How to Introduce People to the Wonderful World of Silent Film?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jason_Els, May 28, 2002.

  1. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    As I sit here enjoying the Harold Lloyd marathon, I'm chatting with one of the younger guys in a chat room and I'm asking him to tune into TCM's Harold Lloyd marathon and this is what happens:

    Me: and his movies are hysterically funny
    Him: bah, silent
    Him: i need noise

    I'm not obssessive about silent film but there are SO many great ones out there. I have to say I'm dismayed by the reaction above which is far too typical of people. I'd love to just grab people and tell them that silent films are as aware and meaningful as any films today. Just the vibrant wealth of the German Expressionist period alone! How many people have any idea of the contributions Karl Freund has made to film and television? Or the stark and powerful work of Dreyer? Pre-Hayes Hollywood? The delightful and engaging Melies (a Spielberg of his day)? Theda Bara? Garbo before she talked? Swanson before she was ready for her close-up? Ever put on a dvd of Chaplin, Keaton, or Mack Sennett shorts for young kids who don't know enough to poo-poo silents?

    Personally I find so many silent classics to be more powerful than a lot of the stuff Hollywood cranks out today and while it's sad to see mass consumerism and political correctness take its toll on creativity I feel like I'm browsing through a treasure of cultural and artistic history left to us from a generation now all but gone.

    Someone once said, "Who knew there were ceilings before Kane?", and I replied immediately, "the Germans!"

    How can we convince J6p or even people relatively (particularly!) sophisticated in current cinema to take a serious look at these gems? It saddens me to see silent film in such poor regard when I know that if just given a chance so many of these wonderful films will delight, enlighten and certainly entertain. I admit finding them is certainly a challenge though DVD has nearly exclusively introduced me to the silent era save for a few Chaplin reels and Phantom of the Opera shown to us locally by a silent historian, Bown Adams (who I was far too young to converse with while he lived).

    Am I on the wrong track? Does anyone share my concerns? Am I prematurely lamenting the genre? I'd love to have some discussion about this.

    Thank you very much!
     
  2. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Alas, Jason, you have smacked headlong into the wall separating art from entertainment. Those who look at film solely as entertainment not only want sound, but color also--and an aspect ratio of at least 1.85:1.

    How to turn on a film newbie--and this could be a person of any age--to silent films?

    I always suggest Eisenstein's Potemkin. If one cannot get caught up in the drama and artistry of that breakthrough film, he or she is not worth the time or effort.
     
  3. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    Can't believe I left out Russia (or Griffith!) ugh. These guys were seminal in every sense of the word. So few art forms can be traced from their moment of invention, I hope we never, ever lose it. This is our Lascaux.
     
  4. Peter M Fitzgerald

    Peter M Fitzgerald Screenwriter

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  5. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Jack,
    I too don't totally agree with that statement. I view films solely as entertainment and my love for this craft goes back to the silent era.




    Crawdaddy
     
  6. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    Well, I view film as both art and entertainment, but do not care much for films that are artistic, but don't provide a least a basic level of entertainment. And there are certainly some silent films that fall in that category for me. On the other hand, there are some silent films that I find to be among the most entertaining, such as The Gold Rush.
    I think it just has to do with what people are used to. I know people who won't watch black & white films much less silent. And some who consider a movie made before 1990 as too old to be looked at. [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  7. Scott Leopold

    Scott Leopold Supporting Actor

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    "How to Introduce People to the Wonderful World of Silent Film?" I'd suggest having a big stick handy.

    I've run into the same obstacle with a lot of people I know. They just can't imagine a silent film being entertaining. Another attitude I've noticed is the folks with the kick-ass home theater set up, who love to blow people away playing Gladiator full blast, not being able to comprehend why anyone would want silent films on DVD, let alone play them on their window-rattling systems.

    I continue to tell people I know about the silent films I enjoy, and encourage them to at least watch them. One person I've tried my hardest to convince is my 11 year old son. He's great when it comes to movies, and has a true love of many of the classics, ranging from Kurosawa to Howard Hawks. He tells me he prefers B&W, mainly because the shadows look neater. And despite the influence of his grandparents (a couple of whom hate widescreen), he's now an OAR advocate. However, I've had a real problem getting him to appreciate musicals and silent films. Aside from a few musicals (Oliver!, Willy Wonka, Wizard of Oz & the Blues Brothers) and all the old singing cowboy westerns, he doesn't enjoy musicals--which is pretty much how I was at his age. And despite having no problem sitting through the subtitled versions of Chushingura, High & Low and Seven Samurai, he doesn't like silents because: 1) they're not saying anything, and 2) he doesn't like reading the title cards. Last night, though, may have changed things, at least as far as silents go.

