Monday, August 11, 2008

Silent Movies For People Who Don't Like Silent Movies

As promised, I've thrown together a preliminary list of what I consider some of the best movies for silent film neophytes to watch.

They've been chosen for their accessibility and entertainment value, or for the sheer, indisputable force of their awesomeness. I don't consider this a top ten list or a best of, or even a list of personal favorites (though it skews very closely to the latter). Rather, this is a list that, in my opinion, would convert someone who claimed that silent movies "weren't their thing."

It's funny how often people lump "silent movies" into one category, like it's a separate genre or something. That's as ludicrous as lumping together all "black and white" movies. Some people say modern audiences just don't connect to silent movies, which I think is bollocks: the first thirty minutes of Wall-E were silent, and plenty of people connected with that. Well the acting is stagey, they might say, or the plots are sentimental or gimmicky, to which I can only reply, "What movies are *you* watching?"

Hence, this list. The movies here are so brilliant, so powerfull, so visually arresting and profoundly human that, if you watch all the movies on this list and still conclude you don't like silent movies, well, then, you really just don't like movies. I present to you:

The Last Laugh (Murnau)

Sunrise (more Murnau)

Sherlock Jr./Keaton Shorts

Modern Times/City Lights (Neither strictly silent)

Lonesome, if you can catch it at a theatre (also not strictly silent)

The Wind (starring Lilian Gish)

Ernst Lubitsch comedies (The Doll)

Josef Von Sternberg's The Docks of New York and Underworld

Griffith's Broken Blossoms; if you're into Victorian theatre, especially


Sadie Thompson (Raoul Walsh)

Laurel and Hardy shorts, esp. Stan Laurel shorts, and specifically Mud and Sand/Mighty Like a Moose (Charley Chase)

Battleship Potemkin/ Intolerance/Birth of a Nation/Metropolis/ Man With A Movie Camera (all the "big" movies that I wouldn't actually recommend as the first thing to watch, but feel compelled to include on this list due to their stature ... plus they're mostly awesome)

The Man Who Laughs

Tillie's Punctured Romance

Fatty Arbuckle Shorts, especially He Did and He Didn't with Mabel Normand

Comments, suggestions, feedback, argument and amendments welcome. Cheers!


kj said...

That is a truly fabulous list.

I know that everyone could add their favorite and extend this list by hundreds of title—which would defeat the purpose.

But I would like to suggest just one Shakespeare title for the list (my duty is to promote Shakespeare films wherever possible).

There's a silent version of Hamlet made in 1920 in Germany that is truly tremendous.

Hamlet: The Drama of Vengeance. Dir. Svend Gade. Perf. Asta Neilsen. 1920.

In this version, Hamlet is a woman, raised as a man because of political considerations. Ah, it's great. Try it.



Andrea Janes said...

Innnnnnteresting .....

Actually, Shakespeare was always the *one* thing I thought wouldn't translate well into silent film, because so much of the beauty lies in the dialogue.

But today's post is all about expanding one's horizons, so I'll give it a whirl if ever I come across it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you. I am indeed now busting watch Modern Times and the Fatty Arbuckle shorts - but you have now whet my appetite for so much more. What fabulous stills! I am chuffed.

Andrea Janes said...

Bellanta, that's great news -- I always feel that people who don't like silent movies have just been watching the wrong ones. The Cat & the Canary is fun in its own way, but it's not about to convince anyone of the medium's sheer artistry, know what I mean? Hopefully these films will be a source of pure wonderment for you! And I hope they'll enhance and enrich your theatre scholarship in manifold ways :)

Life (And Sandwiches) said...

Surely something to point out to those who shy away from silent films is that both Tom and Jerry and many Warner Bros cartoons are silent.

And they are classics!


kj said...

I've added a silent version of Shakespeare's Tempest to my blog. It's shorter and more readily-accessible than the Hamlet that I mentioned previously.

Give it a try! And let me know what you think. Perhaps it's too short to make the list . . . .


Michael J. Anderson said...

Great choices Spinster; I am particularly pleased to see Lonesome, in spite of its hybrid status that you note; The Wind (if you ever get the chance, don't miss the sublime Ingeborg Holm - maybe not silent cinema for those who don't like silent cinema); the Sternberg's (again I would add The Salvation Hunters, which is probably in the same camp as the second Sjostrom I mentioned; etc. Just a great list!

Andrea Janes said...

Thanks, Manderson.
The IMDB review of The Salvation Hunters includes the words "SLOW" "pretentious" and "laughable" so it should be awesome!