Watching a silent film is an intensely personal experience. No matter how many people are with you in the theater (if you are lucky enough to see one in a theater), you are truly alone in the dark. You are alone with your thoughts, your dreams, the (imagined) sound of a voice, the throb of your heart. The right music casts an even larger spell and you are carried away on an internal magic carpet ride. Norma Desmond was only half right when she said they had the eyes of the whole wide world. The marriage of film and silence created a portal to a pure and primitive place in the viewer's consciousness.
The unspoken longing, the secret desire, the private passion, these belong to the owner in their most perfect form. Once spoken and shared they cannot be altered. The internal has found a voice and the spell is broken.The silent film enlists the viewer in a very intimate partnership. Each viewer's interpretation of the images on the screen is slightly different, colored by each individual's inner landscape.The personal ideal of love, beauty, humor and heartbreak is added. One gives life to the other. No one's experience can be exactly the same.If sound films are prose (beautiful, passionate, exquisite, hilarious prose), then silents are poetry.
The language of silent film is not our native tongue anymore. If you ended up living in a country where the language was not the one you grew up learning and speaking, most likely, no matter how expert you become, it will always feel slightly foreign. You might even think first in your native language and speak in your adopted one. And so, watching a silent film today requires a bit of adjustment. As viewers, we are not used to being asked to fill in the blanks. Silents requires you to strip yourself of all self-consciousness and delve into your inner realm.
I invite you to spend 10 minutes or so with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in "Flesh and the Devil." Click on the gray right-pointing arrow and turn up your speakers to listen to the gorgeous music of Carl Davis. There are no words......