    He had finished his homework and was getting ready for bed. I asked him if he wanted to stay up to watch Safety Last. He said sure, but almost changed his mind when he saw it was silent. I convinced him to stay, and before long the whole family was laughing hysterically. We all enjoyed it thouroughly, and my son is now eager to watch the rest of the silent films in our collection. And I didn't even have to use that big stick on him.
     
  8. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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  9. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    In a short statement "It's very difficult".

    I have two roommates, both of whom look at me crooked and can't wait to get out of the room when I'm watching a silent movie. Last night they were yelling at me to turn on the NBA playoffs as though it were a more valid form of entertainment.

    I think the main problem is that it takes a much higher level of concentration to watch a silent movie. You can't look away or do another task while casually watching a these movies or you may miss a piece of information that is critical to the plot.

     
  10. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Holadem Lead Actor

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  13. Rain

    Rain Producer

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    Two words: Sherlock Jr. Short, sweet and funny as hell.
    I showed this one to a friend of mine (let's call her Jane Six Pack) and she loved it.
     
  14. Darren H

    Darren H Second Unit

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    Damn, Rain, you beat me to the punch. For the first few months after I got the DVD I made everyone who came over to see a film sit through Sherlock, Jr. before the "main feature." Several people did so reluctantly, but all were soon converted. That film is irresistable.
     
  15. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    B&W I've had a much easier time with but for different reasons.
    With women I always show "Casablanca" first. I think there's a female gene that makes them feel obligated to see it and during parts of the movie I'll comment about the quality of the picture or how the monochrome look "adds" to the effect. After that it usually isn't so hard particularly if I follow it up with "Laura". I have yet to find a woman who didn't come to love these movies as some of their favorites.
    With men it's much more difficult. Usually I have to resort to "Seven Samurai" or, for the more intellectual, "The Seventh Seal". "Citizen Kane" is good too as is "The Third Man" or "Manuchurian Candidate". If all else fails "Dr. Strangelove" will surely do it.
    Silents are next to impossible though sometimes I've resorted to showing a Chaplin, Keaton, or two while doing dishes after dinner before I show a film. I WISH I could make my own DVDs for just such events! I could put in a familiar Chaplin but then throw in Melies or Lumiere brothers short toward the the end as curiosities, pointing out that these are over 100 years old.
    But for feature-length films I nearly always despair. I loan people "Phantom of the Opera" or "Nosferatu" and many times I get the disc back unwatched, "Sorry, didn't have the time." Yet I know that had I leant them "Sixth Sense" or "Pulp Fiction" it would have been watched that night.
    I leant a Christian friend, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" thinking it might be inspiring to his faith yet it seemed to make little impression. Same reaction when I gave it to my mother. She even said, "I'm sorry, I fell asleep. I didn't know it was silent." [​IMG] And this is one of the most powerful films ever made!
    I wish I could break through this barrier. Like Eric I have gotten to kids much easier; a big screen TV and Keaton or Chaplin make their day! It's remarkable just how much kids love these comedies with all their physical humor and I never have to worry that they might come across something their parents would deem inappropriate. But how do we translate that into watching "Potemkin" or "Greed" or "Sunset"? How do we reveal this rich era to adults reared on Nintendo (like me!) if we don't get them early?
     
  16. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    What has interested me in styles and genres of movies I was prejudiced against, initially, was seeing one of the best-of films from that category. Ghost in the Shell introduced me to anime. It's a Wonderful Life was really what convinved me that "old" movies don't universally suck. And Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon renewed my interest in foreign films.
    This week, Ebert did a top-10 DVD list. One of which was a Buster Keaton movie. It looked really good, and I've been meaning for a while to try out the older silents. So I have to track down that movie.
    To make a long story short (too late!) I suggest inviting your friend(s) over to watch the your all-time favorite silent movie. By first showing the one of the best examples, they will hopefully be interested to see another excellent film.
     
  17. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    Tim RH Second Unit

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  19. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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  20. John Berggren

    John Berggren Producer

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    I'd say the best way would be if you could find an art house that is doing a silent film with a live orchestra. I saw both Metropolis and Aelita Queen of Mars this way. I don't think I'd have had any interest in silent film otherwise.

    In these instances, the orchestra did not overpower the film. Both groups were under 10 members and were seated at the front of a traditional movie house. Excellent experience.
     

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