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I Can't Watch Silents


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Lord knows, I've tried to appreciate silent movies.

Impossible!

Of course, I really can't stand most color films, although MGM musicals in '50's Technicolor are breathtaking.

Give me b&w noir, RKO mid-century any day. Just the thought of Howard Hughes running the studio in his underwear from a screening room on Fountain Ave., existing on canned soup and candy bars... now that's the picture business!

 

Edited by: Ascotrudgeracer on Oct 20, 2011 12:27 AM

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Perhaps if you knew a little more about the history of silent cinema, it might become more accessible to you. (Note I didn't say "you'd begin to appreciate it," because that sounds rather patronizing, and silent films have a "language" all their own.)

 

I have no idea if you are familiar with the landmark Kevin Brownlow/David Gill documentary series from 1980, "Hollywood," 13 one-hour episodes on the silent era. Rights issues have precluded its release on DVD, but it can now be accessed via YouTube (for some reason, one of the eps can't be directly put up there, but a link is provided). You can learn more about it, including links to each episode, at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/452990.html. Give it a try, and while I can't guarantee it will turn you into a fan of silents, you might better understand how they evolved.

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"Wings" (1927)

Abel Gance's "Napol?on" (1927)

"Nosferatu" (1922)

"The Unholy Three" (1925)

"The Unknown" (1927)

"The Rag Man" (1925)

"The Family Secret" (1924)

"The Scarlet Letter" (1928)

"Intolerance" (1916)

"Ben Hur" (1925)

"The King of Kings" (1927)

 

Beside not hearing their voices (duh), what's *not* to like about those listed?

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[~Ascotrudgeracer]Give me b&w noir, RKO mid-century any day.

 

Totally agree, Ascotrudgeracer, or from any other studio for that matter.

 

I really can't stand most color films

 

Again, true.

 

Keaton is a wonder, and his silent work is a marvel to behold, but Chaplin and most of the others send me screaming from the room.

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I can completely understand anyone's dislike of silent film watching them on TV.

For whatever reason, silents are best first experienced in a theater setting with an audience. Maybe the size immerses you into the screen, maybe hearing the audience reaction helps, I don't know.

 

Silents are pantomime, not unlike cartoons. They do not rely on "talky" dialogue but instead on movement. Some early silents, especially dramas can bore me, they are often just too slowly paced.

 

I find Chaplin & Keaton are the easiest to watch since they are fast moving and have funny bits. I am surprised at their watchability even at home.

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That's super...

 

*Head hits desk*

 

General comments:

 

Silents = Pantomime - In some ways but most silent acting, especially from the 1920s on, is exactly the same as talkie era acting, just without the talking. The thing that makes it seem different is often the film speed (even correct, sensible, speed) and the framerate. Buster Keaton and John Gilbert didn't do the same thing. The silent era invented the screen acting that everyone here likes.

 

The cartoon comparison I feel gives a very distorted picture of what silent acting actually looked like (some of it undoubtedly was but most of it wasn't.)

 

Silents = A language of their own - Maybe a little but Classical Hollywood Style and the mode of production was basically perfected by 1920 and didn't change much. Sternberg in the 20s = Sternberg in the 30s. I suppose comedy changed in some ways but then only the very specific kind that Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin created - Clara Bow, Marion Davies, and Corinne Griffith were in movies that functioned just like the comedies of the 30s.

 

Instead of making unnecessary excuses for silent films, which are only superficially "alien", we should be emphasizing how similar, familiar, it all is...because it is.

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I respectfully disagree, or want to elaborate on your comment, Jonas.

 

Yes, the acting style is "exactly the same" but the experience is wholly different. Often silent film is pantomime. You can't be distracted.

 

My studio is located next to my living room (with the TV) I often "listen" to TCM while working. Many, many films are "dialogue driven" and I don't even need to watch them. 99% of the time, the actors convey meaning through their lines. I recently listened to IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE for example. It was fine.

You really notice actor's voice style this way. Eve Arden comes to mind.

I also noticed while watching Buster Keaton, I hear his distinctive voice in my head, odd.

 

And really, no one says you HAVE to like any genre. I understand those who don't care for silents, or horror, epics or whatever.

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I wasn't a big fan of silents, either, and I can't say even now that I am, but certain films like *The Passion of Joan of Arc* (1928) was so arresting in terms of theme and camerawork that I was riveted, watching it. *Birth of a Nation* is similar. When I watch silents, besides wanting a good plot (the plot would have to be especially good to hold my attention for a silent), I also like to look at the scenery, and even the props to get into that particular era. I love Murnau films like *Sunrise* because the settings are so beautiful. Borzage is another great director (*Lazybones*).

