Questions from the Google: A Potpourri of Odd and Unusual Queries

In this series, I take search engine queries that led people to my site and try to answer them as best as I can.

While my previous entries had themes to them, this time I will be answering queries that were either odd enough to be intriguing or insulting enough to be infuriating. I hope you enjoy!

Marion Davies in the Great Gatsby?

No.

Secretary homely and married

Like this?
Like this?

I don’t think I can help on this one but I am absolutely dying to know what caused someone to search the internet for it.

Hopalong Cassidy television show, silent or talkie?

Silent, of course! All the best television shows were silent. Everyone knows that.

Bessie Love first silent movie star?

No.

Movies about lost boy who meets girl.

Basically every movie ever made.

Classic feminine movies.

I’m female and when I’m not watching silent movies, I’m watching this:

yojimboSo, I guess “Japanese sword movies” would be the answer.

Ah, the most feminine of classic movies!

Silent movies that have breastfeeding.

Wow! I actually know the answer! Tol’able David.

How did Hopalong Cassidy get shot?

With a gun.

How did they do the eye movements in Ella Cinders?

A very famous sequence. It was done with a split screen. (This technique was very refined in the silent era, sometimes better looking than in sound films.)

Reason for the creation of silent movies

Same reason for the creation of sound movies. Because they wanted to.

Films about depravity

Go away.

Kinetoscope hand cranked?

Yes, it was.

Marion Davies was an awful actress

Why you… Ok, that’s it.

don-juan-leap-animated-gif-silent-movie

And stay out!

Questions from the Google: What’s a silent movie?

Pearls Before Swine What's a silent movie?
(via gocomics.com)

I’m back with more search engine queries! This time, I am going to be answering questions related to silent films themselves.

Who are the people in silent film?

Number of silent movies presumed lost?

Exaggerated silent film acting?

How to get into silent films?

How to make a silent film.

Let’s get started!

Who are the people in silent film?

Who's who in Hollywood 1928

A lot of people worked in silent film and it would be impossible to list them all in a single post. However, if you are curious, the venerable Silent Ladies & Silent Gents is a fabulous resource, as is Silents Are Golden.

Number of silent movies presumed lost?

There are whole books about this.
There are whole books about this.

A lot of silent films are lost. Some put the percentage as high as 90%. However, it is impossible to say for sure since there is no exhaustive catalog of every single silent film print in the world. Sometimes, a missing film has simply been sitting in an archive in an unlabeled canister. Film preservation was not a priority in the early history of film and we are still suffering from the aftereffects of that neglect.

So, it would be impossible to give an exact number of lost films. If you want more details on how films are lost and how they can be found again, here is my introductory article on the subject.

Exaggerated silent film acting?

I’m actually uncomfortable using that word to describe silent film acting. You see, a few generations of people snickering at the silents has meant that, to most people, silent movie acting involves, well, this:

You must pay the rent! Etc. etc, etc...
You must pay the rent! Etc. etc, etc…

Never mind that this is Victorian stage melodrama acting and never mind that silent films were often spoofing this style.

Silent film actors engaged in the very challenging art of pantomime and the best ones could get their message across with astonishing accuracy. Yes, the emotions are portrayed more powerfully but that was due to the nature of the craft.

Of course, there were stage holdovers in the silents who insisted on overdoing it. And there were actors who were purposely camping it up. And, finally, there were indeed some bad actors in silent movies. Like today. You got movies? You probably have a few bad actors. That’s how life works. However, it would be unfair to judge the entire art by a few hams and turkeys.

How to get into silent films?

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid
You can’t go wrong with an acclaimed silent comedy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can seem a bit daunting. Silent movies are very different from sound films and take more concentration to watch. I usually recommend starting with comedies from one of the masts like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaon, Harold Lloyd or Harry Langdon. If you want more details, I have a list of tips and recommendations for first-time watchers.

How to make a silent film.

Do you have what it takes?
Do you have what it takes?

Amateur filmmaking is not a modern hobby. It was a pretty popular hobby in the silent era and there were multiple books published on the subject. I actually collect them and have reviewed quite a few of them. Check out my book section for reviews.

