Category Archives: Silent movie

“You can watch either the sound or silent version of this movie…”


☞ We are now familiar with being able to watch a 3D movie either in 3D or 2D (the ticket for the latter is of course cheaper). Not many of us realise that, during the transition from silent to sound cinema, movie viewers were given a related choice: between the silent and sound versions of some movies. The following short article deals with how Hitchcock deals with the transition. Sound, of course, brought a change in the careers of some silent actors, such as the case of the Czechoslovakian Anny Ondra below, whose career in England did not survive her first movie that also had a sound version in English, Hitchcock’s Blackmail (her speech for the movie had to be dubbed, as her pronunciation was considered to be unacceptable to an English audience).



“Most theaters in America seem by now to have equipped themselves for digital projection. But just a year or two ago, distributors had to send out digital copies of their movies to some venues and celluloid prints to others. As it hasn’t proven quite the revelation its boosters had hoped, the latest wave of 3D pictures still has to deal with the fact that certain theaters accept a higher-tech version, but most need a lower-tech one. In 1929, cinema found itself in much the same technical situation, but regarding sound. Even as Alfred Hitchcock began shooting his tenth film, Blackmail, as a traditional silent, British International Pictures decided he should join the popular “talkies” just then opening in England. This required Hitchcock to deliver both a sound and a silent version of the picture — and to incorporate sound recording on the fly.”

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Narrative in non-narrative? Or narrativising non-narrative?


“[Pablo] Berger’s silent film [Blancanieves] employs sparing title cards to elaborate plot points and relies primarily on the score as a means to express emotion and advance narrative, with specific instruments and styles attached to different characters: a whining saw for the evil stepmother, clacking cabaret for the seven dwarves and effervescent flamenco for the youthful Snow White.

“I don’t know music but I would talk to [composer of the soundtrack] (Vilallonga) as if he were an actor. I would talk to him about emotions and character and what the scene should convey,” Berger says.

Though “Samsara” eschewed the theatrics of narrative, the film’s trio of composers relied on a similar gestalt to create mood and pathos. A sequence with images of hurricane-ravaged Louisiana found eerie resonance with the pitched wobble of composer Michael Stearns‘ Tibetan singing bowls while images of Jerusalem and the West Bank were freighted with composers Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Francisci’s multilayered vocals.”

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☞ Can musical soundtracks create narrative in films that are not inherently narrative? Can they significantly enhance the narrative in films with only skeletal narratives?