Menu

user avatar

Silent Movies Are Fun!


At the Oscars(R) last weekend, The Artist took home five awards, including the top honors of Best Actor Jean Dujardin, Best Director Michel Hazanavicius, and Best Picture. Still, there are some people who write it off because it’s a black and white silent film. The film hearkens back to the golden age of Hollywood, when movie stars weren’t required to speak, something I wish we’d go back to in certain cases. It’s true, The Artist is the first silent film to win Best Picture since the very first Best Picture winner, Wings made in 1927, and while cineastes adore it, many people are afraid of it simply because it’s not the norm these days. But silent films are fantastic, fun, exciting, and hilarious. Here is a list of some of the best silent films ever. If you’re on the fence about the style, give them a chance and you might just be surprised.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPKXGEFiADA&w=615&h=447]Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)
We’re starting with a particularly fun one. Buster Keaton made a number of hilarious, slapstick-filled silent films in the 1920s, and while The General is probably his best film overall, Steamboat Bill Jr. is among the funniest. If you want something akin to a living cartoon, Keaton’s amazing physical comedy and stunt work should fit the bill. Particularly impressive is the last act, wherein a cyclone hits town and Keaton is literally swept up in it. Fantastic!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1NnrJPNQz4&w=615&h=447]Safety Last (1923)
Harold Lloyd was another comedic star of the period, and with his trademark round glasses and “aww, shucks” attitude, he became the embodiment of the roaring ’20s. While not as known for physical comedy as Keaton, Lloyd’s films contained some of the biggest and most elaborate stunt sequences of the time. In Safety Last, Lloyd gets a job at a big city department store and hilarity ensues. The climax, which I will not spoil for you, has Lloyd having to climb the outside of the store building in order to save it from bankruptcy. Here you can see how Harold tries to avoid being late for work.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PAdQ5anhZE&w=615&h=447]
Metropolis (1927)
One of the earliest and most influential science fiction movies ever made, Fritz Lang’s masterpiece of a dystopian society and a mad scientist who invents a lady robot remains a classic today. For years, much of the film was thought lost and only incomplete versions were available; however, in recent years, some of these lost scenes were found in South America, of all places. Both versions are still out there, but you should watch the restored version. It’s much longer, but it makes so much more sense. This is also said to have been one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite films, something which disgusted the Jewish Lang when he found out. Here is a collection of some of the film’s most indelible sequences, including the robot lady which was an inspiration for George Lucas’ C-3PO.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvFYcV84xv4&w=615&h=447]
The Thief of Baghdad (1924)
One silent star who was used as one of the models for the character of George Valentin in The Artist was Douglas Fairbanks, the big, handsome action man who made some of the best swashbucklers of all time. Arguably Fairbanks’ best film is The Thief of Baghdad, adapted from the book One Thousand and One Nights complete with flying carpets and genies. This clip shows the film’s amazing special effects, elaborate sets, and cast of thousands.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNDaifCMAdI&w=615&h=447]
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
Robert Wiene directed this film; he was the godfather of German expressionist horror. The entire film looks like a fever dream, and the jagged sets and makeup add to the unease you feel throughout. The titular cabinet contains the sinister Dr. Caligari’s horrific creation: the Somnambulist — a sleep walker who does only the doctor’s bidding. The somnambulist, Cesare, is played by Conrad Veidt, who would later play Major Strasser in Casablanca (1942), Jafar in the remake of The Thief of Baghdad (1940), and the terrifying grinner Gwynplaine in another silent horror film, The Man Who Laughs (1927), which would become one of the inspirations for the Joker. In this clip, Caligari awakens Cesare for the first time onscreen. Apologies for the music, but when it’s a public domain silent film, anybody can put whatever shit they want over it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgAxWIbTqCs&w=615&h=447]
City Lights (1931)
No silent movie list would be complete without at least one film by Charlie Chaplin, the era’s biggest star. Chaplin made several films in his “Little Tramp” persona, one of the characters most associated with silent film; However, City Lights might be the best, and is assuredly the most romantic. The film follows the Tramp, a down-on-his-luck ragamuffin who gets in the good graces of a suicidal millionaire, and uses the many gifts he gets to woo a blind flower girl. While not as funny as some of Chaplin’s other films, this one has more heart than any of them and has an ending sure to tug at the ol’ heartstrings. Because every other clip I found seems to want to give away the ending, here’s the scene where Chaplin has to box. It’s pretty hilarious.

All right, so there you have six films you can attempt to watch. All or most of them are available in their entirety on YouTube or Netflix Instant. I expect this will lead some of you out there to seek out more silent films, which is not a bad thing at all.

Tags , , , , , ,

11 comments

  • I enjoyed the romps of Buster Keaton as a child. It was the only thing on that wasn’t evangelical TV. I grew out of it quickly. Maybe because the channel stopped showing the silent movies or because my grandma finally got cable.

  • I sort of thought fans of silent movies wouldn’t like The Artist and it only won because its sort of an homage to classic b/w silent movies that people won’t watch. I guess I was wrong, unless people like it because it means people will start watching good silent films ps I haven’t seen The Artist just like I don’t watch most Oscar nominated films, traditionally the best films haven’t been nominated.

  • I have also had a chance in a film class to see the most complete Metropolis that exists, but my teacher Dr. Holden Moses was cool and after we watched it he started it again only this time with Daft Punk’s “Human After All” in place of the original sound track. Suprisingly enough it was pretty cool. “Broken Blossoms” by D.W. Griffith is a really good slient flick. The first time I saw it I was completely blown away by the amount of emotion he could envoke without the use of dialog. *it should be noted D.W. Griffith was a huge racist, this should be taken into account when watching his films*

  • For a modern and nerdy silent film, check out Call of Cthulhu (2005) on Netflix streaming. Not only does it try to recreate Lovecraft’s masterpiece, but it also attempts to emulate 1920′s era silent films, like the ones Kyle listed above.

  • Metropolis is fantastic! For a Sci-Fi film class I took in college I was lucky enough to view the most complete version to date. Along with some other truly bizarre movies we watched in that class, I was introduced to Aelita, which I think is just a stunning film, in terms of visual effects, plot, acting, etc. and it remains my favourite silent film to this day. Definitely recommended for sci-fi fans looking to get into more surrealist silent films.

  • I have been a fan of silent films my whole life and was so excited to see Artist take top honors.

    Coincidentally, I also belong to a group that performs silent film style comedy live. That’s our website up there. If you like silent comedies you’ll like what we do, I assure you.

  • Metropolis is one of my favorite movies of all times!

    some of my favorite movie quotes are from this movie

    There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator. classic!!!

    Classic