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More silent gems:

 

The Hoodlum (Pickford, 1919)

 

Within Our Gates (1920) Oscar Micheaux's answer to The Birth of a Nation

 

 

The Blot (Louis Calhern, 1920)

 

 

The Penalty (Chaney, 1921)

 

 

Lady of the Night (Shearer, 1924)

 

 

The Scarlet Letter (Gish, 1926)

 

 

Metropolis (1927)

 

 

The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928)

 

 

The Racket (Louis Wolheim, 1928)

 

 

A Lady of Chance (Shearer, 1928)

 

 

Speedy (Harold Lloyd and Babe Ruth, 1928)

 

 

Pandora's Box (Louise Brooks, 1929---coming up on TCM in November)

 

 

The Godless Girl (1929)

 

 

Diary of a Lost Girl (Brooks, 1929)

 

 

With the exception of Speedy, all of these films are straight dramas that could stand up with just about anything from the sound era. I defy anyone to find a more compelling villain than Lon Chaney's Blizzard in The Penalty ---and I've seen White Heat and 90% of the classic gangsters, noirs and mob movies. I can see the point that silents (and foreign films, if you don't understand the language) force you to actually pay attention to the screen---it's hard to enjoy a silent from the next room---but to dismiss the genre completely means that you're missing out on hundreds of great films.

 

Edited by: AndyM108 on Oct 20, 2011 11:31 AM

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I'm glad you wrote that Andy because I saw both Louise Brooks films you mentioned at the theater and was bored by them. I even overheard audience members complaining at how slowly paced they were. I've recorded Pandora's Box but just couldn't bring myself to watch it.

 

My favorite silent drama is The Cabinat of Dr Caligari. I think that's a visual feast.

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> {quote:title=Ascotrudgeracer wrote:}{quote}Lord knows, I've tried to appreciate silent movies.

> Impossible!

> Of course, I really can't stand most color films, although MGM musicals in '50's Technicolor are breathtaking.

> Give me b&w noir, RKO mid-century any day. Just the thought of Howard Hughes running the studio in his underwear from a screening room on Fountain Ave., existing on canned soup and candy bars... now that's the picture business!

>

> Edited by: Ascotrudgeracer on Oct 20, 2011 12:27 AM

>

Asco,i feel the same as you about silent movies. Iv'e tried to watch them but get bored very qiuckly,in fact they give me a headache.People can say what they want about them,praise them,go ga-ga over them,whatever,but i don't like them. I like the b&w movies too.Iv'e got approx.600-700 b&w movies(and still growing) from 1931-1965 recorded that i have to choose from to watch.

I recently bought a DVD copy of "*WE'RE NO ANGELS"(*1955) and the color is just eyepopping,extremely vivid,couldn't believe how good the color was.Iv'e seen the movie many times on tv,but never saw the intensity of color that i got with the DVD copy. JR.

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silents are a unique art form to themselves, it was a different kind of acting and I for one cannot take my eyes off the screen when i watch one.

 

try watching: Flesh and the Devil, Mysterious Lady, Love, any Garbo and Gilbert silents will let you seen real screen erotic acting at its finest, they have never ever been topped!

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Silent films were the birthplace of modern films, OK NEED WE BE BOMBARDED WITH THEM EVERY MONDAY IN 2011???? I understand and respect the purist sentiment seeking to preserve these iconic films, but that's their agenda for myself i find them as exciting as watching paint dry.

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I have often felt the same way about silent movies. For the most part I just can't get into them. But, there are some notable exceptions. I can definitely take Buster Keaton in small doses and some parts of the Murnau films, "Battleship Potemkin" and most of all, "The Passion of Joan of Arc". I came across "Joan of Arc" by accident a few years ago and I was dumbstruck from the minute I started watching it. It may be the only time I ever became so engrossed in the movie, that I actually forgot I was watching a silent movie. I know I will never forget Falconetti's face .

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To each his own, I guess. I'd take one Louise Brooks over a hundred Marilyn Monroes, and I'd rather watch grass grow in Antarctica than suffer through pap like Bus Stop or How to Marry a Millionaire a second time, but that's what's so great about TCM: It only pays attention to us when we're in our better moods, and ignores us when we're telling it to stop showing the ones we don't like.

