Hollywood Pays Homage to Silent Film

Written by Vanessa Vernick December 15, 2011


Step outside the fast paced world of 3D spectacle and enjoy the magic, the beauty and the splendor of silent film.


Though 2012 is fast approaching, technology is advancing at, as it would seem, light speeds and 3D movies are annihilating almost all other box office competition, there has been an odd and ironic twist of events within the film industry. More and more, Hollywood has been taking a few steps back and has been recreating and paying homage to a period that was thought to be long forgotten; the silent era. In spite of the excitement of films such as Avatar and the Transformers trilogy, moviegoers and producers alike seem to be falling in love with the magic and glamour of the past through movies like The Artist, Hugo and the upcoming Silent Life.


While it is often thought that silent films are both primitive and unwatchable, there is much to be appreciated about the godfathers of film. For one thing, the visual quality of the silent era was remarkably high, considering the times. For another, people often forget that in that day and age, motion picture in and of itself was a novelty. As well, it was imperative (and exceedingly difficult) that the actors, through body language and facial expressions, were able to both accurately portray emotion and create a deep connection with the audience.

Though, by definition, a silent film obviously had no narrative sound, it was not completely silent. Films of the silent era almost always featured live music, a trend that began in Paris in 1895 with the Lumiere Brothers. Many other films were accompanied by organists and some even had full on orchestras.


The first narrative film, the Roundhay Garden Scene, by Louis le Prince in 1888 was a two second projection of people simply walking in a garden. Although this inarguably revolutionized film, narration in film wasn’t a constant phenomenon until the birth of talkies in the late 1920s. Unfortunately, many of the original silent films that exist today can only be found as second or third generation copies since the majority were lost during the war.

Like the films themselves, much of the early silent movie era had long been forgotten, or perhaps just ignored, until fairly recently. Even though several filmmakers in the 50s and 70s attempted to pay their respects, it was not enough to be considered a trend within Hollywood. However, just within this past year major filmmakers have been reaching back to the roots of movies and creating what should be considered a tribute and arguably a movement toward producing vintage film.


Recently, director Michael Hazanvicius fulfilled a dream that he’d had for years; he made a silent film. The Artist, released in May 2011, stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. The Artist takes place in 1927 Hollywood and focuses on the declination of a male film star and the rise of a Hollywood actress. It concentrates on the “death” of silent film how it was replaced with “talkies”. Dujardin won Best Actor Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for the black and white motion picture and the flick is also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards including Best Film Comedy or Musical.

Though undoubtedly 3D, another film that salutes the past is Martin Scorcese’s Hugo. Released in November of 2011, it tells the story of a boy who lives within the walls of a Paris train station. However, a parallel story within the film is one that focuses on silent filmmaker George Melies (Ben Kingley). Melies, in real life, was famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in earliest cinema. He was innovative in special effects and was one of the firest to use multiple exposures, time lapse photography, dissolves and handpainted color. Even with the film being promoted as a family film, one of the key points is its espousal of silent cinema. A large portion of the film centers on the portrayal and reproduction of silent film though a number of beautifully restored clips from films including Melies’ A Trip to the Moon. Hugo brilliantly conveys the beauty and the profound artistry that lies deep within silent movies.

Finally, Silent Life, which will be released in December of 2011, is based on the life of Rudolph Valentino, an Italian actor (Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse and Blood and Sand) and early sex symbol who was known as the “Latin Lover”. One of the first film legends, his sudden death at the young age of 31, which caused mass hysteria among female fans, launched him to icon status. The film tells the story of how a Hollywood star is made and how, ironically, it is only through death that one is truly recognized as an artist.

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About Vanessa Vernick

Vanessa is a writer and editor for We Eat Films and, thus, has a love for film (especially classic FIlm Noir) and a passion for writing. She is currently in pursuit of an Honours Double Major in Criminology and Sociology at Western, giving her a unique edge, and tries to incorporate a bit of this into much of what she writes. She is hoping to pursue her Masters in Journalism. When she's not writing, you'll usually find her glued to her TV or enamoured by one of the great, classic Penguin novels.

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