Hey, Barbecutie

You’ve Seen The Artist: What’s Next?

Posted on: January 31, 2012

So you’ve watched and loved The Artist. You liked its smooth leading men, charming ingénues, black and whiteness and best of all, none of that god damned talking. Well, great news, because there’s decades of early silent cinema just like The Artist for you to seek out and enjoy. Here’s my selections for a gateway to the delights of silent cinema.

City Lights

And why not start with the most famous? Chaplin’s little tramp made a simple transition from silent to talkies but didn’t need a voice to make the world laugh, cry and generally feel some serious emotions. In fact, things seem a tad sentimental in the age of cynicism, but that doesn’t take away from the deft storytelling and endearing antics. In City Lights, the tramp falls for a blind girl, and finds himself negotiating the world of work to pay for her operation.

The General

Full feature
While Chaplin is the icon, for my money, Buster Keaton is the genius. Famed for his poker face, Keaton’s films have aged remarkably well. In The General, Keaton is a railroad engineer rejected from the Confederate army for being more valuable in his current role, and is then shunned by his girl for cowardice. He and his train, the titular General, end up stuck between the two armies, and he has to warn his compatriots and rescue his kidnapped love. Combined with treacherous stunts and dry humour, The General is a film out of time, one of the greatest films of any decade, and somehow a huge flop on its 1926 release.

It

It wasn’t only the men who were headlining classic comedies. Clara Bow was one of the biggest stars of the silent era. Her flirtatious naivety and knowing sexuality sets the tone for every female screen comedian since, including Berenice Bejo’s Peppy Miller. In It, the original It girl is a sassy shopgirl who falls for her boss – a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romcom today. Bow’s flapper joie de vivre went out of style after the Wall Street Crash, and her thick Brooklyn accent ended her career on the coming of sound, but for a while, Bow was the shining star of the silver screen.

Safety Last

The last of the Big Three screen comedians, Lloyd is responsible for one iconic image – dangling from a clockface off a skyscraper. The enthusiastic go-getter to Chaplin’s wide-eyed tramp and Keaton’s stone faced irony, here Lloyd attempts to make it in the big city, and fails at every point, until he meets a challenge to climb a skyscraper for $1000.

The Girl With The Hat Box

The glory of silent cinema is how easily a film with no dialogue translates across territories, and of course, it wasn’t just the US churning out classics. Amongst others, Russia had an extremely healthy kino industry, more than just newsreel and propaganda but social issue pictures and the occasional delightful romcom, such as this, starring Anna Sten who would go on to make a name in Hollywood. Sten works in a hatshop, and longs for a railroad worker while pursued by a student. Meanwhile her boss has just won the lottery but the ticket has disappeared. Proving convoluted plots could be just as charming in any language, and indeed, no language, The Girl With The Hat Box is as fresh as anything made over 80 years later.

Bonus: Les Voyage Dans Le Lune

It’s not just The Artist that has been raising the profile of silent cinema. Hugo is the culmination of Scorsese’s passion for the form, examining the mechanics and history behind the birth of cinema, and specifically, the work of the visionary Georges Melies, who depicted fantastical worlds with more originality and verve than most directors working today. This is a good use of your time.

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