Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why Silent Film Stills Still Fascinate Us

Fewer than 14% of American silent films still exist today in complete form according to “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929,” a recent Library of Congress report by film historian David Pierce. All we know today of the vast majority of those lost films are either tantalizing fragments of footage or the still photographs taken to advertise and promote the movies and their stars. Looking at those still photographs now reminds us of whole worlds and personalities lost to time. David S. ShieldsStill: American Silent Motion Picture Photography masterfully recreates and celebrates a genre of photography originally intended as a marketing tool but today recognized for its own artistry, separate from but still related to the films and actors it saves from the dustbin of history. “Photography preserved what was most vivid and splendid about silent cinema, the unprecedented visual elaboration of places and people—the beauty, the horror, the moodiness,” Shields writes in rebuttal to modern viewers bored by the perceived limitations of the silent films. Silent film stills, Shields believes, “speak with a force little diminished by ninety years of history.” Shields, likewise, speaks with a force powered not just by his passion for and knowledge of the field, but also by sharing the stage with the work itself in his beautifully illustrated book. By its end, Still reminds us why silent film stills still fascinate us. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Why Silent Film Stills Still Fascinate Us."


Hels said...

I have been doing a lot of thinking about silent films in the 1890s, especially in France. Great topic!

Bob said...

Thanks, Hels.
I've always been fascinated by silent films and wish I could see more of them than what Turner Classic Movies and YouTube make possible.
Speaking of French silent films, have you ever seen Abel Gance's Napoleon? That's my holy grail of silent film viewing, or maybe my white whale, considering how rarely it's shown in a theater, since it can't be done on a computer or TV screen properly.
Thanks, again,