Friday, September 28, 2007

"What is more eloquent than silence?" Charlie Chaplin

What can be? The title of this article is a quotation from the Charlie Chaplin movie Limelight. Ignoring that Limelight is a talking movie I would like to move the topic of silent films. There is beauty and quality in silent films that I fear is overlooked by moviegoers today.

Something that sets silent films apart from modern sound films is the appeal to your emotions that is the center of most silent films. They could not tell their stories verbally so they did what they could to make you feel the story. Chaplin and his City Lights is one of the best examples. Throughout the film you will feel joy, sorrow, desperateness, love, pity and excitement. He makes you feel and that is real.

Silent films are generally known for their physical humor which City Lights also has but Chaplin gives you much more then laughter. The story of the tramp who falls in love with a blind flower girl is moving throughout. It ends with one of the greatest final scenes ever filmed. It is beautifully subtle and not over acted. It is not unheard of for people to be moved to tears by it.

It is probably the greatest example of silent film as well as one of the greatest examples of movie making. It is also a good movie for those who are not familiar with silent film. It is a relatively new movie (1931) and was made several years after sound had become the standard. As a result if feels very modern. It has a synchronized score that Chaplin himself wrote. It has more of that good, old time movie feel rather then the silent short feel. The genius of Chaplin’s direction and him being a perfectionist gave City Lights a flow so smooth it makes the text cards seem unnecessary. Chaplin is a great storyteller and leads you gently through the film. He shows you the story rather then explain it to you through dialogue.

I feel that people may have become inept when it comes to watching and appreciating silent movies. In communication there is what is called “media literacy.” The idea is that we learn how to take in and interpret the media. An example of this would be when the first moving pictures were recorded. The first moving pictures occurred in France. There is a story that at the first public showings of moving pictures the audience was shown film of people walking and traffic in city streets then for a dramatic ending they were shown a clip of a train coming straight towards and then over the camera. The audience freaked, ducked under their chairs and jumped out of the way trying not to be run over. The audience was not yet media literate for moving pictures.

Media literacy also occurs in more subtle ways such as dream sequences and flash backs in film: we have learned to understand the foggy screens. I also believe people can lose some media literacy when they take in changes from what it was. Think of how difficult it can be to read a King James Bible. I feel that this loss of media literacy is true of many people with silent movies. (We, after all, have been watching only sound for almost 80 years.) They are missing out on some great movies. Don’t miss out on these movies yourself. See the movie. You may have to look for it in the rental places. I think Netflix has it. Someone just put it on youtube.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great idea. I think that at times we do forget how much emotion a movie can stir in a viewer. We have the same theory for readers. A reader brings so much to a story as he/she is reading it that they make the story great merely by participating. And with a silent film the audience really does have to, and want to participate. But only a viewer can express those emotions so that is why the movie is better. They are not mindless drones feeling a certain way, but rather live participants enjoying themselves.