How Do You Watch Silent Movies?

One question that gets asked again and again: How do you watch these silent movies? I thought I would put this question to you, dear readers.

I primarily view silent films on DVD and Bluray but here are some free resources that are available to me. (I am located in California)

The National Film Preservation Foundation Screening Room

The Irish Film Institute’s IFI Player

The National Film Board of Canada

European Film Gateway

How about you? How do you watch silent movies? On DVD or Bluray? Live screenings? Streaming that is available in your nation of residence? Remember, you may be helping other silent film fans make their own discoveries.

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29 Replies to “How Do You Watch Silent Movies?”

  1. DVD and Blu Ray as much as I can to support the companies that still issue it on physical media. Filmstruck (for a short while longer), and Fandor. I also am lucky enough to live near an old theater that has an original theater organ installation that has started a silent film series again. And it is becoming quite popular so I see it continuing. I can also travel a little further once or twice a year to a state museum that hosts silent film with live piano. And, speaking of luck, through advertising for a silent film club I met a friend of a friend who is a piano player that has accompanied silent films for many years. He and I put on public screenings about five times a year. We have one coming up in mid-November….we are showing “The Phantom Carriage” and possibly a Charley Bowers short if I can get that worked out.

  2. I see them on DVD, TCM when they run them. I also have seen them at Library of Congress, I have some 16mm, 8mm and 9.5mm prints I run on my own projectors, but I don’t have a very large collection. I also have been to Symposiums such as the Orphans Film Symposium and was fortunate to catch some at the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, and Domitor which was at George Eastman Museum and the Dryden Theater this past year. Usually I don’t get to that many venues, I was extremely fortunate this year.

  3. It’s an interesting situation in Sydney, Australia. Unlike Melbourne we don’t have a ‘Cinematheque.’

    But between commercial chain Dendy, which is currently running a new series of 30s & 40s features, the Art Gallery of NSW, which has a regular season (usually linked to their new exhibitions, ‘Art From the Hermitage’ being the travelling show, hence Russian films) and the devoted Ronny and Sharon who run the Australia’s Silents Film Festival all year round for their love of silent film, with cooperation from the State Library of NSW.

    Sydney’s more random situation could be better than if there were to be an institutionalised ‘Cinematheque’.

    Otherwise and personally, I watch DVDs and Blu-rays.

    I’ve put $2 coins in a jar for months now and I’ll soon buy a bigger and better TV.

  4. Mostly theatrically. I’m in Boston, and three local theaters have regular silent programs, while a couple of the repertory cinemas in the area regularly include silents as part of retrospectives.

    A huge part of the credit here likely goes to Jeff Rapsis, who is the regular accompanist at three or four venues and often gets called on at others. It’s a ton of gigs, and having someone who is pretty much always on call, looking for this sort of gig, and willing to help promote the shows removes an obstacle from places that might think silents are a neat idea but maybe not for them.

    1. Until about a year ago: the now-closed Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, Hollywood (formerly managed by Cinefamily). Still watching on TCM Silent Sundays, DVD/Bluray, Fandor, and occasional one-off theater events. Also great: Ben Model’s Silent Film Music podcast.

  5. We watch them, for the most part, here at home via DVD and Bluray on a 52 inch tv in our den. Everywhere I’ve lived as an adult have held Silent Movie Nights for friends, relatives, and curious neighbors. Own several projectors of various vintages, moviolas, and VCRs that I use to screen films from my collection. The absolute best though is on a theatre screen with live accompaniment. For those special times over the years I’ve been lucky enough to attend quite a few festivals and screenings in the States, Canada, UK, and Italy. Now live in California, so these years it’s the SF Silent Film Festival for me!

  6. Mainly on disc. I live in the Midlands of England and silent films are rarely shown (unless anyone knows otherwise).
    I suggested including silent at the film club of our local University of the Third Age, but the only response was a bell tolling in the distance and a clump of tumbleweed rolling down the street…….

  7. I’ve only recently become interested in silent movies. I’m in the U.K. and have found it pretty difficult to find films at a reasonable price. For example, I watched a ‘download’ of Lillian Gish in The Wind, and fell in love with that. I’ve always made it a point to pay for all my movies, but on Amazon it’s £18 for the DVD, with Spanish subtitles and artwork! Youtube has some good stuff. Some of the sites like the National film preservation foundation – nothing loads for me. I do have Criterion Chaplain and Pandora’s box on disc. But overall I’m finding it a challenge to to build a library of silent films at reasonable cost where I am. Unless someone in the U.K. tells me I’m wrong and points me in the right direction!

    1. To Stephen Cowley: I’m afraid I have had to bite the bullet and fork out a small fortune, but it’s been worth it.
      Don’t be tempted by cheap eBay copies, they are rarely any good.

  8. TCM is a big source for me. Not only Sunday nights but they’ll feature silent on a star’s birthday ( primarily for stars that had a career into the sound era). Just this week I caught a number of shorts and features from the WW 1 era. Especially enjoyed “Where are My Children.”. In these days of streaming I’ve developed an aversion to DVDs. That we lack a good source for silent streaming is a pity.

  9. Mostly DVD & Bluray, then YouTube, TCM. I got rid of a fairly extensive 8mm collection & my projectors some dozen years ago: too inconvenient to view, too difficult to keep projectors in repair. Even longer ago I sold 200 beta tapes & a player on eBay. I still have several dozen hard or impossible to replace VHS tapes (e.g., The Wind) & two functioning tape players. I hope my race with technology is near an end!

  10. DVD,Tcm and live close to SF silent film fest and Niles Silent Theatre.Baby Peggy (Diana Serra Cary) is going to be in Niles next weekend to celebrate her 100 birthday Thanks for listing of websites.

  11. If a good streaming service was available, I would probably see more early silents before 1919. Most of them I’d be interested in seeing only once, and DVD’s are quite expensive. Just bought and enjoyed Whishing Ring, though.

    90% DVD/Bluray, 9% governmental TV, 1% national archive theater.

  12. I like blu-rays of well restored films. I watch them with my wife on our 50 inch screen–no big projection systems. DVDs are OK. Everything doesn’t have to be pristine. Scratches and speckles don’t annoy me as much as really dark or really soft pictures. Occasionally, my wife and I will drive to Culpeper to the Packard Campus, but not often. We saw The Spanish Dancer there. It is fun to see films with an appreciative audience. I have some films saved from TCM on the DVR, but TCM doesn’t show a lot of new silents, just the usual suspects. Most of the one’s I want to see I already have recorded.

  13. Mostly DVD and Bluray, although I still have a VCR for those films that aren’t yet on disc (it’s also hard to resist those classic non silent films on VHS at the thrift store for a dime a pop). There’s a theater in a town near me that shows silent films with organ accompaniment a few times a year, and I take these in when I’m not working and my health allows it. I also occasionally watch films on YouTube, although that tends to be hit and miss.

  14. Blu ray and DVDs, then once a month in the audience at the Silent Clowns film series in Manhattan. Occasionally at MOMA, but that’s mostly in summer.

  15. for me it’s either youtube or a local screening. i do own a few silent films on video tape but i am confident that the only silent dvd i have is a thanhouser compilation i received for donating to the fundraiser for florence la badie’s gravestone in 2017.

    sometimes i’ll also watch them on tcm on-demand online

    youtube may be the least noble, least credible, and least dignified way to watch a special classic silent film, but i am grateful for it. plus the boston guy who commented earlier about jeff rapsis is right – he does great work.

  16. Preference is for blu-ray. Though it can be very expensive to import most of the USA based ones to Australia. YouTube as well, though the variable quality obviously makes that quite hit and miss.

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