Piccadilly (1929) ****

The spectacular return to general availability of E.A. Dupont's Piccadilly reveals yet another convenient generalisation to be a myth, in this case that British silent cinema is devoid of surprises or rewards.
The film is a masterpiece on a par with the very best American and international silents while retaining a distinct national identity; it's steeped in the atmosphere of twenties London (as attractive and evocative as the American Jazz Age, but very different) and dazzlingly designed and photographed. Though the latter is admittedly mainly the work of imported co-production Germans, the film is nonetheless vivid, and intense, in a manner we have long been taught not to associate with British films of its time.

The closest comparison would be with Pabst: there is much of Pandora's Box here; but it's even better. Anna May Wong's Shosho should be every bit as iconic and widely-celebrated as Brooks's Lulu: she is as captivating as Louise, as luminously photographed, and fully as modern in her light, naturalistic acting style. (Also giving a quiet little lesson in screen acting is Charles Laughton, in a short featured cameo as a bad-tempered diner.)
It's a film that has to be seen on a big screen: the BFI's DVD is certainly gorgeous (but for Neil Brand's horrid new score), but the detail - especially of the Piccadilly Club itself - is lost on tv. This is a film that truly overwhelms you, in composition, lighting, performance, and in sheer style.