Best Classic Silent Films – the power of visuals
written by Souranath Banerjee.
Best Classic Silent Films – the power of visuals: In the midst of the endless dialogues, song sequences and background music we shouldn’t forget that Cinema is primarily a visual medium of story telling.
As Alfred Hitchcock once pointed out:
‘If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.’
‘I think much of mainstream cinema are films that you can watch with your eyes closed. You enter the cinema, buy your popcorn, sit down, close your eyes, start eating your popcorn the movie begins and the movie ends you didn’t miss one thing because they told you everything. As opposed to you experiencing the film and seeing visual information.’
But believe it or not, in the earlier days of Cinema the directors had no choice but to tell their stories visually (sound wasn’t available due to some unavoidable technological deficiencies).
And yet, what marvelous films they made; the content and the visuals were so empowering that dialogues seemed redundant and pointless.
Well, here is a list of some of the best classic silent films ever made in the history of Cinema.
FIlm trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzNL5JRTI6I
A blend of four stories, set in four different historical eras – French, Babylonian, Judean and Modern; tied together thematically by the subject of “intolerance”.
At the time, it was the most expensive film but unfortunately not a commercial success.
2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAtpxqajFak
Directed by Robert Wiene, probably the first ever horror film (made before “horror” was a designated genre).
The sets were made out of paper and the shadows were painted on the walls – German expressionism at it’s best.
If you don’t know the meaning of the word ‘somnambulist’ and if you are a fan of serial killer mysteries – this is a must watch for you.
3. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS5kzTbNKjs
Voted as the 11th greatest film of all time in 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll.
The sailors revolt against injustice which leads to a brutal police massacre (the famous Odessa steps sequence).
The genius of Russian director Sergei M. Eisenstein is best showcased in this particular film – a true masterpiece.
4. The Big Parade (1925)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_-BvxzdOr4
The highest grossing silent film of all time, it made $22 million during its worldwide release!
The first ever ‘war film’ of such epic scale, King Vidor directed this unique film portraying the horrors of war and the effect it caused on young soldiers.
And then there was the love story between an American soldier and a French girl – a perfect blend of war, romance and a bit of comedy too.
5. The General (1926)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99TdN8W6EAA
More of an action film with good doses of Buster Keaton’s straight faced comedy.
A man almost single-handedly spoils a train-highjack plan and saves his girlfriend too!
6. Metropolis (1927)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSExdX0tds4
The film takes place in 2026 – the first ever SIFi movie and an inspiration to all the futuristic films yet to be made.
Most expensive film of the time, Fritz Lang took a year and a half to shoot and due to it’s commercial failure the production house UFA (Universum Film) went bankrupt.
A cinematic brilliance, the best of German expressionism.
7. Sunrise (1927)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTID4ZVy6OE
‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ is voted as the 5th greatest film of all time in 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll.
An unique love story and a perfect cinematic experience – often regarded as the best silent film ever.
Directed by the famous German director F.W. Murnau the film is indeed the most emotional and captivating films i have ever seen.
8. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQj_3AY-E1g
Voted as the 9th greatest film of all time in 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll.
This film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer is a bible for portraying emotions and expressions with Close-Up shots.
Maria Falconetti, her performance as Joan od Arc is considered by many critics as the single greatest performance ever put on film.
9. The Wind (1928)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8Un8SBnjY4
A young girl comes to stay with her cousin in the west but the weather and the people were too rough for her to handle.
The high-velocity wind was created by the propellers of eight aircraft stationed on location at Mojave Desert (where the film was shot).
10. City Lights (1931)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_W1tOngo-w
A tramp who falls in love with a blind flower-girl – The ultimate Romantic Comedy ever.
It was a silent film made during the sound era and still was a huge success.
and (The ‘+1′ film is not necessarily the best but certainly the most innovative one. A must watch).
+1. Nanook of the North (1922)
Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN1qwowbXR4
Voted as the 7th greatest documentary of all time in 2014 Sight & Sound critic’s poll.
Probably the first proper documentary shot, director Robert J. Flaherty followed Nanook and his family in the freezing Arctics for a year to achieve this feat.
A silent documentary made with great aesthetics and intimacy – an inspiration to all the travel/cultural documentaries made till date.
And now a few other legendary silent films that are definitely worth mentioning:
Director Louis Bunuel‘s surrealistic short film Un Chien Andalou (1929), Edward Sedgwick‘s epic comedy The Cameraman (1928), Henry King‘s revenge saga Tol’able David (1921), Clarence Brown‘s film about love and friendship Flesh and the Devil (1926), Georg Wilhelm Pabst‘s take on lust and erotism Pandora’s Box (1929) and a perfect love triangle Wings (1927) directed by William A. Wellman.
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