A Brief History of Silent Films

Caesar Torres

March 20th, 2017

A poster for the 1902 silent film, A Trip to the Moon www.imdb.com

Films have come a long way ever since its creation which is great because we love watching films. If you need some evidence, just take a look at the billions of dollars the biggest blockbuster hits make. Audiences are so enthralled by the complex stories and impressive visuals that today’s films provide; however, there was a time when there were no complex stories or impressive visuals. There was a time when films had no color or sound. These were known as silent films or moving pictures.

First, let’s clear up a misconception about silent films. Silent films were not always completely silent. If the film was shown in a large city, a small orchestra would play music to accompany what was happening in the film. The music that was played would add emotional, dramatic or a humorous element to the film like it does in today’s films. Music was either played from sheet music or improvised for silent films.

It is hard to say what the first movie was. Some might say the zoetrope, a nineteenth-century toy that when spun would produce the illusion of repeated motion with different drawings or photographs. Others might argue that the first films were either Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope films or La Sortie de l’usine Lumière a Lyon (1895), which depicted employees leaving their factory job. Regardless of what came first, it is no doubt that these were revolutionary creations. People back then were stunned at the moving pictures.

A Trip to the Moon (1902) directed by Georges Méliès is considered the first film to focus on storytelling. This fifteen-minute long film focused on a group of astronomers and their expedition to the moon. The most financially successful and well-known silent film was D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). Griffith’s experimental filmmaking techniques have become integral to modern-day filmmaking. However, this film is very controversial due to Ku Klux Klan members being portrayed as heroes and the racism that is prominently displayed throughout the film.

The age of silent films did not last long, however. As time went on, technologies advanced and soon “talkies,” or sound films, replaced silent films entirely.

Silent films are no longer made, but some homages have been made like the 2011 movie, The Artist, but we should learn to start appreciating silent films. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the movies that are out today.


Caesar Torres

Features Editor

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