Getting Started with a Silent Film
Now that films come in 3-D with multi-million dollar budgets and computer effects, the humble moving pictures of the first thirty years of filmmaking history may seem slow. Before 1927, film technology hadn't advanced to record sound alongside the film track, so films had no dialogue and had to rely on acting and visual storytelling as well as intertitles (when plot turns are explained through written words). These early films may be simple, but they're dedicated to gripping your attention through drama, slapstick, or romance, and they explore the new arts of cinematography, lighting, and screen acting. They're important history of modern filmmaking -- especially now that Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanivicius has remixed those elements into such an entertaining, exciting film as THE ARTIST. Part of what makes THE ARTIST so fun is the exaggerated gestures of the actors, their timing, and themes of love and death.
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In the beginning, filmmakers turned the cameras on to talented comedians like Charlie Chaplin, whose slapstick antics and emotional aura remain highly original even today. Here are five of his classic short films.
BEN HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST (1925) by Fred Niblo
An immediate box office smash, this silent masterpiece follows a Palestinian Jew who battles against the tyranny of the Roman empire. With a cast of thousands, it remains one of the most expensive silents ever-produced. Features a hair-raising chariot race that holds its own against today's best action films. Selected by the prestigious American Film Institute as one of the 400 best American films of all time. Inducted in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
MONEY TALKS (1926) by Archie Mayo
This comedy was directed by one of the comedians of the early slapstick films, Archie Mayo, who used the hilarious ruse of a cross-dressing husband as the pay-off for a story about a debt-ridden cad whose wife is being wooed by the captain of a yacht. The film is a fascinating document of an era when Prohibition was in effect, for it centers around a rum-runner, and also the early days of advertising, back when Sigmund Freud's nephew was applying the idea of the unconscious to the new field of advertising by appealing to their desires rather than their needs.
Finally, if you want to enjoy another great film set in the same time period as THE ARTIST, then try to the delightful SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) -- starring Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen (in one of the best dance scenes ever), and Debbie Reynolds. Rotten Tomatoes score 100%