In the meantime, here are a few tips that will make your silent film more accurate:

The ratio is not one line of dialogue to one intertitle

Silent movies expected their audiences to read lips. This was for a few reasons. First, many fillmakers felt that onscreen titles spoiled the flow and rhythm of a film and tried to minimize them. Others found audience lipreading was a way to include dialogue that would otherwise be censored.

Please do not tie women to tracks

Or I will be forced to hit you with a trout.

Don’t neglect the great outdoors

Silent films did not have to worry about sound equipment and outdoor scenery was cheap and plentiful.

I hope these answers were helpful and get you started on the right track with silent movies.

Recommended

Questions from the Google: Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

New feature! I like to read over the search engine queries that bring people to my site. Lately, I have been noticing the same sort of queries cropping up again and again:

Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

Snidely Whiplash in silent films?

Silent star tied to train tracks.

I have previously posted about the origins of this cliche but let’s take a look at these search engine queries and see if we can finally put this ridiculous myth to rest.

(Oh, and in the spirit of generosity, let me advise you never, ever to bring this up among silent film fans as a serious topic. You will be ruthlessly mocked for your ignorance and you will deserve it.)

The Questions:

Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

No one.

Let me repeat for emphasis.

NO ONE!

No Hollywood executive said “We need that fellow who does the railroad track thing! Get him at once!” There was no such man because the cliche was simply not used that much in motion pictures.

The footage of the train track cliche that usually gets trotted out is from one of two Sennett comedies, Teddy at the Throttle or Barney Oldfield’s Race for Life. Both films were making fun of the cliche, which was seen as dusty, clueless and so last century.

Ahem.
Ahem.

The gentlemen playing the villains in these films were Wallace Beery and Ford Sterling, respectively. However, both men were better known for their other comedic skills. This is not how they regularly spent Saturday night.

The play that originated this trope, Under the Gaslight, was written in 1867. The victim, by the way, was male. There was a real-life copycat incident in 1874. Again, the victim was male.

Snidely Whiplash in silent films?

Dudley Doright
Not a silent movie.

Snidely Whiplash is a send-up of Victorian melodrama villains, the same target that inspired the Sennett comedies. If he is based on a silent era character, it is likely one of these Sennett comedians.

Silent star tied to train tracks.

Again, no silent era studio executive ever said, “That girl who gets tied to the tracks all the time! Fetch her for this film.”

In the films mentioned before, the victims were Gloria Swanson and Mabel Normand. I am going to repeat this one more time: These were comedies! The peril was meant to make fun of the over-the-top melodramas that had been in style a few years before.

In the 1916 serial A Lass of the Lumberlands the hero, Leo Maloney, is tied up and stumbles onto train tracks and then is rescued by Helen Holmes. Not exactly a perfect fit. Pearl White, to the best of my knowledge, was never victimized in this manner and any purported footage of this has yet to turn up. (The trope was used in the ridiculous sound remake of The Perils of Pauline.) Please note too that American serials were not regarded as the pinnacle of fine film writing.

train-tracks

In one of the few examples of this trope presented seriously in a mainstream silent feature film, the leading man of Blue Jeans (which I wrote an article about) was nearly sliced in half in a sawmill before being rescued by leading lady Viola Dana. Contemporary reviews praised the film but noted its old-fashioned source material. The train tracks/sawmill thing was just not something a modern film circa 1917 would use.

Blue-Jeans-Viola-Dana-John-Collins-1917 (2)

I have run across comments that talk about wanting to make a “1920 silent movie where a woman is tied to the train tracks.” I should mention that I have never found an example of this cliche in studios films made after 1919.

So now we know that the trope was rare, that men were just as likely to be victims and that the whole thing died before the twenties let out a single roar, well except for amateur films like this one:

Home videos are totally the same as studio releases! (And, again, the victim is a man.)

This fixation on railroad tracks is especially strange when you consider how long the silent film era lasted. Saying that silent movies (the era stretched between 1895 and 1929) regularly featured women tied to the train tracks would be like looking at the Home Alone movies and their ripoffs and then declaring that all films made in the 1990’s to 2010’s regularly featured small children beating up dimwitted burglars with elaborate booby traps. Avatar? Jurassic Park? Independence Day? The Artist? Men in Black 1-3? They all had that in them, right?

Other film sites have written on this oddly specific misconception but the queries keep on coming in. It’s a myth that really needs to die.