The calm before the storm

May 26th, 2013 by Asaf

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Shhhh! Why did it get so loud in here? Oh yeah that’s right, the summer began. You can tell by that big yellow ball in the sky which works overtime these days or just by looking  at the top grossing films in the US this week – Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast and Furious 6 and other summer blockbusters. The best of Hollywood’s special  effects films are upon us and just a second before the storm gets even bigger (Man of steel is just around the corner and before that After Earth) let’s take a moment to remember the times when special effects were the special fonts in which titles where written and surround sound was just when you were surrounded with people. For now, let’s enjoy the silence.

And we’ll begin with the master of silence – Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin.  It’s hard to pick out one film out of his whole truly amazing filmography so let’s pick two – City Lights and The Great Dictator.

City Lights (1931)

Charlie Chaplin’s romantic comedy is known for it’s emotional ending. In fact, the end scene is often considered as one of the most memorable in film history.  But before the ending you’ll laugh, you’ll fall in love and you’ll root for the underdog in the funniest boxing match to date.  The film finally came out in 1931 (5 years in the making!) when silent films were fading out but it still became a critical and commercial success. And when silent films really faded that’s when critics believed Charlie would also fade, but along came Adolf Hitler to the rescue. Well, sort of…

The Great Dictator (1940)

This biting and clever Satire might be Charlie Chaplin’s greatest work. In a classic case of mistaken identities, an innocent barber is mistaken for a fascist dictator who plans to conquer the world. Though Chaplin experimented with sound in the past, this film was considered as his true “sound test” – to see if he could succeed in talking pictures as well. As you can see in these scenes, he passed with flying colors.

And if we mentioned the transition from silent to talking films, this list won’t be legit without two films who revolve around the issue – The Artist and Singin’ In The Rain.

The Artist (2011)

Who would have thought that in this day and age a silent film in b&w could win such recognition, from both audiences and critics. But The Artist did. The film followed the relationship between a young actress who is rising to stardom and an actor experiencing a major downfall in his career. A massive and surprising success, this stylized film might not use any words but still says a lot about cinema in our times.

And now, for the next film, let’s turn up the volume a little bit. It will be worth it.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

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If there’s a film that’s sure to make you feel good, it’s this light hearted musical about showbiz and love backstage. Though it wasn’t a major hit when it came out, the film became a classic and you’ll be thankful it’s not silent when you see Gene Kelly’s unforgettable scene where he’s singing, dancing and tapping in the rain.

And if we talked about singin’, nobody does it better than The Jazz Singer.

The Jazz Singer (1927)

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The film that’s considered to have started it all – bringing sound to the silent screen and starting a revolution – Warner Bros The Jazz Singer tells a story of estrangement between parents and children as our hero tries to follow his dream in the music world. The film was a major success and showed Hollywood and the rest of the world that audiences are ready to listen. But go tell that to Mel Brooks.

Silent Movie (1976)

No list of silent movies would be complete without Silent Movie. Mel Brooks in his prime, was the master of parody. He laughed about war, history, space and what not. In Silent Movie he finds humor in silence once again. The film revolves about a recovering director who tries to produce the first silent movie in 40 years. It’s filled with gags, slapstick humor, pop culture references and features just one word spoken by the last person you’d think would ever speak.

Another brave soul is that of Rowan Atkinson who brought silence back in fashion in the 90’s in his hit TV seriesMr. Bean

Mr. Bean (1990 – 1995)

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This cult series would not have worked with any other actor. Only Rowan Atkinson’s comic expressions and rubber body could have pulled it off. Mr. Bean was this goofy hero who’s a social misfit trying to “survive” the everyday life. The hero later became the star of an animated TV show and two (talking) Movies – Bean (1997) and Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007).

And if Mr. bean became an icon for humor, this next character became the Icon of horror.

Nosferatu (1922)

This Horror movie which was based on the classic novel “Dracula” became over time a silenced masterpiece. With a Gothic atmosphere, creative cinematography and great make up (or is it?) Nosferatu became the (not so pretty) face of German expressionism. And speaking of…

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Let’s start with the ending – Dr. Caligari’s ending is to this day considered one of the best surprise endings in cinema history. Most of the plot is told as a flashback and with stylized look, disturbing images and plot filled with twists and turns Dr. Caligari became another typical doctor – the kind your afraid of.

But let’s finish with a smile. the kind only Buster Keaton could give you.

The General (1926)

We started with a comic genius and we’ll finish with another. Joseph Frank Keaton (AKA “The great stone face) Is still considered one of the faces most recognized with the silent era. In this comedy from the 20’s he plays an engineer on an obsessive quest –rescuing his two loves -  his train and his lover (you decide which he loves most). Full of escapades, this humorous film was considered as a flop when it first hit the cinemas. Today it’s considered one of the essential comedies of all times.

So in conclusion, next time your speakers are ruined, you’ve got quite a selection of movies to choose from. Just look and… listen(?).

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