Silent Movies are Great!

I love old movies. I grew up watching AMC (and later TCM) with my mother, delighting in the performances of Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Joan Crawford, among others. Although most of the movies I like best came out in the 1930s (pre-code!) and 1940s, I do have a soft spot for silent film. I’m amazed by early cinematography and acting styles and how both impacted the modern movie experience.

Today, I saw Way Down East at the National Gallery. The restored film was accompanied by a pianist who played most of the original score (about 10 percent was improvised). The pianist played during the entire 2 hours and 25 minutes of the movie, without a break.

I was simply moved by Lillian Gish’s portrayal. She was amazing and her eventual love interest and rescuer, Richard Barthelmess, was quite dashing. Of course, I loved the famous blizzard (real frozen tears on her lashes and cheeks!) and ice floe rescue sequence. I also enjoyed the traditional silent movie characterizations of the villain and town gossip.

It’s interesting how the movie’s themes are so applicable to life today. I guess it just underscores how the human experience doesn’t vary much. The costumes may change; the lifestyle may change but there will always be love, loss, betrayal, sorrow, and joy.


Organica said...

Wow, what a cool experience. Do you know if there will be more opportunities to see silent movies downtown accompanied by live piano? I don't think I've ever seen a silent movie. I have been insufficiently exposed to old movies, which is largely my own fault - as a kid, I liked current stuff with lots of effects and modern actors. But now I am realizing the merits of older films, and I want to see more of them.

Hippo Q. said...

That's a great question, Organica. The National Gallery of Art has a year-round program that showcases a range of films that are free to the public. The next movie that will be shown as a part of the New Silent Film Preservation Series is Stroheim's "The Merry Widow" this Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2 pm. For more information, visit: http://www.nga.gov/programs/film/