Project 52, Week 38 — Speaking of Silents…

I missed seeing the (mostly) silent movie “The Artist” during its limited theatre run, so I put the DVD on hold at our local library. It finally became available a few days ago and I was eager to watch this silent film that had won so many awards, even the Academy Award for “Best Picture.” I’m not sure whether I expected too much or if it’s because I’ve seen many, many silent films, but I didn’t love it, and I was disappointed, because I expected to. I felt it was trying a bit too hard, though the attention to detail (except for the “Hollywoodland” sign on the hill in the background in one scene; the sign would have read “Hollywood” in 1927) was excellent, the production values beautiful, and the performance of Jean Dujardin as main character George Valentin was superb. My daughter, who has not seen the film, suggested that perhaps someone who hasn’t seen many silent movies might enjoy it more, and I have to agree. If you haven’t seen the movie, the trailer itself is extremely well done:

After mulling it over awhile, I came to the conclusion that the difference between this movie and the silents of old is that today a silent movie doesn’t “have” to be made; there is every technological advantage in sound, color, light, computer enhancement, but during the silent era, they worked with all they had. The movies may have flickered at times due to the filming speed, the gestures may have been over-exaggerated at times to convey emotion (some called it “mugging” for the camera), but many of these films were beautiful, engrossing and entertaining, and some were ahead of their time. Take, for example, these scenes from the Academy Award-winning film “Wings” from 1927:

Then there’s this mesmerizingly beautiful scene with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert from “Flesh and the Devil” in 1926:

One of my favorite silent films, “The Crowd” from 1928, depicts so well what a small part we all play in the grand scheme of things:

And then, there was the lighter side, such as movies with “It” girl Clara Bow:

I didn’t see any silent films when I was growing up, other than occasional clips used to parody those long-ago movies, but I did hear about them. I was told about my grandfather’s sister, my great-aunt Elsie, who taught piano in New York City but also played a magnificant theatre organ on weekends as background music for “the flickers.” My grandmother mentioned how she was glad when sound pictures came in, as reading the “titles” (captions) could be annoying, plus there were those in the audience who couldn’t read the words on the screen, either due to vision problems or inability to read, and their companions would read them aloud, distracting others in the audience. She also mentioned how much she enjoyed the movies of Harold Lloyd (most will remember him hanging desperately from a clock in “Safety Last”). A few years ago his films began being shown on Turner Classic Movies, and I was entranced. I’ve seen every movie he ever made, other than those not available from before he became the “Glasses Character.”

There are hundreds of clips and some full-length Harold Lloyd features on YouTube, but this compilation from a fan with scenes mostly from the short film “Hot Water” gives a good indication of why his films were so popular (in addition to the “thrill” pictures filled with stunts, which Harold always did himself, like “Safety Last”):

So many people I speak with have never actually seen an entire silent film; fortunately, there’s a treasure trove of them at YouTube, plus there are the “Silent Sunday Nights” on Turner Classic Movies. Maybe these films won’t be your cup of tea, but maybe you’ll find they will be. Here’s a list of 10 of my favorites, to get you started:

“Girl Shy” with Harold Lloyd
“The Crowd” with James Murray and Eleanor Boardman
“The Wind” with Lillian Gish
“My Best Girl” with Mary Pickford and Charles “Buddy” Rogers
“Beyond the Rocks” with Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino
“Our Modern Maidens” with Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
“Scaramouche” with Ramon Novarro and Lewis Stone
“The Kid” with Charlie Chaplin
“The Temptress” with Greta Garbo
“Steamboat Bill, Jr.” with Buster Keaton


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