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Talking Silents


berkm66
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I saw the Lon Chaney special last night and was struck by the beauty of some of the clips. I'm wondering if voice-overs have ever been added to a silent. Not in a funny way but seriously, editing out the text and having different actors match the dialogue. Not much different than an animation voice-over. 'West of Zanzibar' would be my first choice.

 

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I'm with you, Nick, on keeping voices out of the silents! Let the musical score carry the movie. In another folder, I just posted a rave about the synchronized score for l928's, "The Man Who Laughed", the Paul Leni masterpiece that completely knocked me out! I got the restored version through my Netflix DVD rental service and watched it five times. The acting by Conrad Vedit, Olga Baclanova, was stunning! Mary Philbin was very good, too. What a stunner!

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  • 1 month later...

I'm probably in the minority on this one, but very often, I find the music on many silent films to be a distraction. If they primarily use a synthesizer or a solo piano, I tend to get bored, less so if it's an organ, but that's just a personal preference. Orchestral scores are the best, of course, and I greatly enjoy "modern" takes if it's done with skill and imagination, such as the TCM composer's competition or The Alloy Orchestra. Robert Israel is a very good composer of silent scores, but too many others have no idea what they're doing. Scores tend to be way too somber or too comical and always so repetitive. Fortunately for me, three of the venues which screen a lot of silents here in L.A. are equipped with organ accompaniment. At home, I tend to be a night owl and often watch silents in the wee hours, when there is no extraneous noise to contend with. If it's an abysmal score, I'll simply turn down the sound and watch it au naturale. You would be amazed at how compelling it can be watching a silent film in total silence.

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Adding voice overs to silent films deface classic pieces of history. It's so enjoyable to watch a film a century old just as people watched it when it was released. They need to be preserved, not altered.

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  • 1 month later...

I agree with eyelinerbetty. Voices in silent films would ruin the whole experience. The films were created around the fact that there was no sound and actions had to convey so much. Theres no need for voices. The actors 'say' it all without words!

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There is an exception to this rule which many lovers of silent film are unaware of. In the very early years silent films were often accompanied by a narrator/showman who would discretely stand to the side of the screen and comment on the action. This device helped early audiences to understand what was happening during the "primitive" years. Although not a primitive film in the true sense, a case in point is Gertie The Dinosaur (1909). In the earliest version of the film Winsor MacCay would stand by the screen and talk to Gertie, who would then react and do stunts. MacCay would even throw a ball behind the screen that Gertie would appear to catch. A later, recut version of the film incorporated title cards to substitute for the narrator. There is also a version of A Trip To The Moon (c1901) currently available on DVD with the original narration, penned by Georges Melies, included along with it. It is included on Melies the Magician, released through Facets Video.

Another interesting phenomenon was the Japanese Benshi (a narrator/showman) who accompanied Japanese silent films to the end of their silent era in the mid-thirties. They were so enormously popular that many had followings, and to see the Benshi was as much an important part of the experience as the film itself. Many became celebrities in their own right. Many of the silent Japanese films were designed with no (or very minimal) inter-title cards (akin to Murnau's The Last Laugh). However, as opposed to Murnau's effort, the films were constructed to have additional explanation. It can be mystifying to watch an unrestored Japanese film without the benefit of the Benshi and try to understand what is happening.

But, in the final analysis, I agree that films that did not originally have narration at the time of their release should not be altered to include narration. Part of the charm of the silent film is that it is "silent."

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Thanks for the education roylovessilents, very interesting.

And welcome to the boards. Not too many people find this part of the forums, so please return and post. I tried to get some people over here before but had little sucess.

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Hi LorreKarloff,

 

Thanks for the welcome. I used to post on the boards a long time ago but some very unpleasant individuals began abusing people so TCM shut the boards down. I look forward to seeing what's up this area. I'm a bit of an expert and am currently preparing a book on primitive films for publication. I have a Master's degree with a specialty in early film before Griffith. I'm thrilled to death over all the great compilations of early films that are being released on DVD. When I was earning my degree it was very difficult to see many of the films that are a standard part of early film history. Fortunately, companies like Kino on Video, Milestone and Image-Entertainment are doing a great job bringing obscure early films back in front of an audience.

 

Roy

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