The silent film "Nosferatu"(1922), directed by W.F. Murnau tells a story of a young real estate, Harker, who was sent by his agent to go to Transylvania. Where a client named Count Orlok wants to sell his castle, as he wishes to move to a smaller living household in Wisbourg. Little does Harker know that his client is a vampire. Once at Transylvania, many villagers warn Harker from going to the castle as they refer it as the "Land of the Phantoms." Harker doesn't realize or gets the hints of Orlock being a vampire until he finds his chamber. Orlock soon makes his way to Wisbourg once Harker is able to see the castle. While at Wisbourg, Orlok goes around killing people unseen. Which people assume it's a plague that it's killing the people of Wisbourg. In the silent film, director M.F. Murnau uses background music throughout the entire movie to tell the story. The music used corresponds to the different scenes in the film. For example when Harker is told that he has a job to do, that a client wants to sell his house. An upbeat tune is being played to show the excitement of Harker. In addition, when the vampire, Count Orlok, creeps out to attack it's victims. Suspenseful music plays in the background to demonstrate horror to the audience. At the end when Orlok is stun by the sun, he vanishes into dust. A relief tune is played in the background to show that the rein of the plague is over. The director also uses phrases In between some scenes to keep the audience notified of what is going on. This is how the director maintains apprising his silent film.
The Adventurer (1917), starred and directed by Charlie Chaplin, is a comedy following an escaped convict who cleverly leads, or rather evades, the police on a wild goose chase and ends up saving some wealthy folk whom had fallen into deep waters. After saving a pretty women, her mother, and a large man with a cool beard who likes the pretty women, the convict, Chaplin, poses as a wealthy man himself in order to impress the pretty girl he had just saved. The large man becomes jealous and pushes Chaplin back into the water after seeing that women is taking interest in the convict.
The convict wakes up in a bed inside the women's house and puts on a suit to join the party downstairs. Still in spite of Chaplin, the large man tries to get back at him, but of course, Chaplin gives him the runaround and hilariously makes the man look like a fool and turns the other party goers against him. Even with his odd facial expressions and mannerisms that make him seem lesser than everyone else, Chaplin always in the end makes himself a sort of hero in everyone's eyes.
From the odd yet funny way he walks, to the way he disguises himself as a lamp in order to evade the police, Chaplin always makes the audience laugh and enables them to fully enjoy his films, even today, without regarding that there is no sound. Even if he had the ability to make films like we do today, he would neither need sound nor color express a story as he does. The clever choreography of his scenes, especially in this film when evading police and debunking the large guy with the crazy beard, shed light on the genius and talent that consumed Chaplin, forever making him an amazing story teller of the silent era.
In the short silent film, "Trolley Troubles," (1927) directed by Walt Disney, the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (who later serves as the basis for the beloved character Mickey Mouse) goes through a series of obstacles while trying to transport his bunny children and other animal characters on a trolley ride through a field. Through the implementation of music, situational comedy, and animation Disney executes a playful yet dramatic story. The entire score of the short film is a happy upbeat tune which adds to the joy in the first scenes where Oswald is loading his children into the trolley. The animation in the beginning scene is actually looped forward and backward instead of the animators (in this case Iwerks and his team) drawing out each individual frame in effort to save time and communicate the mass influx of his children into the small trolley. The use of situational comedy is shown in the last few scenes where Oswald takes off his foot and rubs it praying that he will live after the trolley begins to go off track and into a river, the comedic effect here being the irony that Oswald himself is a rabbit and he is following the classic trope of a rabbit's foot being "lucky," (hence his name). Although this short film may not be seen as one of the "greats" in that it is a short film directed towards a child audience, does not mean that it can be written off simply because of that, the entire short film in itself contains elements that filmmakers still aspire to create today. Every film, whether it be a full length or a short film, must be able to fluidly tell a story with or without words.
