One of the pleasures of silent film is that there’s no such thing as a definitive viewing. There’s always a new take on an old film—be it a new score, or restored footage, or new footage, once thought lost. Perhaps the addition of colours or tints that recover, for audiences in the early 21st Century, a theatrical experience more authentic to the early 20th. We are part of a paradox here: one in which current art is impressed upon the art of the past; and that past, in turn, appears to us like something more fully of its own time.
These thoughts were in my mind as I watched Flicker Alley’s new restoration of Behind the Door (1919). I’d seen this film once before, at a Cinefest screening back in 2013. It impressed me enough then to write about, and in the years since it has remained strong in my memory—usually bubbling up whenever I see some new example of depravity depicted onscreen. ‘You don’t need to show the terrible thing,’ I say to myself. ‘Not if your audience feels it, through to the bone.’