Silent movies are often portrayed as scratchy, jittery things with warped ragtime piano playing in the background. In reality, silent films were meticulously crafted, as beautiful today as they were when they were first released.
It’s only proper that we open with a GIF from a Maurice Tourneur film as he was truly the master of gorgeous visuals. This is the intro to The Wishing Ring (1914), a darling little romantic comedy with the kind of lush imagery that was Tourneur’s trademark.
We’re going to follow up with an eerie shot from The Blue Bird, also directed by Maurice Tourneur. The picture is toned dark blue and tinted in aqua, which results in a rich two color effect.
Read my review here. (I also cover the infamous Soviet/Liz Taylor remake.)
Lotte Reiniger’s silhouette animation is astonishing because of her attention to detail. See how the chess piece wobbles a bit when it is placed? This is from The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the earliest known surviving full-length animated feature.
Another brilliant use of silhouettes, this time with live performers. Alexandre Volkoff’s addictive serial, The House of Mystery, is full of these charming touches.
I am just bonkers for French stencil color (if you’ve never heard of it, it’s exactly what it sounds like) and Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the most luscious examples. Look at those shades! That detail! It’s almost too gorgeous and the entire film uses the process.
Read my review here. (I also cover Jose Ferrer’s legendary performance.)
Our final example is going to be a little unexpected. Paper walls! Blood! Gore! Who is this masked director? None other than Cecil B. DeMille, who collaborated with cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff to create some of the most striking images of the 1910s. This is from DeMille’s trash classic, The Cheat.
Read my full-length review here. (I also cover the remake starring Tallulah Bankhead.)