Sunday, June 2, 2013

Peevish Sunday: Silent Movie Assumptions

     I admit it, I have a ton of pet peeves, many of which have to do with movies.  One of the ones that bothers me the most concerns many people's perceptions about silent movie acting.  There seems to a reputation that much of the acting in silent films is unbelievably over the top or strange.  (As a side note, if you put mute on most talkies, it would also seem over the top.)
This part is pretty strange
     One of the main reasons for this is the movies newbies are shown.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, Nosferatu...etc.  I took German and Scandinavian Cinema last semester and the only silent films we watched were The Phantom Carriage, Metropolis, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  Some people complained of having a hard time with silent film.  Well of course if these were the first you'd seen, they'd be hard to watch. I have a hard time watching The Phantom Carriage and Metropolis and Caligari  have an Expressionist acting that can be off putting.  The sad thing about this is that even many of the film students now think silent film acting is strange but you 'have' to put up with it if you want to seem educated. Even Keaton and Chaplin, the other things shown to newbies, are in some way different than what we would see now. However movie actors, especially Mary Pickford, were a huge part of the shift that changed the melodramatic stage acting of the 1800s to the more naturalistic style of now, so many of silent films have a very natural style.

Everyday life
    I will say at this point that of course silent film is different.  News flash- there's no talking and they were filmed almost a hundred years ago.  However one of my favorite things about watching old and foreign movies is how much people are the same and how I can in a little way reconnect with people of the past by seeing some of the movies they watched.  This is why I think we should show newbies actors like Harold Lloyd and Clara Bow, Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Ossi Osswalda, Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert who really aren't that different from today's stars, and who often set the stage for them.  We should also watch movies like Safety Last!, The Freshman*, It, Mantrap, Why Change Your Wife?, 7th Heaven, The Big Parade, The Oyster Princess, Judex, My Best Girl, The Mark of Zorro, Girl Shy, The Crowd, etc. etc. instead of just the arty and experimental movies, which of course have their place, but should not be the only story of silent film and especially not be thought of as the norm of silent film acting.

* I was watching the Harold Lloyd marathon on TCM about a week and a half ago and my room mates, unfamiliar with silent film, came in and watched this movie with me and loved it.  I mean like rolling on the floor laughing.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, it sucks how people perceive silent film, but there is hope. A friend of mine who doesn't like old movies much came in during a Buster Keaton marathon on TCM. She laughed her ass off, and told me afterward she wouldn't mind seeing more silent comedy. It makes me happy to hear that. :)