The silent film, "Steamboat Willie," (1928) directed by Ub Iwerks, tells a story of Mickey Mouse and his day on the boat. Mickey begins begins by taking charge of the boat, steering it to make himself feel like a captain. Mickey's moment of happiness abruptly ends when the real Captain comes back, pulling him off the steering wheel in anger. Mickey's childish attempts to play captain get him sent down to the deck, and later on a job to pick up a cow. As the ship pulls out of the dock, Mickey spots Minnie Mouse running full speed to try and catch the boat; quickly coming to a decision he lowers the crane for her to board the ship. The rest of the silent film shows Mickey making music with anything on deck to put a smile on Minnie's face. Iwerks use of these synchronized sounds allowed him to tell the story as clearly as possible to his audience. The viewer could understand when Mickey was happy, due to the synchronized whistling sounds that would accompany Mickey dancing. Another technique Iwerks used was facial expressions; for example, in the first scene the captain of the ship gets angry at Mickey for steering the boat, giving Mickey a stern face to demonstrate his feelings in a non-verbal way. To add on to this, Mickey would look down in shame to show the viewer his disappointment. The director would also emphasize body language to help the viewer properly interpret the feelings and ideas of the characters in certain scenes. In the Scene where Minnie is trying to get back on Steamboat Willie, she flares her arms up as she jumps. By doing this, the viewer understands that Minnie is angry or worried. The directors use of music synchronization, facial expressions, and body language allowed the film to be understood clearly without the use of dialogue.
Georges Méliès' film, "A Trip to the Moon"(1902), is a silent classic about an astronomer and his associates who journey on an expediton to the moon. The lead astronomer constructs a bullet shaped vehicle, which is then shot out of a cannon, to transport themselves to the surface of the moon. Once arriving to the moon they observe the area, take a glance at the earth as the moon orbits it, and sleep the night off. Once they awake they travel down a hole and and venture of into a cave full of vegetation and flora. Here they're captured by aliens and taken to their ruler. The astronomers somehow escape and go back to earth by falling off the surface of the moon. Here they're rewarded for their bravery and safe return, receiving a huge statue in their honor in the center of the city.
This is my favorite silent film because Méliès uses techniques as special effects such as cuttting and stopping frames, applying smoke, and even strenuously hand painting 13,375 frames; each one by one. Throughout the film ordinary and calm music play and this is just to keep a level of average background music. The parts that really surprise the viewer's, especially those of that time era, would be seeing movie magic, color, and detailed props. Once encountering aliens, the whole vibe of the film changes and so does the music. The musics tempo is increased to foreshadow the climax of the film, and once they arrive back on earth the music stops entirely, resulting in the resolution. When the astronomers attack the aliens they suddenly vanish with a huge smokey cloud remaining in their spot. These parts add a sense of awe for the viewers of that time period, leaving them puzzled as to how Méliès achieved these techniques. Méliès continued on to make dozens of silent films, and has now come to be recognized for his use of illusion and movie magic.
In the short silent film, "Paperman," (2012) director John Kahrs incorporates hopeful music, happy giggles, paper planes crashing, a bold red kiss print, and the sounds of a busy city life to give his audience the idea of a "destined love" thanks to nothing other than fate. Kahrs opens up the film by placing the main characters, George and Meg, at a train station, coincidentally allowing them to meet with the chance of wind and paper. As Meg passes by George she looses a paper, and then gets brought back into the scene as a paper that belongs to George flies straight into her face, leaving her kiss print for him to adore. As both characters come to realize the joke in it all, they share a quick little giggle that signals their interest in one another. Sadly, the sound of a train calling all last passengers follows, at which point Meg boards the train and leaves George behind "forever," or so they both assumed. As George arrives to his office he ponders on the girl he felt was "the one," but as he comes to look out of his window he sees Meg across the way and begins his strenuous attempts to catch her attention. Having been handed a stack of files prior to this encounter, an upbeat and hopeful tune begins to play as he takes paper by paper and turns them into paper planes, flying them across the way to Meg who fails to realize the crashing planes outside of her office window. Although the sound of paper planes crashing against the building walls comes time and time again in the film, Kahrs allows the audience to watch George try time and time again to give the audience the idea of failure and persistence. Finally in a last attempt to catch her attention, George folds up the paper with her single red kiss and sends it on its way to Meg, which sadly fails as well. Now becoming upset and helpless, George leaves his office and begins his journey on his way home, until all his failed paper planes come to life and with the sound of a rapid motion come together to force George into moving towards a certain direction, in this case towards the girl of his dreams. Just as his failed paper planes have come back to help him succeed, the single paper with a bold red kiss finds Meg and does just the same. In this film, Kahrs uses the bold color red in an all black and white film to emphasize the importance of the kiss, along with the passion and adventure that the color red usually symbolizes. Both characters then begin their journey to find each other once again as the hopeful music comes back into action, until they final meet at a train station. Throughout their journey back to one another the sounds of a busy city life are incorporated into the film to emphasize the importance in fate and destiny, seeing as though running into a person twice in one day is almost impossible on any occasion, and even more so in a city that is on fast-forward and crammed with people and hectic lifestyles. As they come to meet yet again, they find the spark that had occurred earlier that day, demonstrated through their careful and cheerful walk towards one another. Kahrs then cuts the film and adds a series of photos in motion, representing their first date to effectively demonstrate his story line of a love that was destined to be. Although some may discredit a short sappy film, I personally admire Kahrs' use of sound, body language, and tiny details to engage his audience and tell a story that's relatable and entertaining.
