Why write about silent pictures?
I mean, after all, they’re ancient history. Irrelvant..and so inconvenient with all of those durn subtitles. Who wants to see a movie and have to read? Geeks and connoseurs can keep them, right? What do those old fossils have anything to do with the movies we see today with their mega-million-dollar budgets and CGI-infested plots? Right?
Ate you kidding moi?
Is there still anything scarier than Lon Chaney’s unmasking in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA?
Anything more graceful and athletic than Chaplin’s one man acrobatic tour de force in ONE A.M.
Anything funnier than Buster Keaton on the run from hundreds of jilted brides in SEVEN CHOICES?
Any one who can tug at your heartstrings and make you cry better than Janet Gaynor in SUNRISE?
Irrelvant? Bosh! Inconvenient? Nay. It’s still story telling…and even more artistic storytelling since there is no dialogue to carry the story. In silent pictures, emotion, body language, and music tells you everything you need to know about what the character is feeling. They are the most visual of pictures, demanding concentration and your attention. Even a hilarious short like Laurel & Hardy’s BIG BUSINESS requires you to watch the screen at all times as the comic destruction unfolks. Those with short attention spans might find silents boring but it takes intellectual commitment to follow a picture like GREED as it web of doom gradually encircles and destroys lives and be amazed by the audacity of what is director tried to accomplish. Silent pictures are not for sissies. They are both art and history. They were made in the 1920’s as modern history was beginning. Remember, the American film industry became the world’s leader BECAUSE of these pictures…not in spite of them. And with 90% of silent pictures lost, what remains is a mere sample of what audiences loved back in those days.
There’s silent pictures available in DVD…some of them are available for viewing free on the interweb. I personally have SILENT MOVIE SUNDAYS every Sunday night. Tonight will be Paul Leni’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS. I will watch because silents have one true advantage over today’s pictures:
THEY’RE ABOUT PEOPLE.