The Silent Cinema

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As Richard Abel observes, “The materiality of silent cinema…has become so unfamiliar to us, so different from that of our own cinema in the late twentieth century” that it is difficult to view silent film as anything but anachronistic (4). However, with 2011’s The Artist—an homage to silent film—winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it may be worthwhile to examine the nature and appeal of silent film. In a way, silent film does something that the modern day special effects spectaculars do not do: it leaves more to the imagination and calls upon the viewer to use his or her own mind in correspondence with the moving pictures. This paper will analyze what it is that makes silent film unique and show how the nature of silent film…show more content…
Even such a simple, ordinary event produced a visceral thrill because it played upon the imaginations of the audience—and the audience was encouraged to fill in the gaps between what it was seeing and what the real thing was like. Therefore, it is likely that the Lumieres’ audience in 1895 could hear the sound of the train and the rush of the crowd and the noises of the station in its mind—even though in reality all it was seeing was the silent flashing image of the train on a screen. The ability of film to produce such a trick has always been its main selling point. When Szaloky states that “Rick Altman’s claim that ‘silence was in fact a regular practice of silent film exhibition’ appears…to challenge the historical accuracy of the received opinion that ‘the silent film never existed’” (109), she suggests that silent film did not necessarily need the live musical accompaniment that modern audiences so often associate with the silent film showing. On the contrary, it is likely that the silent films themselves often ran silently. In fact, Szaloky makes the point “that the term ‘silent film’ came to denote early cinema only after the coming of sound had turned presound films into ‘silents’” (109). What this means is that silent film as it has been conceived since the introduction of talkies is not the way it was conceived
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