A century ago there was no need for sound in film, as mesmerizing a notion as that may be. Actors used body language, they made faces and mimed their innermost feelings, set designers made intertitles to keep the audience on track, and lighting technicians made every woman appear as if she were a goddess with a soft focus. The Silent Era in filmmaking changed the way our imaginations work and broadened the possibilities of what could be done with a motion picture, and then some.
What began as a craze — a mere attraction at a penny arcade or a carnival — transformed into an art form, a new way of telling stories in a medium that continued to evolve and innovate. Silent films came in many genres, kickstarting the careers of vaudevillian slapstick stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, two key figures whom contemporary comedians would be so lucky to share their fearlessness and charisma.
In historian Kevin Brownlow and David Gill‘s 11-hour, 13-part series, "Hollywood: A Celebration Of The American Silent Film," the era is spoken of, praised, and picked apart in interviews and behind the scenes footages from directors like Henry King and George Cuckor, to actresses like Lillian Gish and Gloria Swanson. The era changed American culture, catapulting performers to celebrity status, and setting the standards for a production code that lasted several decades.
For any fan of history, this series, first aired in 1980, is obligatory watching (especially since it can’t currently be found on any home video format). What’s your favorite film from the silent era? Let us know in the comments below. [Cinephilia & Beyond]