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> {quote:title=AndyM108 wrote:}{quote}To each his own, I guess. I'd take one Louise Brooks over a hundred Marilyn Monroes, and I'd rather watch grass grow in Antarctica than suffer through pap like Bus Stop or How to Marry a Millionaire a second time, but that's what's so great about TCM: It only pays attention to us when we're in our better moods, and ignores us when we're telling it to stop showing the ones we don't like.

I get headaches trying to watch silent films,and i don't know who Louise Brooks was,but i wouldn't watch Marilyn Monroe either,even if i was paid to do it! JR

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To each his own

 

Bingo.

 

Those who loathe and despise silents are free to do so.

 

Those who think silents are the best thing since indoor plumbing are free to do so.

 

Nobody is going to convince nobody else of nuttin', not nohow, not noway.

 

Sheesh.

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For the most part, I enjoy the Silents.

 

 

But there is one Silent, *'Piccadilly' (1929)* with Anna May Wong

that I truly enjoy a lot, except for it's annoying Score.

It's much too 'modern and somewhat jazzy' sounding, to really appreciate

the movie. It's just not the kind of music that I would associate with a Silent.

 

 

Other than that, I find the movie interesting and very well 'paced'.

I like the different colors of 'TINT' for each change of scenery ...

yellow, blues, reds . . . and the movie is filmed in the U.K.

 

Here's just a little Sample of that 'Score' . . .

 

 

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRmT77eN6rUhRZ_HuJWcEcimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcRcpPYIEKYm4qDzyPR751aimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcSrGWirVm88W0903KuPsj-images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQKEhva9kYS03sXYh3GhcHimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcS7MjxOmGMHTPxgHO5UcBg

 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi Ascot!

 

Silent films suffer the downsize to your personal viewing on a small TV screen. The large theaters in the silent era offered a full live orchestra, sometimes with 20 or more musicians, as well as live sound effects. Sometimes even live vocalists were featured to sing the hit tunes concurrently with the playing of the movie, songs that the film was promoting . (The fact that these films were often designed to be delivery systems for song hits, to be spun off in sheet music, piano roll and records sales is almost counterintuitive to us today! The studios would often make just as much if not more from the marketing of film songs than from the film itself!)

 

Showcased in such a form, these films were a rich sensory immersion experience, not at all to be compared to home video viewing. It was a colossal package of performance art. The silent film experience was not silent!

 

In this day and age, once in a great while, we manage to get up our collective mojo and recreate this experience. Not often mind you, but we do do it, indeed we CAN do it when we REALLY want to! Years ago the *Chicago Symphony Orchestra,* at it's Orchestra Hall, accompanied the showing of *Chaplin's City Lights (1931),* using Chaplin's orchestral score! I absolutely guarantee you the experience was nothing at all like watching that flick at home! Some of TCM's annual festival silent entries get this royal treatment in Hollywood.

 

I would heartily suggest that viewers keep and open mind and keep their eyes open for such exhibitions. This is not for dwellers in small towns unfortunately; you will have to go to a big city for such showings. Even without an orchestra, such movies are greatly enhanced if there is at least a live organist. Projection on a large theater screen and the presence of a live audience with it's collective reaction is an invaluable gain to your viewing pleasure and appreciation. You can go to a number of revival theaters throughout the country to view such films, sans orchestra. You may move from silent movie skeptic to silent film buff!

 

Finally, the sheer age of these movies makes them interesting to watch, as they give contemporary glimpses of life in the 1920's. To me, any film 80-90 years old is like a time machine. It is a artifact of cultural archeology.

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I think silents can be an acquiredd taste. I actually prefer later silents, and my preference is also based on the director. Vidor's The Crowd and The Big Parade are both great films that hold up well today and present some timeless themes. Gilbert's acting in the latter is very natural. I find Garbo's acting in silents very natural as well. Murnau's Sunrise is also a beautiful film. In some ways, late silents (1925 and later) present tremendous advancement in cinematography, visual storytelling, and sheer beauty. Then, when talkies came, it seems as if the visual aspects of film took a step backward for a few years to accommodate the microphone. Some early talkies are actually much cruder than late silents. Some of the better early talkies, like All Quiet on the Western Front, have long stretches with no dialogue, letting the images tell the story.

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Silent Films are my passion. My life force. I feel sorry for people who remain ignorant to their greatness. If they have seen what I have seen they would be equally fascinated and captivated by the magic of a medium so unique and expressive onto itself. A medium of extrodinary depth. The most Romantic and moving films ever made are all Silents.Talkies did nothing to add to the creative process of the movie. In many cases, If took several years before they started to find their niche.The Silent film had just reached it's Apex as an Art form when it was prematurely replaced.
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