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Silent film

Era: 1890s - 1900s - 1910s - 1920s

Late 20th century directors who have paid homage to silent film: Jacques Tati

Silent film directors: Cecil B. DeMille - Abel Gance - Georges Méliès - Louis Feuillade

Silent film actors: Lon Chaney - Theda Bara - Clara Bow - Hedy Lamarr

Related: silence - intertitles - early film - serial films - sound film

Before 1927 films were "silent" and had to rely on intertitles to render speech or voiceover. Here is an example of the intertitles to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Because of the lack of recorded sound, films were an international product, a film distributor only had to change the intertitles for a different language version.

One of the most enduring images of the silent era: Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (USA, 1925)

Theda Bara in a publicity shot for A Fool There Was (1915) - Frank Powell [Amazon.com]


A silent film is a film with no accompanying, synchronized recorded spoken dialogue. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as the motion picture itself, but because of the technical challenges involved, most films were silent before the late 1920s. The silent film era is sometimes referred to as the "Age of the Silver Screen".. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film [Mar 2006]


Since silent films had no synchronized sound for dialogue, onscreen intertitles were used to narrate story points, present key dialogue and sometimes even comment on the action for the cinema audience. The title writer became a key professional in silent film and was often separate from the scenario writer who created the story. Intertitles (or titles as they were generally called at the time) often became graphic elements themselves, featuring illustrations or abstract decorations that commented on the action of the film or enhanced its atmosphere. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film#Intertitles [Feb 2006]

See also: silent films - title

Live music and sound

Showings of silent films almost always featured live music, starting with the pianist at the first public projection of movies by the Lumière Brothers on December 28, 1895 in Paris (Cook, 1990). From the beginning, music was recognized as essential, contributing to the atmosphere and giving the audience vital emotional cues (musicians sometimes played on film sets during shooting for similar reasons). Small town and neighborhood movie theaters usually had a pianist. From the mid-teens onward, large city theaters tended to have organists or entire orchestras. Massive theatrical organs such as the famous "mighty Wurlitzer" could simulate some orchestral sounds along with a number of sound effects. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film#Live_music_and_sound [Mar 2006]

Acting techniques

The medium of silent film required a greater emphasis on body language and facial expression so the audience could better understand what an actor was feeling and portraying on screen. Combined with cultural differences arising from the passage of time, modern-day audiences may be disoriented watching some films from the silent era. Silent comedies tend to be more popular in the modern era than drama, partly because overacting is more natural in comedy. However, some silent films were quite subtly acted, depending on the director and the skill of the actors. Overacting in silent films was sometimes a habit actors transferred from their stage experience and directors who understood the intimacy of the new medium discouraged it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film#Acting_techniques [Mar 2006]

Later homages

Several filmmakers have paid homage to the comedies of the silent era, including Jacques Tati with his Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953), Mel Brooks with Silent Movie (1976) and indie filmmaker Eric B. Borgman with his film The Deserter (2004). Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's acclaimed drama Three Times (2005) is during its middle third a silent, complete with intertitles; Stanley Tucci's The Impostors has an opening silent sequence in the style of early silent comedies. The style is also echoed in the 1999 German film Tuvalu. Guy Maddin won awards for his homage to soviet era silent films for his short The Heart of the World. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film#Later_homages [Mar 2006]

Silent horror

Haxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages) (1922) - Benjamin Christensen [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

L'horreur cinématographique est apparue dès les débuts du cinéma sans toutefois le revendiquer. Sous prétexte de vérité historique ou documentaire, le cinéma muet nous a donné des films avec des scènes horrifiques étonnantes dans le contexte de l'époque:

Le premier vrai choc psychologique impliquant un public remonte à 1903 avec la célébre séquence XIV du "Great Train Robbery". Dans celle-ci, Barnes, le chef des hors-la-loi, vise en gros plan sur le spectateur... et tire. --http://perso.wanadoo.fr/tpehorreur/tpehorreur/Histoire%20des%20films%20d'horreur.htm [Jun 2005]

inspired by Dictionnaire du fantastique - de Alain Pozzuoli, Jean-Pierre Kremer [Amazon.fr]

see also: witchcraft - french - horror film - 1922

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