Thursday, June 7, 2012

Silent Screen Body Language

Just as some languages are beautiful to the ear, the language of silent film is beautiful to the eye.

Silent film is especially known for the emotions transmitted via the eyes, but the rest of the body was an equally important communication instrument when unspoken cinema was the universal language. A gesture, a glance, a movement, the placement of a hand, all had to be understood by various cultures wherever there was a movie palace. People around the world knew love, hate, joy, passion and fear when they saw it - no Rosetta Stone required.

The Eyes
The eyes are the window to the soul, right? So, any silent film performer worth his or her salt had to have expressive eyes.
Theda Bara's black-smudged eyes were synonymous with smoldering passion.
Gloria Swanson's gaze was intense. Here icy blue eyes were her trademark.

Buster Keaton may have been known as "The Great Stone Face," 
but his eyes spoke volumes.

The Hands
The elegant and delicate placement of the hand was a trademark silent film must.
Mary Miles Minter knew just how to gesture with her digits.
Mary Pickford's hands were an encyclopedia of expressions.
Lillian Gish often let her hands do the talking.
Charlie Chaplin's leading lady, Edna Purviance, 
had extremely expressive hands.
The Body
Some actors and actresses moved with a signature grace and purpose that was closer to dance than acting.
Douglas Fairbanks moved with a grace and athleticism 
that will never be equaled.
Chaplin moved with such grace and precision that 
W.C. Fields called him a ballet dancer.
Valentino's movements projected danger, passion and allure.
Lovely Clara Bow was always in motion. Only sound could slow her down.

They Had Faces
A gallery of fabulous faces:

The one and only Garbo
The great Norma Talmadge
The face of John Gilbert

The timeless beauty of Louise Brooks
The haunting face of Maria Falconetti
In all its variations, the face of Lon Chaney is unforgettable.

Above all, the silent cinema is a celebration of the human face and form. Its language speaks not only to the eyes, but also to the universal heart of mankind.


KC said...

All those faces are so mesmerizing. Reading this post was kind of like getting a little drunk.

Christian Esquevin said...

Wonderful post FlickChick on the faces of the silent screen.Lon Chaney in particular was a master of expression. And in spite of Greta Garbo's mesmerizing face, she was incredible in the totality of her expressiveness through her body movements and posture. To my mind, she was really unique even to this day in that regard.

FlickChick said...

KC - yes - the silent film puts the beauty of the human form on a pedestal. I agree - quite heady!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian. You are so right about Garbo. I originally put her in the "body" part of the article, as her movements were so powerful, but I just couldn't leave that face out, so it was a toss up.

Diane said...

I just loved the pictures of the eyes. They really did have to show more of what the film was about. Beautiful post.

Silver Screenings said...

Wonderful article. True, all of it.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Diane, glad you liked it.

FlickChick said...

Silverscreenings - I just love the silents -so expressive.


Well, I must say that I'm a little scared of Theda Bara's eyes, and would probably pick Clara Bow instead of her (what an amazing pair of eyes Clara had!). I loved your post. I must have something with eyes because in the moment I read the term "body language" I thought about Gish's and Pickford's eyes as well!

FlickChick said...

Le - yes, Theda is a bit intimidating, isn't she? But, being a good vamp, she is supposed be imposing! I agree that Mary and Clara were charming from head to toe - including the eyes!

Ithankyou said...

I agree with KC - those are some very powerful features on display - true glamour! And is that Miriam Cooper at the top? A very "modern" look. For "eyes" I'd also add Pola Negri...none so dark!

FlickChick said...

ITY - yes, that is Miriam Cooper at the top with a few shots from "Intolerance." As for Pola - yes indeed. I love her and should have added her!

trump said...

In most of the new movies I wish that they wouldnt talk! Richard

FlickChick said...

@ Amish Stories - isn't that the truth!

nahidworld said...

takyou for your post it is so buti full article and picture of Body language .asom your post.