Silent Movies

13 Nov

So, about two or three weeks ago a local venue had a marathon of silent movies. Was pretty neat. Three shorts and the original Hunchback of Notre Dame movie.

Silent movies but with live organ accompaniment by a guy who apparently just does live music to silent movies. Not a planned piece, but he basically freestyles it matching the music to what is happening in the movie as it plays. He did a pretty good job in that it was good background music I rarely noticed on a conscious level but enhanced the experience.
The weird bit was that the event wasn’t actually a marathon or anything. The three movies were shown one at a time during the afternoon. One every two hours. Which is really not how I like to do things. Go, see the first ten or twenty minute movie. Leave. Come back in two hours to see the next short. Repeat. I ended up not seeing the third one simply because I was too worn out leaving and coming back. Stop and go experiences are terrible for engagement. For me, certainly. Then the full length movie was shown in the evening. Which I did go see.

The two shorts. saw were pretty funny. One was Buster Keeton and the other was Charlie Chaplin. The first one was about a newly graduated from college guy with a botany degree being hired to modernize a house with the latest and greatest electrical conveniences. That one was interesting in two ways. The first, of course, was seeing a nearly 100 year old movie present a vision of the ever popular ‘house of the future’. Even if it was just in a shallow comedic fashion. The part that got me was there was a chase/action scene near the end. It was only like thirty seconds, I think? But it honestly reminded me of Jackie Chan fight scenes. Two people fighting around moving environment. It really wasn’t that similar but I couldn’t help but think I was looking at a direct distant ancestor of what Jackie Chan does (did? How long since he was in a movie?).

The day after me and my mom saw the black and white silent movie of Hunchback we watched the Disney animated version. Which I found to be an interested contrast. The people who did the Disney version very obviously knew and got some inspiration from the older version. I can’t say how much either of them got from the original book, but there was at least one bit in the big set piece scene at the end that was lifted directly from the older movie.

Another bit was that there was several expressions and bits of body language that I’ve seen used in modern 21st century television shows. So another bit of evidence for the truth that people just don’t change. Not that people feel or react in the identical fashion between then and now, but the ways of portraying people’s behavior in visual form has remained so constant.

On the other hand the differences were just as interesting. The Disney version took out the entire anti-royalty and rebellion aspects. Turning the king of thieves into more of a outside observer and/or Greek chorus instead of an actual involved character. Which meant that the big set piece bit at the end, instead of being the commoners attacking Notre Dome as part of a uprising against the state, it becomes the big bad guy attacking it for his own reasons. So almost a complete reversal of who is involved. Not to mention what class-based conflict there is in the story becomes anti-religious instead of anti-government or anti-nobility. Still, the Disney version is one of the darker animated movies and I do agree with the people that have mentioned it is an unappreciated classic. The visuals were quite stunning.

Plus it has a song where the main villain declares that the female lead has bewitched him and will marry him or be burned alive as a witch. I’m not even summarizing or reading between the lines of the song either. That is what it is blatantly and clearly about.

All and all I enjoyed it as entertainment and as an educational experience. Both in the differences between older and newer versions of the same movie, but just in how storytelling has changed in the last century.


Posted by on November 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Silent Movies

  1. xjuggernaughtx

    November 13, 2016 at 11:57 am

    It’s amazing how much high-quality filmmaking was done before the introduction of sound. We took a serious step back for decades, really.

    Before sound, you could do pretty much anything within the limitations of where you could conceivably move the camera to. We had some rudimentary film effects, as well. What could be achieved with dark room processing. Films could be pretty sophisticated, really. Some early Hitchcock work was film silently.

    However, cameras were large and noisy, while mics were weak and bulky. When sound came to pass, the camera had to be locked down and blanketed. Microphones had to be hidden very close to the actors in longer shots.

    This led to films being a very static affair. Where the camera had be all over the place getting interesting shots before, now it was very still. Often, the actors were very still, too, since they had to be within range of the microphone. Movies because scene after scene of people sitting around tables talking about doing the things that the film would have SHOWN them doing just a few years prior.

    To me, films didn’t really recover until the mid-fifties. There are a lot of people that like the style of films that came out in the forties, but I find them to be a bore. We hot smaller, quieter cameras and better mics in the fifties, which allowed the filmmakers to do more.

    When it comes to silent comedies, Buster Keaton is in a league of his own. That guy was amazing. I like Chaplin well enough, but Keaton is truly hilarious.

    • Griffin

      November 13, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      Well, Keeton did a really good job being a befuddled botany graduate trying to figure out why the automatic electric house was malfunctioning. I mean, I wouldn’t have thought you could do a lot of emoting just flipping a switch back and forth to see if that stops the automatic staircase but he pulls it off. I did, however, know you could get comedic gold out of running up a downward escalator, but it was still hilarious.

    • iisawiisaw

      November 14, 2016 at 12:02 am

      In Hitchcock’s The Lodger, there’s a shot where the ceiling becomes transparent to reveal the lodger pacing back and forth in the room above. Easy enough to do nowadays in After Effects… but back then? I have no clue how they pulled it off, and it wasn’t just a trick shot; it had an incredible impact and was brilliant visual storytelling.

  2. iisawiisaw

    November 14, 2016 at 12:07 am

    Keeton may remind you of Chan because they are both incredible athletes with gymnastic abilities who meticulously planed out their routines! CGI is cool and all, but it still isn’t as impressive or convincing as true talent and ability.


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