+ Reply to Thread
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 30
  1. #1
    Member Country: Australia Paul Austin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Posts
    18
    Liked
    0 times
    Silent films were considered commercially worthless once sound came in (Chaplin and a few others being the exception), and nitrate prints disintegrated quickly (another reason why so few are left, and why many 1930s sound films are also lost).

    Silent westerns in particular were forgotten because they had no commercial viability for being shown on TV once that came in. Also, according to William K. Everson's book "The Western", it was conventional wisdom in 1929 Hollywood that westerns would die off with sound. (The early talkie era would see fewer westerns made than at any time until the late '70s.)
    It was the Depression and audiences' desire to escape its horrors that resurrected it.

    The comedy stars associated with Hal Roach Studios, like Laurel & Hardy, the Our Gang (Little Rascals) series, and Harold Lloyd (although Lloyd was no longer associated with Roach by the time sound hit) managed to continue making films into the sound era, and sound proved to be a blessing for W.C. Fields - for the first time audiences could hear his wisecracks on film (not just on the vaudeville stage). Harold Lloyd's relative obscurity has to do with him controlling the rights to his feature films (both his later silents and his sound films, the only exception being his final film, the Howard Hughes-produced "Mad Wednesday" from 1946) and so they remained out of circulation for years. As for Buster Keaton, he lived long enough for his older work to finally be recognized while he was still around to enjoy the recognition. Keaton's career was not so much a casualty of sound but of studio politics - he stopped producing his own films and signed a contract with MGM which saw him as "Groucho Marx and Al Jolson in one man" and put him in some very cheesy early talkies which stiffed. Keaton's own marital difficulties and alcoholism didn't help. BTW, I have seen some of Keaton's talkie shorts from the '30s and '40s and those are unfairly neglected. Read a bio of his life or see the documentary Kevin Brownlow did about him - fascinating stuff.

    Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's real demon was mostly severe alcoholism. However, William Randolph Hearst exaggerated the extent of Fatty's alcoholism and "perversions" in our history, and in a timeline in which he isn't on Hearst's side, Hearst would smear him in a similar fashion if he runs for political office.

    It's hard to do a what-if in which Fatty never goes to the St. Francis, as he probably wouldn't be remembered to the extent that he is if not for the scandal. He'd be just another silent comic/vaudevillian popular in his day who got forgotten with time like Harry Langdon or Joe Penner.

    Admittedly, I have only seen ONE film with Arbuckle ("Coney Island", a comedy short in which Fatty was paired with Buster Keaton - probably because my interest in Keaton exceeds my interest in Arbuckle), but that's probably more than most people my age.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK Moor Larkin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    6,472
    Liked
    120 times
    The Comedy Silent Films were very popular on TV when I was a kid, but often the humour seemed to partly rely on the fact that everybody moved very quickly. I grew up thinking that was the way they were made, but only in recent years found out that it was a mere chimera of the frame speed - or something technical like that. The fact remains they had value until the coming of clour, then they dropped off the TV screen - one innovation too much for their survival, although some were colorized I think.

    I very vaguely recall a Valentino Silent being shown, because it was "classic" and I remember thinking it was hilariously stupid in every way, but I was only a kid back then and didn't know much about the differences in era's and changes in society, etc etc....... I think Metropolis got a showing too though, and I recall enjoying that a lot, so maybe it's something to do with pap only ever being of the moment, but true worth has a universal appeal and this can be paramount in terms of longevity of enjoyment.

    I imagine silent movies were being rapidly re-made as talkies too, so the "original" became redundant as the new improved versions came along. We see this happening today, with many Sixties/Seventies films being re-made, perhaps with CGI, or some other improved special effect or conveniently revised social more. This has already led to the version of "Assault on Precinct 13" made recently, occupying the TV Movie schedules for that slot, and consigning the 1976 brilliant original to the dust of forgetfullness. Twas always thus maybe.

