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Silent Films and Directors


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Kevin Brownlow's "Hollywood" had a major impact on me when I first saw it back in the late 1970s/early 1980s.


All those wonderful people on camera talking about the early days of filmmaking and how much fun it was and how much work it was. Everyone knew everyone it seemed and they made filmmaking sound more like the collaborative artform it is than modern movies often seem.


The first time I saw some of King Vidor's silent films was here in Los Angeles on a double bill at the old Vagabound Theatre on Wilshire. Almost thirty years later, scenes from those films are still playing in my head.


Alan Dwan and the movies he made with Doug, Sr, the same thing.


These men and women created the American silent film, started an industry and taught us all to see things visually.


I would love to hear what others think of silent film directors and scenes that have stayed with you.

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The silent Director started with there own style ,not copying from another media. They envisioned the film/story like an Author of a book, not stealing or being compared to others.

Like so many of the films from the silent era, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" 1919 gets overlooked (if you can even find it!) for big budget duds, and runny romantic comedies. Directors of the period like Griffith, Lang, Eisenstien, and Caligari's Robert Wiene, are never given the credit they deserve. And if credit is given, it is in small cultish circles in various pockets around the world.

Weine used gestures and motions that the actors used to get their point across, instead of words. Some will say silent stars were better actors due to the emotions of the actor rather than the words to tell the tale. Wiene also used hues of color in different sets like greenish for day and grayish for night even if the set was the same to move the film along making in feel eerie even without the music.I just resently found this film in N.Y. on DVD and it has been restored in pretty good condition. Starring a very young Conrad Veidt. 8 out of 10.


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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

Hi, Mike--


Sorry that I did not find this thread before now, 'cause I definitely can contribute.

I've been a major silent film fan for years, and introduce other folks to this glorious art form whenever I can.


My all time favorite silent film is D.W. Griffth's "Intolerance" (1916), which is incredible in its interweaving of four stories occuring in different historical epochs. Nothing like this had been done prior to "Intolerance," of course, and nothing has really been done like it since. Separate stories are usually self-contained in newer films, certainly not presented as they are in Griffith's 'mighty spectacle.' where a shot of Christ on the cross can be followed immediately by a shot of Bobby Harron on the scaffold, followed by a shot of Josephine Crowell smiling in unfeigned delight at the slaughter of scores of French Hugenots. And it goes on like this for 3 hours of course, all devised in the head of Mr.Griffith. (The film was made without a script!)


Now that's vision. It is too bad it could not be absorbed by audiences in its day, or who knows where silent film might have advanced in the decade from 1917 to 1927. Griffith himself retreated from his landmark ideas in the wake of "Intolerance"'s commercial failure, making much more reactionary, simply-structured films like "Broken Blossoms" and "Orphans of the Storm." Not bad films, mind you, but totally lacking the explosive sense of discovery and experimentation that had characterized both "Intolerance," and its immediate predecessor "The Birth of a Nation."


As for my favorite single film scene, check out Sergei Eisenstein's "Ocktybr" (aka "10 Days that Shook the World") from 1928. This admittedly didactic and emotionally frigid film contains a scene in which angry Bolsheviks seize and raise a bridge that forces of Czarist Russia are seeking to use as part of a street battle. Electricly edited, at a fever pace, this scene has some of the most incendiary and brilliant imagry I've ever seen. Happily, "Ocktybr" ain't even that hard to find, having been released on DVD by the indispensible Image Co., which has also issued "Intolerance" and "Caligari", for what it is worth.



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  • 5 months later...

The silent movies that had the greatest impact on me have been two German films, THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI and F. W. Murnau's FAUST. The only American silent movie that has come close in terms of the "taking your breath away" factor is the 1924 THIEF OF BAGDAD with Douglas Fairanks snr and Anna May Wong. That's not to say I haven't been highly impressed by other silent movies, it's just that those three have been the most outstanding among many very very fine movies. As for acting performances, I'd go for Louise Brooks in PANDORA'S BOX or Garbo in FLESH AND THE DEVIL.

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There are so many, but perhaps my favorite is Lillan Gish in "Way down East" (1920) when she is on the cakes of ice on the frozen river and the hero is jumping from one cake to another to rescue her before she goes over the waterfall.

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> Well you'd need a laserdisc player, of course.


Oh no! Not another piece of hardware. I'm a person who can destroy electronic hardware just by looking at it, just by being in the same room with it. I might have to wait for this one to get a DVD release.

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