Maybe it was the first one you ever saw. Maybe it took a few tries to win you over. Whatever order it might have been, I want you to share the silent movie that made you think “Ah ha! This is for me!”
Mine was City Lights. It wasn’t my first silent film but Chaplin’s pristine slapstick and his blend of comedy and drama won me over completely.
Time for you to share! I am looking forward to your responses.
The Charlie Chaplin Comedy Theater, a syndicated television show adapting the Chaplin Essanays, Mutuals and some of the Keystones to a half-hour television format, with music from the Valentino library. Also, there was Fractured Flickers, which completely disrepected silent film, yet introduced me to their magic. Later there was THE SILENT YEARS on National Educational Television…The first series included:
(1) THE GOLD RUSH (1925), Charlie Chaplin;
(2) THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), Rudolph Valentino
(3) D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE (1916)
(4) THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920), Douglas Fairbanks;
(5) THE GENERAL (1926), Buster Keaton;
(6) THE BELOVED ROGUE (1927), John Barrymore
(7) THE EXTRA GIRL (1923), Mabel Normand
(8) THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), Douglas Fairbanks
(9) ORPHANS OF THE STORM (1921), The Gish Sisters
(10) SALLY OF THE SAWDUST (1925), Carol Dempster and WC Fields
(11) BLOOD AND SAND (1922), Rudolph Valentino
(12) THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923), Lon Chaney.
Could you have a better start?
GIRL SHY, I’m fairly sure. Made me fall for the movie, Harold and particularly Jobyna. Chaplin, SUNRISE, other Janet Gaynor’s, Murneau, Borzage, etc., all came later.
I started getting really in to silent films when I was about 15. The Unholy Three did it for me. Lon Chaney absolutely mesmerized me, and he still does.
Buster Keaton’s THE CAMERAMAN. I’d seen some Chaplin and A FOOL THERE WAS but that one got me hooked.
The Mark of Zorro. They had a silent film club at a theater across from the Edison Labs in West Orange and I went to see the Mark of Zorro and fell in love with silent movies. They even had a piano player. I joined the club and started collecting silent films. That was in the early 1960’s.
My first serious exposure to silent films came from borrowing a pile of VHS tapes from a local library. My mom had a nasty ear infection and was experiencing temporary hearing loss. She was miserable and couldn’t even enjoy watching normal television. It occurred to me that she might be able to handle some silent movies. I recently received my driver’s license, so I went to a library and checked out as many silent films as I could find and we started to binge watch them. I think the first tape was Modern Times. We both loved it and I was hooked. Then we saw City Lights, which I thought was even better. Later, we moved on to Buster Keaton and saw The General and The Cameraman.
Looking back, it almost seems incredible, but that pile of tapes also included a copy of Greed. It’s not a comedy, so I wasn’t sure if I would like it. However, it immediately became my favorite silent movie. It impressed upon me the tremendous dramatic potential of silent film making. That was when I really fell in love with silent films.
My father was quite deaf in his later years & hardly ever watched television. But we found an old diary of his where he listed films he had seen & liked as a young man. I had many of them on tape & we watched a number of them together: The Crowd, The Ten Commandments, The Gold Rush, Wings, & all the Harold Lloyd features. He had been a great Lloyd fan but hadn’t seen them since their first release. I can’t watch any of these films now without remembering.
Although I had seen & even owned a few silents earlier (abridged 8mm Chaplins, Tom Mixes, even a complete Smith Family), three films ordered from Blackhawk in my ‘teens confirmed my addiction: “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari,” a 2-reel version of “Nosferatu,” & a one-reeler titled “Steps of Odessa Sequence.”
Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, somewhat ironically a silent/sound hybrid with some interesting uses of limited sound grabbed me like few other films in my life did. It stimulated my previously low level curiosity about silent films to the point that I had to see more, and so became hooked.
It was a whole slew of Keaton films, of which ‘Our Hospitality’ and ‘The General’ became my favorites, that were featured in a festival at the tiny, wonderful Orson Welles Cinema near Harvard Square.
I’ll say two or three of them because I had probably 2-3 rebirths of maniacal enthusiasm for silent cinema.
In the early 1970’s, my mother had access to restoration of the Redford Theater in Redford, Michigan. I got to see lots of Harold Lloyd movies with live organ. I am fascinated by sounds. I have been my whole life. The organ was captivating.