    Last edited by Moor Larkin; 08-05-12 at 01:22 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: Scotland narabdela's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    1,309
    Liked
    20 times
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Austin View Post
    Silent films were considered commercially worthless once sound came in (Chaplin and a few others being the exception), and nitrate prints disintegrated quickly (another reason why so few are left, and why many 1930s sound films are also lost)
    There's an excellent documentary on the subject, co-written and produced by the inimitable Randy Gitsch.



  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: United States will.15's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    5,576
    Liked
    0 times
    Keaton's early talkies for MGM although not very good were actually good moneymakers. It was his alcoholism, partly fueled by his unhappiness with the movies he was making, that killed his career at MGM. As was pointed out, the Educational shorts are underrated, they certainly are a big improvement over the MGMs, which tried to add too much wise-cracking dialogue to Keaton comedies and teamed him unsuitably with Jimmy Durante.

    It is hard to say what would have happened if Fatty Arbuckle's career wasn't affected by scandal. He was more talented than your average silent comic (there were a lot of them making shorts). He wrote and directed his own shorts. He didn't really have a chance to show what he was capable of in feature films. The other day I saw on youtube an early talkie short he directed starring Al St. John, his nephew, who was also in his shorts with Keaton. It was pretty terrible. He died not long after that.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: UK didi-5's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    3,618
    Liked
    191 times
    I always feel that with the rush to embrace 'sound' a real artform died when silent cinema disappeared. Of course the talking picture would reach its first peak by 1939, but watch comedy and dramatic examples from 1910-29 and you can still be amused, amazed, and entertained.

    When I was growing up Laurel and Hardy was on the TV but so was Lloyd and even Arbuckle. Keaton I discovered much later and see him as the great genius of silent comedy, even more than Chaplin who was sometimes stifled by pathos.

    Silent cinema to me is the sprawling sets of Intolerance, Louise Brooks' fringe, Wally Reid's boy next door, the Sunrise montage, Renee Adoree discovering gum in The Big Parade, the curls of Mary Pickford, the derring-do of Douglas Fairbanks, the sad eyes of Harry Langdon, the cross-eyes of Ben Turpin, and the delicate beauty in suffering of Falconetti.

    In British cinema it is the climax of Blackmail, Rescued by Rover, the weird twists and turns of Underground, Silent Shakespeare, Estelle Brody's naughty look, and Alma Taylor. And much more I haven't discovered yet. It's all great.

    Remakes don't really make any difference to the power of the original - Ben Hur can be Novarro just as much as Heston.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: UK
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    446
    Liked
    9 times
    didi-5 - Laurel & Hardy on TV in the school holidays was my start into silents as well (although a lot of them were early talkies). I remember at about the same time Chaplin was shown in the same slot, although apart from the Gold Rush, I can't remember much of it (and probably didn't like it so much - Chaplin being a genius but not very funny). Harold Lloyd's 'World of Comedy' was a big influence, although the narration didn't do it any favours. The big problem with all the TV shows which showcased silents in the 1970's is that they were chopped up so that there often wasn't much of a narrative (the actor does some prat falls, the end of the sequence, thern another actor...), and of course they were all shown at a higher speed than they should have. The prints were often variable as well. To be fair, without silents being shown on TV, they would be even more marginal than they are now.

    Thankfully, we can now start to see them as they were meant to be seen. Better prints, on DVD/Blu -Ray http://www.silentera.com/ are a real step forward, and of course there area lot more big screen festivals, etc. Its sad that 90% have gone, but that 10% is still a large number, and there are some real gems.

