Silent Flight (of Fancy)

Recently I have been re-indulging in silent films, such is my desire to get into a little bit of everything and as usual I have been agog at how the simplest of situations can be turned into something really clever and still visually stunning.  Today’s post then is more heavily accented on the visual than usual.

Part of the charm that these films have, apart from crossing language boundaries and being universally accessible in any era, is their inventive nature.  With such constraints in place as there were in the technology, there was a need to innovate to capture the viewer, especially people of today who are spoilt with all their HD, 3D Ultra sharp coloured up special FX.

It’s art in its purest form, the whole body portrayed in dramatic terms to convey to the watcher what the character is experiencing.  Which is reminiscent of the actors in Greek plays who wore masks and would manipulate their voices and bodies in order to bring their message to the crowds watching.  Constraints always bring innovation and these days physicality is less important in films but perhaps it should be an inspiration to build on.

The popularity of the medium naturally stems from the reliance on visuals and by excluding much in the way of explanation or overly complex story everybody can pick up on the themes and jokes and enjoy them.  Take Mr Bean for example which has been sold to 245 territories (according to Wikipedia) which shows that the art of the visual is still extremely popular and is well worth taking the time to watch.

The influences of silent films still appear all around today, take George Méliès film A Trip to the Moon, which has been referenced in many places including Futurama, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a sublime book for all ages and also one of my favourite music videos of all time Tonight, Tonight by the Smashing Pumpkins.

36 Replies to “Silent Flight (of Fancy)”

    1. I agree, there were so many great sequences to pick from that I went into a sulk and just picked a random Chaplin one off of YouTube…I am impetuous like that when there is too much good stuff. I am a nightmare when picking a book sometimes.

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      1. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Chaplin, too. But their styles were really different. Keaton was more of a physical clown, relying on props and etc., whereas Chaplin played around a lot more with emotional interactions with other characters, though he too was physical sometimes. Keaton can seem a bit emotionally stiff beside of Chaplin: Keaton uses the “pretty girl” as a pretext for getting himself into physical scrapes he has trouble getting out of when he has a pretty girl at all; Chaplin uses the “pretty girl” motif quite often as a pretext for showing the clown’s pain, and etc. Hurrah for them both!

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  1. I remember the odd silent film from when I was younger. The Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd. They were always amusing.

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    1. Just recently, I can’t get enough…mind you it is a nice respite after those grim British films that I insist on watching.

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    1. I must admit that when starting the book and being strong enough to resist the urge to flip through it was a nice treat to come across Mr Méliès work and was definitely an inspiration to watch more. I think I shall treat myself to The Artist at some point…

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  2. Some time over the winter I stumbled across some very early Chaplin and was pleasantly surprised by the physicality of his humour and the action involved. No Signature hat, cane, mustache or walk, it was before all that and although I cant for the life of me remember now what it was precisely, I would happily sit down and watch again (maybe with some white wine and popcorn!) 🙂 So, to make a short comment long, yes, I agree with you entirely 🙂

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    1. Oh dear, that is a rookie mistake to make but I promise to keep it quiet. White wine and popcorn the best combination, if you don’t count popcorn and hot Vimto.

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      1. hahaha 🙂 Well, in my own defense, its the only time I ever watched either, but I WAS pleasantly surprised and rather disappointed when the show was over. Beats watching Celebrity Housewives! (which I never watch, by the by)

        Vimto sounds rather interesting, but I’ve never tried that either. See all the things I miss out on living over here ! 😦 LOL

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        1. YouTube has become my home when I have a few spare minutes to watch something. It pleases me that you don’t watch such shows they do drain the intelligence out of one. In England we have all the best things like castles, impenetrable accents and driving on the correct side.

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          1. I frequent YouTube, tho generally in search of inspirational music to write by. I have quite the collection of playlists LOL 🙂

            England does indeed have all the best 😉

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                1. Oof, nothing like sarcasm lol! You can’t diss an Englishman about the nation’s obsession, that is the height of cruelty.

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                  1. 🙂 It was only half a diss, really…If I were there I’d console you by buying you a pint (or six) of your favourite mind-numbing beverage. Would that be more culturally sensitive of me?

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                    1. That would help somewhat as long as you didn’t go as far as to offer pork scratchings I draw the line at those.

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  3. I haven’t watched a silent movie in yonks. Then I realised, yes, I have. That Mr Bean beach scene is just hilarious. In fact, the same thing happened to my daughter when we were at the beach once. LOL she is not impressed when I look at her and laugh every time that Mr Bean comes on TV. The Keystone Cops were another group that made me laugh. But out of all of them, I think Charlie Chaplin was my favourite.

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    1. I am looking next to go for some of the dramas, the comedies are great so I am looking for some wonderful insights into more serious or surreal stuff. Mr Bean is genius, although sadly not the films…you are the first person i have ever come across who knows somebody who has dealt with a situation like he does…brilliant!

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  4. Such an Intriguing and fascinating look at the history of visual arts through film/video entertainment. I do love how you incorporated the various transitions of the past with the present with your always unique take on…well…everything. Tonight, tonight is one of my favorite videos, and songs as well.

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    1. I remember a time when music videos were more than just a few paid people dancing whilst a band played…the best music videos tell a story or are at lest visually compelling. I actually dug out the DVD of all the Smashing Pumpkins videos that I bought when they split up, they just aren’t the same since they reformed…well half reformed.

      I like to throw something fairly unexpected out to you and hopefully raise a smile as well…I did have a bunch more videos that I could have put on but half the fun is discovering them for yourself!

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  5. Chaplin was a genius: I like you pointed out how the body and movements were important in this film (though the music was very important sometimes as well) – well, Chaplin’s use of movements is just great. While I think Mèliés was more “creative”, in the strict meaning of the word..
    Thanks for sharing!
    (b)ananartista

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    1. I am still quite a novice with regards to silent films but I just love to throw myself in and get involved with studying in each work. Films like this are really underrated by so many people, it saddens me. Welcome to the blog!

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    1. I do like the Mellon Collie album, I am a big Pumpkin fans all round, they made an effort with their videos unlike most of today’s bands.

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