The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Silent film

A silent film is a film which has no accompanying soundtrack. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as the motion picture itself, but before the late 1920s, most films were silent.

The years before sound came to the movies are known as the "silent era" among film scholars and historians. The art of motion pictures grew into full maturity before silent films were replaced by "talking pictures" or "talkies", and a number of film buffs believe the quality of the cinema actually decreased for a few years, before the new medium of sound was adapted to the movies.

Since silent films could not take advantage of synchronized sound for dialogue, titles were edited in to clarify the on-screen situation to the cinema audience or to add critical dialog.

Showings of silent films usually were not actually silent: they were commonly accompanied by live music, frequently improvised by a piano or organ player. Early in the development of the motion picture industry, music was recognized as an essential part of any movie, as it gave the audience emotional cues for the action taking place on the screen. Small town and neighborhood movie theaters usually had a pianist accompany the film; large city theaters would have organists or entire orchestras, who were able to provide some sound effects.

The medium of silent film required a greater emphasis on body language and facial expression, so that the audience could better understand what an actor was feeling and portraying on screen. Modern-day audiences who are not used to this form of acting may be uncomfortable watching some films from the silent era, because the actors in these films may seem to be overacting to an outrageous degree. Partly because of this, silent comedies tend to be more popular in the modern era than drama, because overacting is more natural in comedy. However, some silent films are quite subtly acted, depending on the director and the skill of the actors. Overacting in silent films was often a habit that actors transferred from the stage, and directors who understood the intimacy of the new medium discouraged it.

Most silent films were also shot at slower speeds than sound films (typically 16 to 20 frames per second as opposed to 24), so that unless special techniques are used to show them at their original speeds they can appear unnaturally fast and jerky, which reinforces their unnatural appearance. However, some silent films were intentionally undercranked in order to accelerate the action; this form of stylization was done with comedies far more often than with dramas.

Literally thousands of silent films were made in the years leading through the introduction of sound, but a considerable number of those films (some historians estimate between 80 and 90 percent) have been lost forever. Movies of the first half of the 20th century were filmed on an unstable, highly flammable nitrate film stock, which required careful preservation to keep it from decomposing over time. Most of these films were not preserved; over the years, their prints simply crumbled into dust. Many of them were recycled, and a sizable number were destroyed in studio fires. As a result, silent film preservation has been a high priority among movie historians.

Several filmmakers have done homage to the comedies of the silent era including Jacques Tati with his Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953) and Mel Brooks who starred in Silent Movie (1976).


Some Notable Silent Films

With director and year of release:

Before 1915

1915 to 1920

1920 to 1925

1925 to 1930

1930 and beyond

Top grossing silent films:

  1. The Birth of a Nation (1915) - $10,000,000
  2. The Big Parade (1925) - $6,400,000
  3. Ben-Hur (1925) - $5,500,000
  4. Way Down East (1920) - $5,000,000
  5. The Gold Rush (1925) - $4,250,000
  6. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (film) (1921) - $4,000,000
  7. The Circus (1928) - $3,800,000
  8. The Covered Wagon (1923) - $3,800,000
  9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) - $3,500,000
  10. The Ten Commandments (1923) - $3,400,000
  11. Orphans of the Storm (1921) - $3,000,000
  12. For Heaven's Sake (1926) - $2,600,000
  13. Seventh Heaven (1927) - $2,500,000
  14. What Price Glory (1926) - $2,400,000
  15. Abie's Irish Rose (1928) - $1,500,000


Many silent films are now available on DVD.

See Also


External link

The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy