Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Top Ten Silent Films of the Past Decade.... No, Not Really

The end of 2009 is very nearly the anniversary of Silent Volume, you know. On January 23, 2009, I posted my rather long, very detailed assessment of The Man Who Laughs (1928). It seemed like a good choice, and I still think it was. The Man Who Laughs is a good film, fairly modern in feel and possessing a certain resonance for modern audiences.

That’s all I was really looking for, then. I figured it like this: people don’t watch silent films because they don’t know what to look for. What they do see is alien to them. Clips of old actors, acting in an old style, very often shown only as emblems of their oldness. The images are rarely left to stand on their own. Rather than be appreciated for their often extraordinary beauty, they are made to bid us a held breath, before the next clip, perhaps from a dismal-sounding early talkie, supplants them. ‘We’ve moved on,’ such montages say. But it needn’t be so.

I like to think I make a convincing case with my entries. I’m not a bad writer, at least when I really believe in what I’m writing about. But it was naive to assume I could convert people to silent film, because those uninterested in silent film do not, for the most part, read Silent Volume. ‘Duh,’ you say. Clearly, I’m no marketing genius.

On the plus side, I’ve garnered a small, but slowly growing group of readers who do like silent film and do like Silent Volume. To you, I am very grateful. Please spread the word. And know that while I’m not one of those bloggers who injects a lot of personal emotion into his posts, I am always moved whenever a reader expresses thanks for what I’ve written. Obviously, a blog on silent film isn’t designed for a mass audience—my entries are long because I care about them and I make the time because of people like you. Thank you.

What else have I learned this past year? I think I’ve become a better writer; definitely a better reviewer. You’ll notice that earlier entries are heavier on plot summary (and sometimes, spoilers) than later ones. It took me time to find my own way of doing things. My current attitude is this: when you see a movie you love, and tell other people they must see it too, they’ll ask you why. And what do you respond with? You tell them of its amazing cinematography, or a particular performance, or a particular scene that stays with you still. You don’t rehash the whole damn movie. This is now my guidepost for writing. It will be well on display this weekend, when I post my next review.

I’ve been asked if my reviews will be shorter in the future. Nope. Less than 800 words is tough for me—at least, it’s tough when I’m describing a film that’s worth your time to see, and that’s mostly the kind of film I write about on Silent Volume. I promise to (almost) never go over 1,200 words, though.

I’ll also continue trying to capture some short films in verse. I don’t know if I’m much of a poet, but composing is fun. And in case you’ve noticed that many of these pre-1900 films seem to be from the same collection (Edison: The Invention of the Movies), well, I happen to own that set. I’m hoping to get a definitive set of Georges Melies films from Amazon, soon. That’ll even things out.

This is the beginning of what I hope will be many more years of blogging on Silent Volume. These films are a unique artform and their power still deserves spotlight, because, whether viewed or not, that power persists. I’m proud to play a tiny role in making it felt again. To that end, please have a look at some of my personal favourite reviews from the last year: Frankenstein (1910); Coney Island (1917); The Golem (1920); Sparrows (1926); It (1927); and Modern Times (1936). (I won’t tell which ones are my least favourites!)

Thanks again for your support, and your continued readership. And of course, Happy New Year to all.

Chris Edwards

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