Friday, April 29, 2011

The King's Intertitles

I'm a bit of grouch about all this William and Kate business--partly because of my latent republican streak (in the Commonwealth, not U.S.-political, sense of the word). Partly, too, because I didn't know what a 'fascinator' was until today. And partly, I think, because all this talk of Kate Middleton the commoner makes it sound like she was working at some deli when the Prince picked her up. I'm a commoner too, and I ascend to a less exhalted throne, though I try to do so regularly.

But enough griping. This blog's all about silent film and its continued relevance as an artform, and once again, a link to modernity has been found. You may have seen this link already, since it's been zipping through the Twitter stream (I'm @SilentVolume, btw): footage of future-King George VI and future-The Queen Mother's nuptials, and very nice footage at that.

I'm not going to analyze this material, but I will call your attention to one thing. Note that we only see one establishing shot of the interior of Westminster Abbey, with the groom and bride reciting vows, before cutting to this intertitle: "Married." That's it.

Now, the BBC was apparently barred from recording the proceedings for radio, so it's not as though there was no public interest in hearing the vows. (Which is also not to imply, if The King's Speech is accurate, that Bertie wanted his voice on tape that day). Cameras, on the other hand, were allowed in the Abbey, at least briefly. What's the result?

In a silent film, it's often not the words said, so much as the act of saying, and the significance of why they're said, that counts. 'Saying' is itself a message--an act sometimes rendered symbolic, even ritualistic, in silent films, and one that can make those doing the talking seem archetypal and symbolic themselves. That's the effect I get here. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Chris: I think you have it when you say that seeing the act of speaking (in this case wedding vows) is a much more symbolic act without actual voices and words. It is much the same reasoning (not allowing radio in the Abbey) as was evident when the Catholic Church resisted losing the Latin Mass. In Latin, the mass had a nearly supernatural symbolic power. When spoken in the "common tongue," much ancient mystery was lost - it became, in essence, much too mortal and (and this is what powers-that-be always fear) much to accessible to the best and worst in the common man. The same is true of the wedding of King George VI - the ceremony had much more power - much more potent symbolism rife with the power of individual imagination - without the all-too-human voices of those involved.

    This is all true of silent film; and it is what gives silent film such a deep power. Moments are symbolic - archetypal; and thus much more far reaching. I think this is why so many silent actors, however brilliant, never crossed the Rubicon into sound films. How could they ever equal in this new, noisy, transparent medium, what we had made them in the soundless universe of our imagining

    And, not for nothing, I loved the Royal Wedding. I am a complete sucker for such majestic tradition and can't understand why some so aggresively oppose it. Why? The world is better with such harmless, regal ceremony.