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Feature
Become A Silent Movies Expert In Ten Easy Movies
Master a genre in just a handful of films…

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From the opening frame of the Lumière brothers’ earliest film to Al Jolson’s first words in The Jazz Singer 32 years later, filmmakers had to tell their stories without recourse to recorded sound. Bummer, no? Thankfully, from Buñuel to Buster Keaton and Arbuckle to Abel Gance, there were enough great talents about to make light work of these limitations. If you think the silent era was all about silly pratfalls, flapper dresses and incessant saloon bar scores – with the odd eyeball slicing thrown in for good measure – think again. With a new silent film, The Artist, paying homage to the era before ‘talkies’, it’s high time to look at a glorious era in movie history. Here, in chronological order, are ten to get you started…

WORDS PHIL DE SEMLYEN
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Become A Silent Movies Expert In Ten Easy Movies | A Trip To The Moon (1902)
A Trip To The Moon (1902)

Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Georges Méliès, Victor André, Bleuette Bernon

When filmmakers like Martin Scorsese are queueing up to pay homage to you, you’ve probably earned your place in cinema lore. So it is with Frenchman Georges Méliès – soon to be played by Ben Kingsley in Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret – toymaker, entrepreneur and grand-père of modern sci-fi cinema. He could probably make a mean croque-monsieur if he set his mind to it too, so multi-talented was he. The dazzling A Trip To The Moon’s plot is wonderfully wacky – like the midway point between Button Moon and Alien, it tells the story of top-hatted pioneers who travel into space, discover some weird creatures (the surprisingly explodable ‘Selenites’) and hastily come back again – but the bigger story was what Méliès had achieved with this strange new medium. He fused the adventuring spirit of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells with moving images and proved that with a few strips of celluloid, a flair for experimentation and a cheese-dream imagination, the sky was no longer the limit.

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Your Comments

1
Hello...Um....Nosferatu? More

Posted by professoryaffle2000 on Tuesday March 6, 2012, 17:14

2
One of the good things about watching a silent movie (at home, anyway) is being able to choose your own soundtrack. And you often get great moments of incidental synchronicity. I watched Steamboat Bill Jnr. not long ago and thought it was fantastic. When you know everything is being done for real (and by the lead star) it's hard not to be impressed. It stands up against anything made today. More

Posted by badsanta on Tuesday March 6, 2012, 03:10

3
Nosferatu anyone? More

Posted by newblue11 on Monday March 5, 2012, 11:53

4
What about Pandora's Box? More

Posted by Oli G on Sunday March 4, 2012, 13:58

5
What about Nosferatu? More

Posted by DLSandall on Sunday March 4, 2012, 11:07

6
The Kid and Nosferatu should be in here. More

Posted by Whistler on Friday March 2, 2012, 18:47

7 Silent film is not a genre
As others have already noted, silent film is not a genre in itself. In fact, with the exception of musicals (although Von Stroheim did a silent version of The Merry Widow), it contains as many genres as present day films. Either Spione (Spies) or Die Nibelungen are better examples of Fritz Lang's work in this period than Metropolis, and why is Chaplin represented with two films when Harold Lloyd doesn't even get a mention (I'm thinking specifically of the marvellous Safety Last, which even today is literally edge-of-the-seat viewing)? I don't agree with those who have said that Wings should have been included.In my opinion, it's dated rather badly in comparison with Sunrise. If another WW1 film was to be included, it should have been Rex Ingram's powerful Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. But then, no list is going to please everyone, and many of the films in the list can rightly be considered masterpieces which have stood the test of time. More

Posted by siegfried on Friday October 21, 2011, 06:15

8 Correction
I'm going to have to correct you on a popular misconception: there never was a cinematic Expressionist movement in Germany. While Expressionism in painting and theatre did influence German film at the time there never was a "movement". That word implies an organized and conscious group with declared influences and aims; the likes of which never existed in 1920s and 30s Germany. Lang himself has gone on record numerous times denying being an Expressionist, and while many of his declarations have been proven demonstrably false we can trust him to know whether or not he was ever a member of a non-existent group. Likewise for Murnau, who may have had an "expressionist" camera but was far too revolutionary and versatile to be pinned to one imaginary movement. As for Caligari, while the sets were certainly influenced by Expressionist paintings they were initially inspired by the lack of available lighting, requiring the lighting effects to be painted directly onto the setMore

Posted by SilentGerFilmExpert on Thursday October 20, 2011, 20:31

9
First, silent film *is* a genre in the way the film is viewed. That said, silent films are not a "genre" by subject matter. They *are* a genre by style. There is one immutable fact of difference between a silent film as compared to a common film with sound. That is, sound is "omnipresent", silent films are not. For sound a person can be oriented in any fashion to hear the sound, and for a silent film to know the story you *have* to watch the screen. To the makers of the list, you have chosen some nice classic silent films. I would have included "City Lights" rather than "Modern Times". The purpose of the inclusion of "Modern Times" might be seen as there is a sound piece in this otherwise silent film, and it might serve to give the idea of the transition to sound. However, most people find "City Lights" to be a much better story. Also, in my opinion, "Wings" is a better story than "Sunrise". More

Posted by sfarris on Thursday October 20, 2011, 13:28

10
What about Nosferatu? (Insert Blackadder quote about Charlie Chaplin here) More

Posted by Flickums on Wednesday October 19, 2011, 16:28

11 What about "Wings" ?
If you include Sunrise, you should include Wings. They are both considered to be the winner of the best picture oscar of that year, and Sunrise is the better movie of the two. More

Posted by M. on Wednesday October 19, 2011, 09:11

12 Caligari ending sucks!
The ending of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari is the most horrible cop-out ending in the movie history. And it wasn't even the filmmakers own idea but producers and it completely ruins the whole visual idea of the movie by suggesting that all the great dark expressionic visions were just some maniacs nightmares. More

Posted by Pelle on Tuesday October 18, 2011, 19:09

13
@Indran No one likes a smart-ass. More

Posted by hemibell on Tuesday October 18, 2011, 17:54

14
> "Master a genre in just a handful of films…" > "Master a genre" > "genre" Silent films aren't a genre. More

Posted by Indran on Tuesday October 18, 2011, 15:13

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