Indie short film, "The Great Train Robbery," (1903) directed and photographed by Edwin S. Porter, has to do with two bandits breaking into a railroad telegraph office and holding the operator at gun point to get a train stopped. They knockout the operator and tie him up, as the train stops the bandits board. Two bandits enter the express car, kill a messenger and open a box of valuables with dynamite. A telegraph was sent out and received by men they quickly formed a posse, which overtakes the bandits, and in a final shootout kill all the bandits and recover the stolen loot. This film was considered a milestone, running about ten minutes long. Without the use of dialogue, Porter used tension and excitement in the moving characters to create the illusion of "a voice." Most of the scenes in this film were long shots, but some scenes incorporated the use of minor camera movements, cross cutting ,parallel editing and simultaneously displaying two scenes in different locations to get the story line across to the audience effectively.
In the silent film, "City Lights," Charlie Chaplin utilized the facial expressions of the characters while infusing it with extreme body language that results in humor. In addition to this humor he also adds drama and sadness to the movie. For example, with all of the humor in the movie, the Tramp fell in love with a blind girl and would do anything to see her re-gain her vision. In addition, the tear-inducing scene, where the girl discovers that the Tramp is not a billionaire but just a Tramp, is one of the best scenes in the entire movie industry; due to the fact that it was the first of its time to effectively demonstrate an emotional and overwhelming scene to such an extensive degree. In order to emphasize what the characters were feeling, Charlie Chaplin inserts quotes every few scenes. In addition, the relationships that the characters share are all unique and interesting. For example, the Tramp has an on-and-off friendship with the wealthy man that causes the sad turn of events. The comedy in this silent demonstrates the importance when people laugh with just facial and body expressions without the need to come up with a hilarious joke or a smart comeback. It allows a person to appreciate the classics because this is where everything began, in a silent movies. The extravagant body movements of the characters combined with the use of quotes and a powerful soundtrack illustrated what the director wanted his audience to understand about his characters' feelings.
The American short silent western film "The Great Train Robbery," (1903) was directed by the famous Edwin S. Porter. This silent film illustrates a train robbery profoundly, with help from various different set of tones the actors demonstrated from their acting. This silent short film is suspenseful, comedic, and thrilling all at a compatible moment. This film is about a group of bandits which work as a team to rob a train and all the people on board which they do so rather violently. This group of people get on to the train and hurt the captain asking where the vault of valuable objects is located. Once they receive this information they rush into the room where the vault is located and utilize a small explosion to retrieve the goods inside, after this they rush on to the top of the train where the audience witnessed the first fist fight of the film. This brawl ends with the workers/staff of the train being tossed off. After this scene, the leader of the delinquent group commands the director of the train to come to a stop, once this occurs the group forces all the passengers off the train and forces them to do so in a silent manner with a gun pointed at them. The group of robbers demonstrated their extent of violence as one individual tried to make a run for it and got shot. Once they received the money and valuables from the passengers the group of bandits got back onto the train and fled. Edwin S. Porter explains such a detailed story exquisitely, and in such a profound manner in which he makes individuals proud to call him their favorite silent film director.
One of my favorite silent films is "A Trip Down Market Street," (1906) was directed by the Miles Brothers and cinematography was done by Harry Miles. This 13 minute silent film tells the daily life of someone living in San Francisco. A camera was put on a car and it drove down Market Street, as it makes its way to downtown San Fransisco we get a glimpse of how fashion, transportation, and architecture was in the early 1900's. This film was done in one shot but what makes this a great film for me, it shows how much has change from 1906 to 2015.
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