Silent Films Power

         The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as the motion picture itself because of the technical challenges involved, most films were silent before the late 1920s. But the silent picture was a universal language through its messages. The silent film era is mostly referred to as the “Age of the Silver Screen.”

         The art of motion pictures grew into full maturity before silent films were replaced by talking motion pictures, but many believe the quality of cinema actually decreased for several years as the new medium of sound was adapted to the movies. The visual quality of silent movies was often extremely high, but when these movies were later televised, the prints were of poor second, or even third generation copies that were made from already damaged and neglected stock that led to the widely held misconception that these films were primitive and barely watchable by modern standards.

         Since silent films had no sound for the dialogue, onscreen intertitles were used to narrate story points, present key dialogue and sometimes even comment on the action for the camera audience. Intertitles often became graphic elements themselves, featuring illustrations or abstract decorations that commented on the action of the film and sometimes it enhanced its atmosphere.

         Showings of silent films usually were not actually silent. They were commonly accompanied by live music. Early in the development of the motion picture industry, it was learned that music was an essential part of any movie because it gave the audience emotional clues for the action taking place on the screen.

         The medium of silent film required a greater emphasis on body language and facial expression so the audience could better understand what an actor/actress was feeling and portraying on the screen. Thus, modern-day audiences who are not used to this form of acting may be uncomfortable watching these types of films.

         Silent film is an excellent medium to study to see the effectiveness and limitations of character choices of physical actions. Too much of silent film action would be considered over-acting. It clearly shows the necessity of words and the effectiveness of physical action in communicating dramatic action. In silent film, the dramatic action is portrayed through situations and physical actions, words, if they appeared at all, were on caption screens between shots, but were very disruptive. The captions disrupt the flow of action.

         Silent film is a medium for select people. It requires more effort to watch than a regular film. I think that silent films in general are worth the time and effort, because I feel they are a piece of art back then. I would take the time required to understand what is going on.

Matthew Whitted

Table of Contents