Thursday, March 5, 2009

Silence is Golden

If you head on over to the Diva's Film Screenings page, you'll see a brand new film log for the Silent Era. I decided to lump all of the films between the beginnings of cinema and 1926 for two reasons: 1) I've only seen 57 films (from what I can remember) from this period and who wants to look at a page with 2 or 3 movies on it and 2) So many films from the silent era are either lost, damaged beyond repair or unavailable on DVD that it would be nearly impossible for me to gather an interesting year by year look (at this moment anyways). I absolutely love silent movies; if there's one "genre" that needs a revival in the 21st century, it has to be this. Wouldn't you just love to see what directors like Alexander Payne, Fernando Meirelles, David Lynch or (oddly) Woody Allen could do without dialogue? And who would object to the beauty of movie goddesses like Nicole Kidman, Dame Judi Dench, Meryl Streep and Natalie Portman perfectly enhanced by the power of a stunning close-up by a great cinematographer?

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think that my Top 10 list is an unarguably great one from the films I have seen (I realize I'm still missing some biggies from this period...tell me what I need to see immediately in the comments). Silent comedy legend Buster Keaton makes three appearances with two masterpieces (the metaphysical Sherlock, Jr. and the adventure comedy The Navigator) and one underrated "regular" film (the boxing comedy Battling Butler). In my mind, Keaton and Charlie Chaplin (who has one film- The Gold Rush- in the Top 10 and two just outside) are indisputably the icons of this era. Without them, I don't know if I ever would have gotten interested in silent films and, consequently, I would have missed out on one of the most unique and fascinating times in movie history.

As an added bonus, I included my 10 favorite short films (which I think I need to do more research on since Chaplin and Keaton make up half of the list) and my favorite male and female performances of the era. I didn't pick a favorite, but if I had to, I think I would go with:

John Gilbert in The Big Parade and Lillian Gish (pictured with, coincidentally, John Gilbert) in La Boheme

The Big Parade was silent heartthrob John Gilbert's breakthrough and, as often as he tried in the future, none of his other performances ever came close to matching this one. He plays the romantic lead of this WWI epic, but unlike the cold, "masculine" romantic leads he played later on in his career, he's warm, inviting, charming and incredibly sweet. His performance is something we very rarely, if ever, saw in the silent era and one that more people need to see to prove that he wasn't just another pretty face. Lillian Gish, a D.W. Griffith favorite back in the day, was always at the top of her game and La Boheme is just one of her many fantastic performances. What stands out for me is that final deathbed scene where she looks as close to death as I've ever seen any actor in any film (and with good reason- she apparently starved her self for days to look that way...I guess she was the silent era's version of Christian Bale).

As always, here's a poll so I can hear your feedback about my picks. Plus, if you have any suggestions on films or actors I need to see, let me know in the comments.

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