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Moving Pictures: For Modern Audiences

In a poll that I conducted with 20 of my “middle-aged” friends, I found that about half had seen fewer than five silent films in their lifetime, and one had reported that they had never made it through one without falling asleep. For those who have tried watching a silent film, and found it boring, I suspect that you have done so in the comfort of your own home on late night TV, or perhaps through a specialty channel such as the TCM network. Based on these answers, I would guess that even fewer people have seen a silent film in theater. This is unfortunate, since this is where silent films are at their best – especially if accompanied by a live musical performance. While I admit that watching a silent film at home alone is not really that much fun, unless it’s done with at least a couple of friends. Despite what some “reputable” movie houses may have suggested in the past, silent film is an interactive experience, especially when accompanied by boos and hisses for the villain, and hoots and hollers for the hero!  But as for whistling, yeah, that would be kind of annoying.

If you watch enough silent films you might also realize that many of your favorite movies had their origin in this early period of cinema. Old movies, silent or otherwise, are a also a virtual time machine to past places, people, events and cultures. For anyone who might want to give silent film another look, know that genres range from science fiction, adventure, family, drama, comedy, horror, and even educational films (though from my experience, you will probably want to give the latter a miss). While you’re not going to find many musicals, or your favourite comic book action hero, you might want to start with a comedy, as it is probably the most accessible genre. Also, don’t feel pressured into watching the “classics” right away. Just because your nerdy film friend says that “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari defined German Expressionist Cinema”, doesn’t mean that you will enjoy it – but yeah, you should eventually get around to seeing it (Klaus Ming April 2017).

6 comments on “Moving Pictures: For Modern Audiences

  1. Thomas Sørensen

    Oh, but you have to! Dr. Caligari is awesome.
    I vaguely remember watching some silent comedies in the cinema in my early youth, but it is definitely something I should take up. In recent time the closest thing was a group of friends in a home theater with silent films projected up on a wall. We just lacked the piano.
    You have been through so many movies from the seconde decade to the twentieth century and I envy you that. I would love to see some more of those.

    • Klaus

      It’s true, Dr. Caligari is a pretty interesting film – though I would recommend it as a starting place.

      I recall watching a lot of silent comedies as a kid at Italian restaurant chain (which started in Hamilton, Ontario – my hometown) known as “Mother’s Pizza.” They had a 1920’s-style interior design, which included 16mm silent shorts projected onto screens! Pizza was pretty good too!

      When I started the 1001 list, I never intended to watch any more silent films than I had to. Now, they’ve become a favourite of mine.

  2. movieguysteve

    I have shown all or part of silent films to classes on film and communication (they’re great for nonverbal behavior). I tend to use comedies for this because comedies just work better for a modern audience.

    Sherlock Jr., as a rule, goes over pretty well. Modern Times does, too.

    • Klaus

      I screened Nanook of the North for my 3rd year Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology class when I was teaching at our local university. Students seemed to enjoy it. I always wanted to teach an “Archaeology in Film” class. Perhaps one of these day.

      But yea, comedy is the way to go – and Buster Keaton is probably the best way in!

  3. nicolaskrizan

    I’ve liked silent short comedies and horror movies ever since they were shown on national swedish television during my childhood in the seventies. My partner is less enthusiastic…

    • Klaus

      My wife has watched and enjoyed a few silent films, but it is on a rare occasion.

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This entry was posted on 04/20/2017 by in Film History, Silent Film Musings.
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