Monday, September 15, 2008

Revive the Silents!

Here's a brain bending question for you. Though most dead genres see a revival at some point or another, we're probably never going to see a true silent film again (not a "genre", alas, and technology has moved on)... but wouldn't that be a cool mini trend to see some great auteurs try? I mean aside from Guy Maddin.

I'd love to hear your take on this. Which currently working director could make a great silent film ... and why? Think it over and respond. I'll be playing the organ in the background.


Anonymous said...

Tim Burton, Marc Forster, Stephen Daldry, Alfonso Cuaron's visual style and prowess would work well in the silent genre.

Fox said...

As much as I love the argument that the silent era was a more visually expressive era because they had less variables to work with, I don't see the need in going back to the style of 1924... even if it's for fun. It seems counter-productive. This is what Maddin does, and to me, it comes off as nothing more than a stunt.

I think the spirit and passion of silent film is still alive and well in films like Mother & Son or Hukkle... films with "sound", but very minimal dialogue.

More than that, I think what makes a great director NOW is the same for what made a great director THEN: An artist with the ability to observe culture and then translate back to use through rich imagery. Wong Kar-Wai and Wes Anderson do this.

Anonymous said...

Without a doubt, Joe Wright. Some of the best scenes in both P&P and Atonement were when nothing was being said so we already know he's got the knack for it.

Dame James said...

I'm all for a silent film comeback Norma Desmond style (actually, in that case, it would be a return), but, sadly, even less people would go to a modern silent film than they would to a regular "arthouse" film. That being said, I think Alexander Payne would make a great silent director. I just re-watched Election again this morning and although it seems to rely on sharp dialogue, there's still a lot of visual artistry and attention to detail that would make him successful as a silent director. I also think Fernando Meirelles, Baz Luhrmann, Ang Lee and Michel Gondry would do wonders with a silent film.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting that the first part of Wall-E had practically no dialogue? And that was my favorite part of the movie!

This probably isn't incredibly applicable to a revive in silents, but it does offer a very slight glimmer of possibility.

Crisbrother said...

3-Iron from Kim Ki-Duk was an attemt of not using much dialogue, which was a pleasent thing to see. Not the best movie, but a good effort.

And the first hour of Wall-E, as we all know, didn't present many lines of vocalization.

Of course none of these films are real silent, but maybe thats the way more directors could use the "silent film" technique just to giving the old wonders their much deserve tribute.

John T said...

I'd go with Terrence Malick. The New World was headed into that direction, at least from the end that it so easily could have been just score. Maybe in one of the versions of the film, they'll kill the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino are not headed in that direction XD.

I'd love to watch a silent film by Wong Kar Wa

Anonymous said...

I can tell you Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino are not headed in that direction XD.

I'd love to watch a silent film by Wong Kar Wa

Pedro said...

Well, I believe also Stanley Kubrick did this to some extent in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The entire movie has almost no dialogue and is very visual. On the same vein, E.T. is a movie with very little dialogue; the movie (in my estimation) really soars when fully engaged in its imagery and music.

Maybe all directors should try to do a "silent" movie. Thus, they could experiment with framing, lighting, music, acting, editing, and so forth, with less dependability on words to convey their message.

Katey said...

Wes Anderson. Think of how awful his dialogue can be, and yet how his framing and camera movement can sometimes be the joke all their own. He needs a change of pace, and that would be a great one.

Catherine said...

David Lynch, clearly.

c.p. iñor said...

Joss Whedon XD

Glenn said...

Rolf de Heer (Ten Canoes) actually made a silent film. It was released here in 2007 and it was called Dr Plonk. It was about a scientist who invents a time machine and gets sent into the future to 2007 and sees a television commercial for "the end of the world!!!!", which is actually just a movie and so he must go back to the year 1907 and stop it from happening. Cue wacky slapstick comedy and the like.

It was actually very good. De Heer made it using a handcranked camera and old black and white stock, which he found. The musical score is very much in the Abbott and Costello style and it was probably one of the funniest movies I saw last year.

And, yes, title cards and no dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Out of left field: Mel Gibson.

I get that many don't like him, but he has a strong visual style. The Passion of the Christ was originally intended to be subtitle free, and there was very little dialogue in Apocalypto.

Some of the directors listed so far, while highly skilled in their own right, haven't trended towards dialogue free movies. Gibson has.

And, personally, I think he's a great film maker.

Runs Like A Gay said...

I generally find collections of shorts very interesting and what we've learnt from Paris, J'taime and 11'09"01 is that often we're surprised by the quality or otherwise from some directors when they turn their hands to shorts.

Maybe silents, or at least dialogue free, would be an interesting constraint for a number of directors.

I'd definitely like to see Walter Salles take a stab - some of the most memorable scenes in Central Station and Behind the Sun were dialogue free.

Also some of the names mentioned above would be fascinating (Tim Burton and David Lynch especially).

I'd also like some directors to go completely out of their comfort zone. Someone like Sam Mendes or Cameron Crowe who tend to over use dialogue would be great to see how they cope.


good choices guys and girls...

it is interesting not only to think about the dialogue-free portions of these filmographies (although certainly many of them still rely heavily on sound --through scoring or sound effects or what now)

i love seeing silent films in the theater - hoping for another opportunity soon.