Later the 1970’s my mother ran a youth film forum in Detroit. We got to see movies of all types. At some point, there was a re-release available of “Modern Times”. This is a sound movie with all of the hallmarks of a silent. It had a profound impact on me (as did The Great Dictator).
I grew up, raised a family, and eventually started watching silent movies again as catch-can (pre you tube). I remember seeing a clip of an Edison “Winter Straw Ride” which reminded me how interesting a simple silent documentaries can be. I really wanted to re-see it (it was played on an off-channel during the 1990’s).
Then I saw La Roue about 10 years ago. I have been crazy for silents ever since. I have obsessed with seeing as many as I can. Good, bad, terrible, and occasionally, great films. There are surprises every time I watch. Here is a list of silent film hooks, I’ve had epiphanies over:
The Freshman 1925 – Got me hooked on Lloyd in the 1970’s
La Roue 1923 – Rekindled my spirit for bigger films. This movie is not talked about enough. I think it is one of Gance’s finest. The direction and camera work is ahead of its time. Watched in the 2000’s and restarted my love.
South 1919 – This is an amazing documentary. This launched me into watching lots more silent documentaries. Nanook – Not-so-much. Saw this in 2010 and burst me into a whole pile of docos.
Laila 1929 – Incredibly cute movie with lots of cultural introductions. Back to fun stuff 5 years ago or so.
Greta Garbo’s “The Temptress”. Followed by “The Wind”.
The scenes from The Freshman in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (also known as Mad Wednesday was probably the first, then Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy.
The Thief of Bagdad, Sherlock Jr., Intolerance,
it’s a tie: Chaplin’s The Cure, which I saw at a Mutual showing at the Indianapolis Public Library; Intolerance, which I rented from the same library on 8mm (13 Reels!!) and The Eyes Of Julia Deep with MMM. Same 8mm rental. IPL had an awesome film library back in the day. Oh yeah. First time poster, LOVE the teens, especially shorts by Thanhouser and Kalem. Oh hell, all of them!
Great post, and a really fascinating thread!
As I’ve mentioned on MS previously, worked as a ticket taker/usher at a small theatre during high school. Was a bookworm by day. Our local library had a sale of books and films (reel-to-reel) that were just too worn out or damaged to lend anymore. And there it was: Two Tars. The projectionist at the theatre was a friend- he ran it for the both of us and showed me how to patch and splice its tattered little self together. Eventually saved enough money to buy myself a second-hand projector. That was it- I was hooked. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair with silent cinema, in all its forms!
As a high-schooler, I loved Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy sound films. I knew this “Buster Keaton” guy was supposed to be a comedy legend too, so I gave “Go West” a shot when I saw it at the video rental store. Kino’s VHS followed Go West with The Scarecrow and The Paleface, and between the three films I was hooked!
Ella Cinders for me. Because it wasn’t a ‘great film’, one everyone said people should see. There wasn’t any sort of cult of Colleen Moore. It was just a funny, silly film, starring a cute actress, and I enjoyed it. Silent films didn’t have to be worthy or intellectual.
My first silent feature was Daddy-Long-Legs starring Mary Pickford. It took some time to adjust to it, and I watched it a few times over a matter of days because I WANTED to like it, but the drunk scene, the scene protesting prunes, and Mary in general were so fun and charming that I instantly saw that just because a movie is old and silent doesn’t mean a modern person can’t relate or enjoy it.
The Gold Rush was the first. Phantom of the Opera was the second.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but around 1979 or so there was a Silent Clowns festival at the 8th Street Playhouse in New York, and I went into watch Buster Keaton in Seven Chances. I had only seen him in One Week in college, which I love now but didn’t “get” at the time. However seeing him in features just made me fall in love with him. My favorite soon became Steamboat Bill, Jr. with the wild storm ending.
I soon followed up with silent dramas at MoMA and local theaters and still love many, many silents, but that is where it started.
I can’t think of one in particular. It was watching 8mm prints of Chaplin’s “Easy Street” and “One A.M.,” Laurel and Hardy’s “Big Business” and “From Soup to Nuts,” and Keaton’s “One Week” and “Cops,” when I was about 14. Thank you, Blackhawk Films.
I was around 12 yrs old, on my local PBS station was showing numerous silent movies (Silents Please?…1970’s) Only thing I remember was the William Perry music and Paul Killiam presented by title cards. Movies I remember were Sally of the Stardust…Hunchback of Notre Dame…Gold Rush…The Thief of Bagdad. Fast forward, the flame was rekindled by AMC and Bob Dorian. Then the Browlow Hollywood Series.
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