    Silents are still entertaining, even to my kids. They love Harold Lloyd (Safety Last, of course), like some of Keaton's stuff (a Poundland DVD of Steamboat Bill, which is admittedly not a good print, had them in stitches), and thought that the Potato dance from the Gold Rush was great. Laurel & Hardy (both silent and early talkie) is one of their new joys. My daughter (whose seven) was even interested in 'Orphans of the Storm' when it was on Film 4 a while back. True, its hugely meldromatic in its acting, but she did want to know whether Lillian Gish gets executed in the end! Drama's generally don't look as good now, perhaps simply because much of the acting is simply too different in style to sound acting to appear realistic, although Big Parade, Wings and Sunrise show what can be done.

    As for remakes, silents were often remain, as silents! Film is a business, and always was. If you have a story which either didn't work, or did work and you can rejig it to make more money, then Hollywood will. When Elinor Glyn was asked what would happen after the Arbuckle scandal, she said ''Whatever will bring in the most money will happen." Thats Hollywood.

    Of course most remakes are rubbish, and thats even more true of the current crop (my wife was totally gripped by the original 'Precinct 13', but she was with me when she saw the remake - 'not bad, but not close'). On the other hand, remember that 'The Maltese Falcon' was first made into a film in 1931, then 1936 and finally again in 1941. Even by today's standards, thats ruthless.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: England Tonch's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Posts
    1,319
    Liked
    98 times
    Brought up on a 1970s diet of those Monkhouse/Bentine presented tea time speeded up "arse kickers" (my dad's term for the films of Chaplin, Keystone Cops, Keaton, Lloyd, Turpin et al) I still recall the belly laughs triggered around our living room as cars exploded or were swallowed by fathomless puddles, people were chased uphill by bears and downhill by boulders, and custard pies flew in blizzards. The early comics were usually skilled mime artistes - even the corpulent Roscoe Arbuckle and Oliver Hardy were surprisingly deft and graceful for such big men. I like the way some early talkies openly pay homage to the mime legacy - remember the wonderful broken mirror sequence in the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup" when it was actually the quick talking Groucho and Chico (for whom sound was surely a Godsend) who took us hilariously through the soundless motions. And of course Harpo reminded us throughout his career of the humorous power of silence.

    But let's not overlook the impact of silent horror either. The sinister shadow of Nosferatu on the stairwell, the grotesque presence of Chaney's Quasimodo on the pillory wheel or his grinning operatic "phantom" - these are still surely among the most powerful and iconic scenes in cinema history.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: Australia wadsy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    5,278
    Liked
    40 times
    There's a nice quote from John Barrymore describing his experience of acting in silent films where he describes its difficulties.

    "In the silent days I found myself making frantic & futile faces to try to express unexpressible ideas, like a man behind a closed window

    on a train that is moving out of a station who is trying, in pantomime, to tell his wife, on the platform outside, that he forgot to pack

    his blue pajamas & that he wants her to send them to him care of Detwiler, 1032 West 189th Street, New York City".

  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: UK didi-5's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    3,618
    Liked
    191 times
    Barrymore was a bit guilty of that kind of acting when he moved into talkies, too - but what a great quote!

    Mike - yes, agree on recycling of ideas. Not on silent dramas generally looking poor or silly now. I think the myth about everyone mugging and overacting for the camera just doesn't hold up when you start watching a lot of the stuff from then. OK, there are some actors like Mae Murray who were all big eyes and drama but there were also the Talmadges, Ronald Colman, Garbo, Olive Borden, Phyllis Haver and many others who looked as natural as stars do now, only without their voices.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: Scotland Gerald Lovell's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Posts
    7,060
    Liked
    182 times
    On the subject of John Barrymore, I've always loved the story about him that once talkies came in, he insisted he always had his flunky on set holding up an idiot board for him with his lines written on it.

    On one occasion, the line was "Yes" and it was duly written on the board. The director however wanted a certain angle and the flunky was in the way. He innocently asked Barrymore if he could dispense with the idiot board for the shot as the line only was "Yes" after all.

    Barrymore considered for a moment and then replied, 'But I might say "No" .'

    The director altered his angle.

