Regular readers of this blog will know that I love me some Silent cinema. I’m very sad to have to say that it was not always thus though. I saw my very first Silent film in my mid teens, it was shown in a film class at college. That film was Metropolis.
Before seeing this film I was already a huge fan of classic era films, but I had never had the slightest interest in seeing those strange films in which nobody speaks. When this film started playing, there I was, still stubbornly convinced that there was no way this was going to be for me.
Then something happened, it is something that I can’t really describe. I just became fascinated by the images I was seeing on the screen. I was so impressed by the scale of the sets, with the overall look of the film, and with the unforgettable depiction of the future. Before I knew what was happening there I was actually enjoying a Silent film.
I have to say that while Metropolis has never become a favourite of mine, I do admire it a great deal, and I do enjoy it when I watch it. It will always have a special place in my heart for being the film that made me a fan of Silent cinema.
From that point on I started to watch more Silent films. Then I started to laugh at myself for having held off seeing these films for so long. Why had I been so hesitant about checking these out sooner?
I think that Silent films are incredible. Remember that all the stunts in these were done for real, all the special effects were done by hand(no CGI here thank you), even the editing was all done by hand.
I also think that many of these films are like art brought to life. Due to a combination of beautiful costumes, colour tinting, uniquely designed title cards, lavish sets etc, these films become like moving paintings. They look so different to sound films.
When you see these films today and you know that what you see was all done by hand, it just blows you away. The stunning, jaw dropping visuals in these films are leaps and bounds beyond anything CGI gives us today. The directors and film crew working at this time were so innovative, and their fearlessness in exploring new and exciting ways of making films, or in creating film effects is admirable.
I also like the different acting style. Yes, when viewed by us today it looks theatrical and can be strange to get used to if you’re new to it; however the acting in these films is all about the actors conveying emotion, and in doing so making us feel their pain or joy. These actors do not need dialogue because they have the ability to convey to us what’s going on through expression alone.
Music is important in these films. You see despite there being no dialogue, these films are not actually totally silent. There is music playing throughout these films, and the scores are amazing, they capture the mood and atmosphere of the films and become almost like another character in them. I would love to go to a silent screening that has a live orchestra accompanying the film. Has anyone ever attended one of these? What was it like?
New To Silent Cinema?
Have you yet to dip your toe into the ocean of Silent cinema? What are you waiting for? Please don’t be afraid of these films. Pick one to watch and give this different film style a chance. Don’t simply dismiss these films as being old, outdated, or weird when you have never actually watched one.
If you don’t try these films you will not only miss out on stunning visuals, powerful stories, and memorable characters, but also on some terrific actors. People like Lon Chaney Sr, Douglas Fairbanks Sr, Lillian Gish, Louise Brooks, Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow and so many others. You’ll also miss out on directors like F.W Murnau, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D.W Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille.
Where To Begin?
You are going to watch your first Silent film, but you don’t know which film to see first. I would say pick something that is from your favourite genre. Don’t immediately try one of the very long feature films like Metropolis for example. You may get lucky as I did, and end up really enjoying your first Silent, even if it is a long feature, but on the other hand you may well end up getting bored and will be more likely to continue avoiding these films. So I’d say that you should maybe try something that appeals to your tastes before checking out other types of Silent films.
A good place to start is to try a comedy short. If your going to do that I would heartily recommend the films of the legend that is Buster Keaton (seen on the DVD cover above). This comic genius made both comedy film shorts and feature films. He was the master of physical comedy, and had perfect timing. He also performed some of the most jaw dropping film stunts ever captured on film. If you like comedy you can’t go wrong with Buster’s work. Charles Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and Harold Lloyd’s films are also highly recommended to comedy fans.
If you are interested in seeing the famous stunning visuals, epic running time, or visual trickery of Silent films, then these films are ones that I would highly recommend that you watch: The Phantom Carriage (1921), Battleship Potemkin (1925)The Thief Of Bagdad(1924), Orphans Of The Storm (1921),Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928), A Trip To The Moon (1902), The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920), Metropolis (1927),The General (1926),Nosferatu(1922) and The Man With The Movie Camera (documentary, from 1929).
The following are three feature films that I love a great deal. I think they are all lovely films, and they are all very easy to get into. I’d recommend them all as good starting places for people new to Silent cinema.
1- Shooting Stars (1928) This British Silent is a behind the scenes look at filmmaking. It follows three actors, and is funny, suspenseful and very moving. I think this film was the first to show audiences what goes on behind the scenes and how shots are achieved. We see how the screen fiction is achieved and made believable. You can read my full review of this film here.
2– The Artist (2011) This film has introduced a new generation to Silent films. It is a charming, funny, and also a very moving look at the fleeting nature of film stardom. This is a beautiful homage not only to the Silent era, but also to films such as A Star Is Born and Singin’ In The Rain.
3- It (1927) No killer clowns to be found here. Instead this is an enchanting story about a shop girl who falls for her wealthy boss. This is the film that showed the world the star quality of the great Clara Bow. Clara is a great favourite of mine, and she is notable because her acting style still feels modern and very natural when viewed by us today.
I could go on and on about Silent cinema, but I don’t want to bore you all. 🙂 I hope that I have piqued your interest in these films if you have yet to check out Silent films. Let me know how you get on if you decide to check out Silent films for the first time.
If you are already a fan I would love to hear from you. How did you become a fan, what are your favourites? Did you put off seeing them for ages?(like me). I sometimes feel like an oddity because I’m 29 and don’t know anyone else my age who loves these wonderful films. Is there anyone else out there of a similar age who loves Silent films?