May 25, 2004

The nice thing about Netflix is that they seem to have a fair number of silent films from the 20's on DVD. I love to watch these things, there's something about the snippets of text instead of dialog, the exaggerated body language of the actors and actresses to account for the fact that they can't express anything through sound, and the general climate of the 20's which interests me. It's curious to see some of the relaxed social mores in those films, not what one would expect of films from so long ago. It makes me wonder how much the baby boom and World War II and its aftermath changed the world. There's definitely something present in flapper culture and the jazz culture of the 20's which seems analogous to subcultures since the 60's. The signifiers were more subtle in the 20's, though, more reserved (and thus, in my opinion, more interesting). It is strange to watch these people who appear to be my own age (who are now ghosts) and some strange, real exuberance there. These were the days before the media-image of the movie star (though the country was obsessed enough with movie stars), thus Clara Bow, Louise Brooks and others, while they were certainly movie stars, exhibit a kind of realness that seems to have been lost as we got more used to the idea and technique of manipulating identity by way of the photographic or film image.

It's nice, also, somehow, to have no sound but a musical score; you interact with the text of the title cards like you would a piece of writing or a poem. It's been said that watching a silent film requires more attention than a talkie, and I think it's true, I also think that due to this fact there was more meticulous attention paid to certain details of movement and expression, not cinematography per se, but something that seems more like dance (e.g. the physical comedy of Chaplin, etc.) Since I signed up for Netflix, I've watched "Modern Times," "City Lights," "It", and a documentary about Louise Brooks. They don't seem to have "Pandora's Box" (the film that gave birth to Brooks' nickname "Lulu," and the role that made her famous), or "Flaming Youth" (attributed to be the film that first defined the concept of the "flapper," though "It" is well known in this capacity)...which kind of bums be out. I don't know why they don't have "Pandora's Box" because it is one of the more famous silent films.

Incidentally, Clara Bow was a redhead (or so it is said)! Though obviously one can't know this from the films themselves...

No comments: