A Discussion on Silent Films

Discussion in 'Archive: The Amphitheatre' started by Ariana Lang, Aug 8, 2002.

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  1. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    I am a huge silent film fan. (Hey, just look at my AIM screen name.) I love the artsy way those old directors did black and white filming, I love the overdramatic acting, I love the sets, I love everything about them.

    I love silent films, but I tend to go for the more off-beat ones. The ones no one's ever heard of. Like "The Man Who Laughs" starring Conrad Veidt. The directing and camera versitility in that was amazing.

    I also really liked "Male and Female" starring Gloria Swanson, and based on a book called "The Admirable Chriton." The film quality of it, although it was made in 1919, is better than many movies made in the 30's and 40's, and it is not the typical silent film romance. There is a huge amount of humor in it too.

    Other silent films I've seen are "The Unknown" "The Phantom of the Opera" "The Eagle" "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari" and "Metropolis".


    I don't know how many other people like silent films. If you do, I'd like to discuss them. Like: What about silent films do you like? What actors or actresses particularly captivated you? How many have you seen? How did you get to love silent films? Do you think the art direction was better or worse than later black and white films? Who do you think was the best silent film actor? Actress? Director? Why? Silent films are no longer cutting-edge technology, so what are they? Classic art? Modern art? Somewhere in between?
    Discuss!
  2. Hatter Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 16, 2001
    star 4
    Well, I couldn't call myself a huge fan of the genre, but I do appreciate it. After seeing Shadow of the Vampire, I tracked down a copy of the original 1922 Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. It was quite chilling, to say the least. I felt that the silent film format and the age worked perfectly in the context of the story.

    Other than a few silent comedies from the '20's (which are usually funnier than modern slapstick), I haven't really seen any other silent films. I do really want to see Metropolis, though. I've seen the DVD going for a very low price, I should pick it up.
  3. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    Yay! I got a reply! I was afraid I was going to have to change the thread name to "A Monologue on Silent Films" ;)
  4. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 7
    Silent cinema has it's on aesthetic, in my opinion. It's beautiful when you consider the difficulties associated with it. Telling a story with no sound! You've got to admire those who could make it work.

    I'm mostly a fan of silent comedy.

    Chaplin was sheer genius. I've seen Modern Times, City Lights and The Gold Rush. The latter two are currently tied as my favorites. I'm not as crazy about Modern Times as some are.

    Buster Keaton was also quite the genius. I've seen The Navigator (his weakest), The General (not his best, like people say), Steamboat Bill, Jr. and Our Hospitality which are both so good it's breath taking.

    I'd really like to see Sunrise, Metropolis, Wings, Greed (fat chance!) and Sherlock Jr. I will do so eventually. :)

    Oh, yes, I've also seen The Birth of a Nation, which wasn't very good at all. Even seeing it as it's own thing, it was just over long and too preachy. The outstanding scenes are the couple of early battle scenes. Other than that, it starts falling apart.
  5. bright sith Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 27, 1999
    star 5
    I wouldn't count myself as knowledgable about silent films at all, but I've enjoyed them. Among silent comedy, I've seen the most of Buster Keaton. The two Jr. films are pure exhiliration, as joyful an experience as watching any film. (note: the current Kino DVDs have musical accompanyments, but the quality is uneven.)

    The only Griffith picture I've seen is Way Down East. It's social context is very different from today's, and it's story is simple, but it's told spectacularly, with a climax racing over a river with ice. Both Nosferatu and Metropolis are chilling, but I think Metropolis is holding up a lot better. I've read that there are new prints circulating around the country. If given a chance, don't miss it.

    And then there's Sunrise, another picture coming out of FW Murnau. It's easily one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. It has very few title cards, and Murnau seems to reach a visual style that goes straight to the heart. I don't think there is any other movie that made me cry three times in its first half. [face_blush] Sunrise is oen of the first to have synchronized music and effects track. It was later re-scored by someone else, so if you find a VHS or LD copy, make sure ot listen to the original score. It's one of the first, and it's one of the absolute best scores.

    Even though I haven't seen enough silent films to comment on their general style, I think the fact that Sunrise came out right before the talkies, and that it's visual powers are so astonishing, it's probably one of the films that best utilizes its direction and photography. The advant of sound is IMHO a positive progression, but while filmmakers of the sound era like to say they look back at the silent films, very few have matched the visual impact of Sunrise. If all filmmakers can combine the visual powers of the best silent pictures with sound, then I think the silent pictures would have less appeal to us. The reason we still find them so appealing is because not all movies have sustained that visual sophistication.
  6. Kitt327 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 23, 2000
    star 4
    I just saw Sunrise today actually. Ah, so romantic :) I love the bit where they cause a traffic jam because they're kissing in the street. Also that bit where they get that photo taken ... ah, I'm just a sap.

    I wish someone had told me Birth of a Nation was three hours before I started watching it ;) The other one I've seen by D.W. Griffith is Broken Blossoms.
  7. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    So where do y'all get your fix of silent films? AMC Silent Sunday nights? Buy videos? What?
  8. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 7
    Two words: Library. Er, no, wait . . .

    Seriously, every silent film I've ever seen, I got through the library system. :)
  9. Radiohead Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 31, 2002
    star 4
    Yes, the libarary is a great source for free films.

    Also, I'm one of the many people that think Buster Keaton is underappreciated. He had far more range as an actor than did Charlie Chaplin and his films were generally more daring and innovative. Keaton's great film, The General, probably best exemplifies his many talents. Keaton did lack one thing, however, that Chaplin had in bunches: pathos. Both were great silent film stars, but I'll take Keaton over Chaplin.
  10. WormieSaber Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2000
    star 5
    Silent films are so over-looked in film history. Literally thousands of them were made, and just as much were destroyed back in the day, due to value. Nobody thought they were really worth anything! Everyone wanted talkies...or even before that, after so many viewings, silent film prints were randomly destroyed. It was costumary; they were cheaply made by the thousands.

    So many silent films are lost in time forever, never to be seen again. :(

    Isn't there a cable channel that shows these silent films though? Turner Classics perhaps?
  11. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    Turner Classic shows them some, and I believe it's AMC that has "Silent Sundays" where they show one silent film every Sunday night
  12. yodafett999 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 24, 2000
    star 4
    Battleship Potempkin is an excellent silent film.

    Birth of a Nation, any of Hitchock's silent era offerings, early Allan Dwan, Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau..........all great stuff

    For weird you need to check out Un chien andalou (An Andalousian Dog). It's not designed to make sense in a narrative fashion but is merely a collection of dreams that artist Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Bunuel had. It was considered shocking and disturbing at the time and there is one scene that still makes me turn away from the screen.

    Woo silent films!
  13. ParanoidAni-droid Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2001
    star 4

    I believe it's TCM that has the silent sundays, Ariana. And I think I've seen that film, "the man who laughs." It either stars Lon Channey or is a horror film with this dude that has a messed up grill... I forget which. :)

    Anybone ever see the original silent Ben Hur? They use the three strip colour system in some scenes and the result looks like a beautiful painting IN MOTION! It's Grrrrreat!

    ~PAd

  14. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    I've seen about half of the silent Ben Hur. I love how in the chariot race scene they cast a blue-eyed guy to play the bad guy. Blue eyes looked so so creepy if lit right in those old silent films.

    And although "The Man Who Laughs" was originally cast with Lon Chaney, he quit and Conrad Veidt got the role instead. Messed up grill??? ?[face_plain]
  15. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 7
    Ah, I forgot Battleship Potemkin. I have seen that one. The Odessa Steps sequence is the most well known and with good reason. It's brilliantly done, inspiring references in films as diverse as Bananas, The Untouchables and the Naked Gun 33 1/3. :D

    I did also finally get Sherlock, Jr. watched. Fantastic film! Keaton was such a genius! Whoo, that pool table sequence is a riot! [face_laugh]

    Regarding Keaton vs. Chaplin, I don't really feel that it's wise to compare. Keaton was the more daring physically, but Chaplin had the better understanding of emotion on film. They were both geniuses in their own particular way. I think we need both.
  16. Radiohead Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 31, 2002
    star 4
    Regarding Keaton vs. Chaplin, I don't really feel that it's wise to compare. Keaton was the more daring physically, but Chaplin had the better understanding of emotion on film. They were both geniuses in their own particular way. I think we need both.