  11. #11
    Super Moderator Country: England
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Posts
    4,803
    Liked
    7 times
    To borrow a quote, Silent Film is not a genre, but the first thirty years of film history. Every - and I do mean every - film that you can go and see in any cinema now had its roots in the silent era. Because of the limited screen time given to anything other than the (classic and otherwise) comedy shorts over the last forty-odd years on British TV very few people indeed have seen silent films - drama, non-slapstick comedy, documentaries and other genres - shown at the right speed, preferably in a cinema, preferably with suitable live music.....but the situation is getting better. Three of the top six silent film pianists are based in the UK; for the price of a multiplex ticket you can be at a live performance and begin to see something that we tend to forget.
    You may not have met your great-grandparents, but you probably met your grandparents. Let me tell you something about them. They were not idiots. Their friends and family weren't idiots. Their neighbours and fellow citizens were not idiots. They weren't going to the cinema, when times were pretty hard, because they had nothing else to spend their hard-earned on. And they went in their millions. Several times a week on average. We had cinemas built in the suburbs seating 3,000 at a time. Because the entertainment they offered, the product in modern parlance, was rather good. Not a novelty, after the first few weeks, but seriously good entertainment. The comedy was funny. Still is. The thrillers still thrill. The horrors still chill. The next time you get the chance, go and see what your grandfathers saw, and you'll understand a fair bit more about them. That they were just like us, just wearing different clothes.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: Ireland Edward G's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Posts
    2,401
    Liked
    107 times
    For years many silents were badly misrepresented by being shown at the wrong speed, with poor prints and unsympathetic (often tacked on) soundtracks.
    Anyone who has seen the restored prints of Chaplin's or Keaton's features complimented by the wonderful Carl Davis scores would be pleasantly surprised by the drama and grace of these movies.


    Quote Originally Posted by didi-5 View Post
    Barrymore was a bit guilty of that kind of acting when he moved into talkies, too - but what a great quote!

    Mike - yes, agree on recycling of ideas. Not on silent dramas generally looking poor or silly now. I think the myth about everyone mugging and overacting for the camera just doesn't hold up when you start watching a lot of the stuff from then. OK, there are some actors like Mae Murray who were all big eyes and drama but there were also the Talmadges, Ronald Colman, Garbo, Olive Borden, Phyllis Haver and many others who looked as natural as stars do now, only without their voices.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Posts
    1,371
    Liked
    4 times
    Quote Originally Posted by penfold View Post
    To borrow a quote, Silent Film is not a genre, but the first thirty years of film history. Every - and I do mean every - film that you can go and see in any cinema now had its roots in the silent era. Because of the limited screen time given to anything other than the (classic and otherwise) comedy shorts over the last forty-odd years on British TV very few people indeed have seen silent films - drama, non-slapstick comedy, documentaries and other genres - shown at the right speed, preferably in a cinema, preferably with suitable live music.....but the situation is getting better. Three of the top six silent film pianists are based in the UK; for the price of a multiplex ticket you can be at a live performance and begin to see something that we tend to forget.
    You may not have met your great-grandparents, but you probably met your grandparents. Let me tell you something about them. They were not idiots. Their friends and family weren't idiots. Their neighbours and fellow citizens were not idiots. They weren't going to the cinema, when times were pretty hard, because they had nothing else to spend their hard-earned on. And they went in their millions. Several times a week on average. We had cinemas built in the suburbs seating 3,000 at a time. Because the entertainment they offered, the product in modern parlance, was rather good. Not a novelty, after the first few weeks, but seriously good entertainment. The comedy was funny. Still is. The thrillers still thrill. The horrors still chill. The next time you get the chance, go and see what your grandfathers saw, and you'll understand a fair bit more about them. That they were just like us, just wearing different clothes.
    Mark, that's a great summary - thank you