Janice said...

I agree with Fox's post above (the creators of film never intended film to be silent - they always visualized a world captured in full color, sound and movement, even in the mid-19th century. It just took a while for the technology to catch up with the vision.)

Nonetheless, if I had to really think about it - I'm sure that any number of truly indie filmmakers have already worked in that mode in short films (most of which I don't get to see, alas. CT is so close to NYC - and yet so far...I still have fond memories of The Red Balloon which has not one word of dialogue and which I saw in college - twenty years ago).

I'm not sure there are many mainstream feature filmmakers; others have mentioned Ang Lee and I'm sure he could. The parts of Crouching Tiger or Brokeback I remember best have very little dialogue already - it's not what's said that's important but what the characters are unable to say. You could probably turn the sound off when watching those films and still understand the emotions perfectly. (Still, I wouldn't give up Ledger's final words in Brokeback - "Oh Jack" for anything. But here again, it's not what's said but what Ennis is unable to say and could never allow himself to say that really breaks my heart just thinking of that scene.)

I actually wouldn't mind seeing Baz Luhrmann do it - his visuals are fantastic, his dialogue pretty banal. (Maybe that's part of the point?) And Nicole would be a great actress for him to do it with (see the opera sequence in Birth.) But I'm not sure he could handle the task without getting too precious or gimmicky about it. I mean, he KNOWS cinema history inside and out, but could he make a "silent film" that was also entirely of our time and not an attempt at a retro period piece?

Anonymous said...

Can we go the other way around? Tell which directors we wish would make silent movies (no matter if good at it or not?, directors who'd better stay silent?) Just kidding.

It's just that last Sunday I caught on TV (public and free!!, can you believe that?) two very different movies: I Could Never Be Your Woman and Leaver Her to Heaven, almost immediately one after the other. And really, today movies don't depend too much on dialogue? It's great when you have something to say, but when you don`t, sometimes I think writers feel compelled to fill the void with unnecessary lines. And it's particulary noticeable when you watch a recent movie and a classic one. I misss those silent, long, though fully expressive close-ups



janice -- i am not one of those cinephiles who thinks cinema died with sound ;) the best directors are the ones who are able to use the whole bag of tricks all at once -expressive visuals, interesting sound and scoring, eliciting great performances, fine writing, etcetera... (almodovar, lynch, tarantino, malick, hitchcock, etcetera...)

but i do think most directors use sound (or any other tool for that matter) as a crutch. it's why so many scores are so overdone to elicit emotional response C or whatever. I'm still amazed that NO COUNTRY achieved what it did without scoring.

i'd love to see woody allen try a silent film (or a short at least) since he's so verbal. (not that his films aren't beautiful to look at... he does have good taste in cinematographers)

Janice said...

Nat - good point about Woody. And I probably overstated things in my first post (I certainly don't think you believe cinema died with sound, or how else could you love it like you do?) But yes, you are exactly right about sound being a crutch - or to be more precise, I assume you mean "dialogue" rather than JUST sound? (Silents were never really silent - either there was live musical accompaniment, recorded musical accompaniment, or in some instances there was dialogue/narration given by an individual in the theater (goatdog talks about this on his site a bit, esp. in regards to the early silent versions of the Life of Christ circa 1905.)

It's not just film that suffers from this, btw - the need to be verbal (and verbose) the need to say something. My partner recently completed her BFA in sculpture at a private art college in CT and still complains about all the "explanations" and "artists statements" and so forth she was forced to do - "why does everything have to be so verbal?" she'd complain. "Why can't the art be allowed to speak for itself?"

I wonder something similar when I see people who are glued to their cellphones (in some cases, the phones attached to their heads like a growing nation of cyborgs in our midst - do we really have THAT much to talk about?)

I'm starting an American Sign Language interpreter program right now, so the contrast in cultures (deaf and hearing) is pretty fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Not sure, but I certainly love your "Beyond the Rocks" screen grab. :)
Isn't that movie great?

Chris Na Taraja said...

Your right Pedro, Kubric did delve into the realm. i just had the displeasure of sitting thru Eyes Wide Shut...there you go.

Peter Webber almost did it with The Girl With The Pearl Earring. I mean the dialogue really could have been posted in that one. ( pun intended : )

also the Wachowskis nearly had this with the first Matrix movie. That is why Keanu Reeves is so great in the first one. He's actually a good actor, when he doesn't have to say anything. Too bad they spent so much tim in the 2nd and 3rd movie having their characters go into long diatribes about what the matrix is. Was that necessary? Did anyone care? Really, the Matrix films could have all been silent features.

Unknown said...

Just caught wind of a Pickfair estate auction taking place Nov. 22-23, 1 pE/12pC. There are some really cool items up for bid like Mary Pickford’s personal autograph book, select pieces of Pickford’s jewelry collection and rare pieces of art from Pickfair.

Just thought I’d pass the info. along for all of you Mary Pickford lovers. I guess it will be broadcast live on, along with a tool that lets internet viewers to bid remotely against the floor.