Thursday, November 24, 2011

What do you want from a silent film?

Would a really lousy movie be less lousy as a silent movie or as a sound movie?

It's like black & white movies. You have a handful of art and arty movies--high brow films--shot in black and white. Back during the fight over colorization, I sat in a theater watching the latest Dirty Harry movie thinking, "They should have done this in black and white!"

I've heard it argued that the use of color in cinema today is more advanced artistically than black & white cinematography ever was, and I'm sure that's true. But that's with people who are really good. What if you're not very good? What if you couldn't make especially artistic use of either black and white or color? Which would look less like crap?

And what about silent vs. sound film? Was Charlie Chaplin right when he said the best silent film would always be better than the best sound movie? Imagine Battleship Potempkin with synchronized sound. Imagine War & Peace, Taxi Driver, or anything else as a silent movie.

Okay, yes, synchronized sound was a boon to cinema. Sound cinema has no doubt surpassed silent film artistically. But, as with color vs. black & white, that's only with the people who are really good at it. For the not-very-good, or the extreme low budget filmmaker, which is superior? Maybe Chaplin was right, that the best silent movie would always be better than the best sound movie. Or maybe the reverse was true. But that doesn't apply to those who aren't making the "best" movies.

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