Coming soon: Your first year of silent films

When I get repeats of the same request, it starts to dawn on me that there is an untapped demand. For the last few months, I have been asked again and again to provide accessible silent film selections to help people enjoy the art. Well, here goes!

My Silent Movies 101 series serves as an introduction to the art overall but my First Year series will focus on expanding your knowledge through practical application. In other words, let’s get watching!

Silent films are ill-served in pop culture. The “iconic” image of a screaming damsel tied to the tracks by a cackling villain has completely infected public perception of silent cinema– never mind that the film they are thinking of never really existed. And yes, many people do insist that such a film was actually made. These people have never seen a silent film but, darn it, they are going to ‘splain them to silent movie fans.

My reaction to most introductions to silent film.
My reaction to most introductions to silent film.

Silent films are also ill-served by many “Important Films in History” lists (and a good number of art history 101 classes). We start with The Great Train Robbery, A Trip to the Moon and then BOOM! we’re in features with either Birth of a Nation or Intolerance and then Battleship Potemkin (usually shown at the wrong speed), maybe something German and then The Jazz Singer and we never have to talk about those awful silent films again. Phew!

Hold your horses, buckaroo! There’s a lot of meat on those bones and we just skipped over it! It’s not that the usual suspects are bad choices or necessarily bad films, it’s just that we are not creating a complete or accurate picture of silent films as an art.

Just wait until you see my plan!
Just wait until you see my plan!

The Plan

Here’s the format: I will recommend two silent features and maybe a short or two. Basically, enough to watch over a weekend. Each week will focus on a different topic but the overall goal is to provide you with as wide an experience as possible. You will be sampling a buffet of films and, I hope, build your own taste in the process.

The good news is that in attempting to watch silent films, you have already demonstrated that you have an open mind and a willingness to learn. That’s precisely the attitude we will need to move forward! Also, please remember that it is perfectly normal to have an acclimation period. Silent films require far more intense concentration than sound films and you may find them tiring at first. This will fade as you watch more silents.

Quirky, you say?
Quirky, you say?

I promise you this: my list and recommendations will be quirky, broad in variety and unlike anything you have seen in sound pictures. Let the high schools and clickbait websites keep the unimaginative listicles, we’re diving into the deep end and we’re going to have a wonderful time! (Playing Cuanto Le Gusta would be suitable at this point.)

The first week will be all about opening up your mind to the creative possibilities of silent film. I mean to make an impact! One picture should go down smooth and easy, the other is more challenging but I guarantee that both films will be a revelation to you. I will also include two shorter selections for your enjoyment.

The first post will launch this Saturday!

Does it have to be comedy?

Silly? Who? Us?
Silly? Who? Us?

The easy answer for first-timers is to direct them to slapstick comedy. However, I do not believe in one-size-fits-all approaches. In fact, I have had success showing newcomers Judex, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, My Best Girl and The Cat and the Canary.

Has slapstick comedy charmed and won over new fans? Of course! But it is a mistake to think that it is the only way to go. In the topsy-turvy world of modern silent fandom, comedy gets all the laurels while drama is locked in the basement. This is a major error and starting out with a stiff dose of quality drama is an ideal cure. Plus, ironically enough, the silent comedy fandom is full of drama. Go figure.

How can I watch these movies?

I will make every effort to select films that are either currently in print on DVD or are available for legal streaming in the United States. Because international distribution rights are designed for blockbusters and nothing else, there may be some issues with getting these films overseas but remember that region-free players are the film buff’s friend!


  1. Faded Endless

    Some days I do wonder how Battleship Potemkin became one of the silent film standards. I get why it’s an important film, but it wouldn’t be my pick for a film appreciation class. It would like someone asking “I want to get into recently released movies. Where should I start?” and answering “Here is the latest Terrence Malick movie. Enjoy.” It’s not exactly a viewer friendly experience, or an accurate representation of movies from it’s era.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      My main problem with the choice of “Potemkin” is that up until a few years ago, all the released versions were a Soviet re-cut that was played waaaaaaaaay tooooooo slooooooooow. So this snappy film was suddenly turned into a painful slow-motion disaster. The new edition released by Kino Lorber was such a revelation to me. But, yes, the programmers and popular films of the silent era (both Hollywood products and foreign fare) are almost completely ignored, which is a darn shame.

  2. Ross

    How can you do this to my budget? Already I have 7 flicks in the mail, and a list of 6 for next month’s CC cycle πŸ™‚ I suspect that I could have some of the titles that you may list.

  3. Birgit

    I hope to participate and maybe see some on line which is not my first choice for viewing but may be my only way unless I have the film. You made me laugh about the very true way silent snare shown

  4. girlsdofilm

    I look forward to watching (and writing) about as many of these as possible – I certainly need to fill in plenty of gaps in my knowledge. To that aim, I recently purchased tickets to see a piano-accompanied screening of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. EXCITING TIMES

    Thank you so much for your tireless enthusiasm for silent film, it’s always infectious and – most importantly – inclusive. πŸ™‚

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