    Yes, it's true that it's better to have both, but I also I think that it is reasonable to compare. These guys are the biggest silent film stars ever and, more importantly, they were contemporaries.
  17. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    I think it's jumping to conclusions to say they were the biggest silent film stars EVER. Lon Chaney was also very very famous in another genre of silent films. So was Mary Pickford in yet another genre. I agree that Keaton and Chaplin were the biggest in their genre, but I don't think they were the biggest EVER.
  18. Radiohead Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 31, 2002
    star 4
    Well, let me ask you this: when you think of "silent films," don't the names Keaton and Chaplin pop up in your mind automatically?
  19. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 7
    At the time, Chaplin and Keaton weren't really the biggest silent film stars, but looking back, they are considered to be the most influential. Mary Pickford or Lillian Gish might have taken down a larger salary than they did, but they hardly had the kind of far ranging effects on their genre as Keaton and Chaplin did.

    Heck, the two of them influenced everyone from Woody Allen to Fredrico Fellini to Daffy Duck.

    At the time of course, it was just two guys taking pratfalls and so they didn't receive the honors that they have lately. It's only in retrospect that we see how close they both were to genius. :)
  20. waheennay Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 29, 2000
    star 4
    It always blows my mind to see a Buster Keaton movie. Movies like THE GENERAL and SHERLOCK JR. are incredible.
  21. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    RadioHead: No, they don't. Maybe it's all those crossword puzzles I played as a child, but Lon Chaney is the first name I think of when I hear "silent films."

    Keaton and Chaplin are both very good silent film actors, and very influental in the comedy genre. But Lon Chaney and his films set the standards for makeup and acting in horror films that still exist today. Dracula, Frankenstein, all of those were influenced by things Lon Chaney did.
  22. yodafett999 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 24, 2000
    star 4
    Ariana, it's true that Lon Chaney set the standard for horror movies and make-up but by that same token so have Chaplin and Keaton influenced comedy as it is today. Slapstick would not exist if it were not for them. Physical comedy began with them and is still very much in effect today in the antics of Jim Carrey and others. Douglas Fairbanks influenced the action/adventure and stunt genres of film. Rudolph Valentino was the most influential in silent era romance films.

    There are numerous examples throughout the silent era but Chaplin and Keaton are definitely considered two of the most influential and accomplished of them all, not only for what they did in from of the camera but for what they also did behind it.

    There's room to enjoy them all :)
  23. ParanoidAni-droid Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2001
    star 4

    Ariana: Messed up grill = really bad teeth. ;)

    I was thinking that it may have been a horror film about this guy who was born with a deformed mouth. REALLY freaky looking! Perhaps that's your Conrad? :confused: So was Chaney in it or not? Perhaps the Chaney flick I'm thinking of is "He who is slapped"? It does get so confusing! ;)

    Chaplin and Keaton and that third innovative comedian who usually goes forgotten (see, I don't even remember his name! :) ) truly amaze me. I mean, some of the stuff they did was just so novel and ahead of its time! Some were down right dangerous. If today's filmmakers were anywhere near as ambitious as they were, the medium as a whole would be infinetly more progressive.

    I've never seen Battleship Potemkin. I know, I know, I'm a light weight! ;) No, seriously, I've just been saving this gem for a rainy day. I haven't had the patience nor the time for silent films lately.

    My favorite Chaney flick
    so far is Phantom of the Opera. Those images are erriely beautiful and his make-up is astounding.

    ~PAd

  24. yodafett999 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 24, 2000
    star 4
  25. Ariana Lang Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Oct 10, 1999
    star 5
    Chaney was supposed to be in it, but he dropped out at the last minute and they pulled in Conrad Veidt. Veidt did an amazing job -- because his mouth was pulled into a forced smile the entire time, and obviously he didn't have dialogue, so everything he felt had to come through his eyes. And he pulled it off beautifully. He is a much underrated actor, in my opinion. Most people just know him as Major Strausser in Casablanca.
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