Springtime Silent Movie Challenge: In the Beginning…

While the silent era lasted for over three decades, it is the 1920s that seems to define the art of mute cinema. People who don’t know any better even type things like “1920s silent movie” without thinking twice.

Even for fans of the art, early cinema can be a challenge. In fact, it is sometimes dismissed entirely as for-historical-purposes-only.

Not so fast! It’s high time that we start viewing early cinema not as a tedious building block but as an art in its own right. But before we can even begin to change minds about these films, we need to see more of them ourselves. That’s why I decided to challenge you, dear readers, to expand your viewing.

Since this is a springtime challenge, it seemed only right to set the first day of summer as the deadline. There are no prizes other than the pleasure of seeking knowledge and fun but I hope you will be able to participate.

Here’s the challenge. Before June 21, 2018, you will:

  1. Watch 5 movies made between 1906 and 1914
  2. Watch 5 movies made in 1905 or before
  3. Share your experience on your blog, on social media or here in the comments (I will set up a special post for the purpose to publish on June 21)

That’s all! If you’ve already seen plenty of early films, take this opportunity to expand your knowledge and watch some more obscure fare. If you’re a newbie, take this chance to watch some must-see classics like The Great Train Robbery, A Trip to the Moon and A Corner in Wheat. If you already love early cinema, please come along anyway and encourage the others.

Many early films are just minutes (or seconds!) long so you could conceivably watch all five 1905-and-before films in less than fifteen minutes! This is a small investment of time that will pay off enormously by enriching your knowledge of film history.

There are several collections that you may find helpful in this endeavor:

The Movies Begin: A Treasury of Early Cinema, 1894-1913 – An overall tour of early cinema history

Gaumont Treasures: 1897-1913 – Delightful French films from the legendary studio

Edison: The Invention of the Movies: 1891-1918 – Exactly what it says on the tin

If you are a bit short of cash or don’t have access to rental discs, you can watch legal versions of silent films for free thanks to the European Film Gateway and the National Film Preservation Foundation. (Please note that online players may be subject to location restrictions.)

Here’s a swell badge if you want to share the project on your site or social media:

See you in June! I hope you will share the films that you watched and your experiences with this challenge. And feel free to share your to-watch list here as I am sure other readers would love some inspiration.


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17 Replies to “Springtime Silent Movie Challenge: In the Beginning…”

  1. Even though he ends his history at 1897, C. W. Ceram’s Archaeology of the Cinema is a fascinating (and very readable: lots of pictures!) study of the prehistory and early history of film from “rapid viewers” and film strips to “industry”. A nice lead-in to your challenge….

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