Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Wind (1928)

You can say a thing a lot of ways. That’s why we watch silent films, isn’t it? To see how, when the sound’s taken away, some great artist got his or her point across. To be reminded of all the options.

Imagine, for example, that you’re watching the story of a man and his wife, both young. They were married under pretences the male party now considers false. They’ve grown estranged. Now he is out on a job and she is home. An intruder muscles his way into the house and attempts to take her away. Realizing, finally, that she would rather stay with her husband than move on, she dispatches the intruder. As his heavy body hits the floor, two dinner plates, set askew on the table behind her, slide into an even stack.

There is no intertitle to tell us their marriage is saved. But it is. The plates said so.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wild Oranges (1924)

There are moments in Wild Oranges when you wonder what you’re watching. It’s a silent film alright, and it looks like one—but this story of a love affair in a secluded patch of Georgia coast, at times, seems plucked from another period entirely. In form, it’s the early-20s, but in content, often, it feels like something made much later.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lady of the Night (1925)

Lady of the Night stars Norma Shearer in a duel role: as Molly, daughter of a convict, frequenter of bars; and as Florence, innocent socialite, angelic and pure. They spend most of the picture unaware of one another and share only one thing, besides a freakish resemblance: their love for the same man. Upper class, lower class, not so different really. It is as contrived a structure as a story could have.

But it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it. When I finished watching the film, I turned to a friend and said, “with silents, you can tell if they’re going to be good from almost the first scene. And that one was good.” And it was. Lady of the Night really works; not because of some ham-fisted moral lesson about love and class—or a plot structure that makes it insistent—but thanks to its pockets of delicate melodrama. Its poetic moments, imbuing the characters with tragic quality. Without these moments, Molly, Florence, and their hangers-on would be buffoons. Instead, they break our hearts.