Okay, so usually “Silent Sunday” is a day where I just post a short introduction and then let the movie “speak” (even though there’s no actual speaking) for itself. It’s a nice bit, and a fitting theme, and honestly a nice way to get a day’s worth of content up with minimal effort. Unfortunately though, it’s also a bit constricting at times, so I’m working on ways to change that, but, for today, while I’m still figuring out just what I want to do with that, I thought we’d explore something a little different.
So, in that vein, I thought I’d do a little experiment to see what would come up when I put the phrase “How to watch silent film” into the search bar on YouTube.
I mean, let’s be honest, watching silent films is a completely different experience not only from watching today’s movies, but even from watching those from just a few years after the introduction of sound. How could it not be? Even discounting the earliest films when the sheer novelty of watching “moving pictures” in a theater was a source of wonder, since at that point film was a more purely (though definitely not exclusively, and that’s something we’ll explore much more at another time) visual medium, it evolved a language and acting style that was more expressive and more suited to that kind of story telling.
Of course, this acting style is also a reflection of the fact that many of the earliest actors (and audiences, for that matter) were more accustomed to staged performances which encouraged broader performances that could reach the back of a large theater, and it took awhile for adjustments to be made for the more intimate portrayals that could be accomplished on film. This was something that even the early “talkies” were still often dealing with. One only has to look at Universal’s classic Dracula to see this effect. One of the most often-leveled criticisms of it by modern audiences is that it seems “stagey”, which should come as no surprise since it was adapted from a stage play and Bela Lugosi first honed his performance of the character in that play rather than coming to it fresh with the eyes of a film actor.
Anyway, I thought since we’re starting a new year, it might be a good time to take a fresh look at just how we watch these films. Thus, the search “How to watch silent films?” And, as I suppose you might expect, my search only really came up with a couple of real answers, I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not exactly a hot-button topic at the moment. So, I’ve also decided to include a couple of other items of interest on the topic.
Btw, understand that I’m not necessarily endorsing these videos, nor am I saying that any of these are the way that I would introduce a newcomer to the world of silent film. (We’ll get to that in a bit, possibly.) But there are a few pretty good takeaways here, and sometimes it’s good just to take a step back and take a fresh look at things. So here you go: