Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why I do this.

Updated manifesto, to go with the new look:

I've been watching silent films since my teens. Now I write about them. And now you can read about them. Lots and lots of 'em.

"But God... WHY?"

I hear this response a lot, and maybe you're thinking the same thing right now. That's OK. Silent films are intimidating for many people, not just because they're silent, but because most of them are so damn old. And I'm not going to explain my love for them here, because (a) it would take too long, and (b) I want you to read my posts. My posts nail it. Silents are a crazy place to send your brain, and I like the trip.

Anecdote: Following my last year of high school, I took a summer job on a farm. The job was pitching manure into a spreader. The farmer himself was a man of 80, with a bad heart. Hence, my employment.

The farmer loved to work, and he regretted having to pay me for a chore he particularly enjoyed doing. "This one was my favourite," he told me. Tunneling through a foot-deep mat of cow poo was, for this man, a task that always let you know where you'd been, and how much you'd accomplished. Then the farmer asked me what I wanted to study at university, and I said "History," and he said, "what good is that?" I had no answer.

What I'd say to the man now is that the value of History lies in the way we feel for knowing it, and in the lessons it teaches. Neither one is more valuable than the other, even if the second is more defensible to most people. The first is the Art-part.

I've run Silent Volume for more than a year now, and my philosophy about silent film appreciation has fallen pretty much in line with my opinion about History. It is certainly Useful. It's taught me a huge amount about the core principles of cinematography and visual storytelling. It's introduced me to unknown directors and styles of moviemaking. It's enlightened me as to the capabilities and limitations of dialogue. It's widened my appreciation for sound films too, and even for the 3D wave that seems to be consuming us today. Once, it was Sound that seemed threatening, shoddy, and crass. But look, and listen, to it now.

So, read this blog for information... there actually is some. Read it because you like my writing (I hope you will). Read it to kill time. I ask only this: don't be satisfied with Useful. When you're through, consider renting and watching one of these films yourself. Start small, if you're new to them. Maybe a 15-minute Buster Keaton short--they're a great place to begin. In time, you may develop an addiction to these wild, wise, sometimes bizarre films, just like I've got; then you'll be able to look back on months', then years' worth of cinematic gems that made you feel wonderful for knowing them, even if few others had heard of them at all. That's an awesome feeling, folks. It tastes like coconut. It's the power of Art.


  1. Best of luck to you and I agree with you that a Keaton short would be a good place to start.

  2. Look what I found!

  3. Just found your blog and I am absolutely thrilled at the prospect of digging through your work. Fascinating stuff on an underappreciated era in film, sir.

    All the best from a new fan.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Jordan; I hope you enjoy the writing. And I'm glad your eclectic taste in film (yeah, I clicked on your name) extends to silents as well.


  5. i love your blog, i too am blogging about silent films but im still in my teens. i was wondering if you could check out my blog and tell me what you think, ill put a link on this post, i was going to email you but i couldnt find your email adress. my blog is called "they have faces" at:

  6. Thanks for the kind words, Apollo; I'm glad you enjoy my writing. And it's cool that you've found an interest in silent film so early in life. That's when I got started, too.

    I took a look at your blog and the colorizations you do are lovely. It's really something to see these men and women flower so. I think this should be the focus of your blog, even more than it is now. No one else does it.

    Now for my constructive criticism: Improve your spelling. As writers, we've all got our flaws, and this is yours. Proper spelling and punctuation make an immediate impression, and so do mistakes. So my suggestion is to take a little more time before you post, so nothing detracts from the beautfiul artwork you're providing us.

    Hopes that helps, and keep watching silent film! Flesh and the Devil is a favorite of mine, too.