun is watching that shield of virginity fight against the forces of hell and knowing purity will always win out.


Essay by Mason Rader, programmer of the Live Sound Cinema series at Nitehawk. His Vamps and Virgin (Live Sound Cinema) program runs May – October 2013.