Should you use silent movies as metaphors?

I’m the first one to admit that silent movies are not the most popular subject for metaphorical speech but I do sometimes run across them being (mis)used in that context. And so, since I had a bout of insomnia, here is a handy chart that will tell you whether or not you should use silent movies in your next metaphor.

(Actually, silent movies seem to be more often used as similes but I won’t tell if you don’t.)

I should also clarify that I absolutely think that everyone is capable of appreciating and enjoying silent films. The only things you need are an open mind and a bit of imagination. That being said, if you’re going to use something as a figure of speech, it’s kind of nice to know what that something is. Otherwise you will head into Blackadder territory and we don’t want that, do we?

So, let’s look at examples:

DON’T

“Be quiet like a silent movie!” (So, you want them to move about with lively piano accompaniment?)

“View what they say as a silent movie: actions speak louder than words.” (While silent film is a visual medium, title cards carry a lot of weight, as do lines of dialogue intended to be lip-read. Actions are more COMMON than words in silent film but the words are still important.)

DO

“She makes up her eyes like a silent movie vamp.” (Assuming that she really does heavily line them.)

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11 Replies to “Should you use silent movies as metaphors?”

  1. “She makes up her eyes like Conrad Veidt in ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari'” (or like Ivan Mosjoukine in “Queen of Hearts”).

  2. I think this counts, because Technicolor started in the silent era – if a woman uses far too much blue eye-shadow, I refer to her as a “Technicolor raccoon.”

  3. “Then he stared at me like Valentino in The Sheik” has been used over here on occasion (usually not in a flattering way might add, since “bulged his eyes out” is an alternate version).

      1. Ha! Easy to do. I made my chart and then realized that most of the instances of silent films in figures of speech were similes but I was lazy and here we are. Serves me right for living in a silent movie.

  4. I’ll see your “serves me right for living in a silent movie” and raise you a “serves me right for living with a freelance editor!” Picky, picky, picky 😀

    By the way, I have tried on occasion “stared at me like Valentino at Nazimova,” but it somehow didn’t have the same punch (although the Camille stare is hands down more…was going to term it “outré,” but will leave it at “pronounced.”)

    1. Yes, The Sheik look has its own special brand of wacky. I used to call it the “java look” because it seemed that Mr. Valentino had been freely imbibing in caffeinated beverages.

  5. This isn’t quite a proper metaphor but some friends and I do refer to an isolated window in a building’s wall as the Buster Keaton Spot. It’s not factually correct to the original reference, but the first-floor window and door of that house make so little impression, while the second-floor window made an impression that still feels urgent.

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