    rgds
    Rob

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: UK
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    446
    Liked
    9 times
    I hoping that 'Hollywood' will finally get a DVD/Blu-Ray release (and be shown again on TV). If there is one person who has really pushed silents into the modern age, its Kevin Brownlow, and 'Hollywood' created a legion of new fans. We came very close (it was on Amazon!) but was withdrawn due to clearance problems. I recorded them onto VHS when Channel 4 repeated them about 15 years ago, and then transferred them onto DVD. Not perfect, but better than nothing. Hopefully, we can see a release of the series, and a release on disc of 'Harold Lloyd - the Third Genius' (only available second hand on VHS). Fortunately, the Keaton and Chaplin DVD's are still available, but it would be nice to complete the set.

    Of course it would be great if we could get some silents on TV as well! Paul Merton has done well, and Film 4 shows them sometimes, but they are few and far between. Looking at what is available (and Silenteras's Blu-Ray list is mouthwateringly long!), its not as if there isn't enough material out there.

    And Penfold is right, silents are just the first couple of decades of film. We should be seeing them on TV, etc, in the same way as we see a film from the fifties or seventies - Good print, right speed and right music. Not everything will work, but Douglas Fairbanks big productions are very watchable (if only to find out where the last half century of movie stunts came from), and The Big Parade/Wings are still very powerful.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Country: United States will.15's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    5,576
    Liked
    0 times
    Your average silent movie, not the classics, are hard to sit through when viewed today.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Country: UK didi-5's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    3,618
    Liked
    191 times
    Hollywood was an incredible series and does deserve a DVD release.Also, the Barbican, BFI and Royal Festival Hall should be commended for screening not just the classics from silent cinema, with a range of live accompaniments.
    Last edited by didi-5; 09-05-12 at 10:32 PM.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Country: UK Moor Larkin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    6,472
    Liked
    120 times
    Not silent [obviously] but a measure of the extant popularity of Laurel & Hardy amongst the boys and girls of a certain age was when they had a hit record in 1975....

    But then I found that somebody with much more authority than I had blogged about this, back in 2009..........
    http://wizwas.com/index.php/2009/12/...o-yesterday-9/

    I still think it is colour that did for the Silents on TV, rather than their silence, just as it did for old Talkies too. That and the fact that Nitrate film has suicidal tendencies.

  18. #18
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Posts
    27,372
    Liked
    418 times
    Quote Originally Posted by will.15 View Post
    Your average silent movie, not the classics, are hard to sit through when viewed today.
    Your average modern (i.e. produced over the last 50+ years) movie is hard to sit through. We only remember the great ones from the past, and that includes plenty of silents

    Steve

  19. #19
    Senior Member Country: UK golightly's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Posts
    1,373
    Liked
    142 times
    I had no interest in silent film as I thought I'd seen the best of them during my childhood days and then I caught a Harold Lloyd feature on one of the sky channels, The Freshman, I'd only ever seen Chaplin feature length films and short pieces by Lloyd, I bought a box set a few years back and I'm a big fan now.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: Scotland narabdela's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Posts
    1,309
    Liked
    20 times
    Just watched Buster Keaton's "The Navigator" for the first time ever. Pure joy!

    ...and interestingly, co-directed by Donald Crisp who most of us know better as a character actor.

Similar Threads

  1. The 10 best silent films ?
    By julian_craster in forum General Film Chat
    Replies: 50
    Last Post: 15-04-12, 05:46 AM
  2. Silent films in the talkie era?
    By Brief Encounter in forum Ask a Film Question
    Replies: 24
    Last Post: 19-03-12, 09:45 PM
  3. Silent films
    By toby jug in forum General Film Chat
    Replies: 42
    Last Post: 15-11-10, 01:25 PM
  4. Silent British films on DVD
    By philly in forum Ask a Film Question
    Replies: 11
    Last Post: 01-02-09, 02:26 AM
  5. Good british silent films
    By sky10 in forum British Films and Chat
    Replies: 24
    Last Post: 05-06-08, 12:48 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts