Day 12: Watch a silent movie

September 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

I like to think of myself as a movie afficionado, yet the fact that I had never before watched a silent film had been making me feel uncomfortable with this self proclaimed title for quite some time now. I am certainly familiar with the history of motion pictures, and could tell you that the 1927 film The Jazz Singer was the first movie to have dialogue sequences. The advent of actual speaking in movies was a game changer for the industry, which is reflected wonderfully in Sunset Boulevard, a film noir from 1950 which is responsible for the famous quote “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!”

I was able to find a movie on Netflix called Easy Street. It is from 1917 and featured the king of silent movies himself, the great Charlie Chaplin – who, by the way, rocked the “Hitler” mustache far before the top dog Nazi. In the movie, Chaplin plays a tramp who becomes reformed by a mission on the outskirts of a rough neighborhood. He answers a “Help Wanted” sign in front of a police station and quickly becomes an officer. He gets in numerous fights with the local toughs, and one giant thug in particular. At one point the guy bends a lamp post with his bare hands to frighten Chaplin with his strength, at which time Chaplin manages to jam his head into the lantern on top and knock him out with the gas inside. Later on in the movie, he takes the same guy out again by dumping a cast iron stove out of a window and onto his head.

To be completely honest, I was thoroughly entertained throughout the duration of this movie. It was really pretty violent, but the director redeemed himself in the eyes of his prudeish audience (not me, I mean the people of the early 1900’s) by  not having any blood, and by making the victims miraculously live through what seemed to be serious physical trauma (such as the aforementioend cast iron stove incident). At one point there is even a scene in which the thugs kidnap a young woman and lock her in a room with this crazed drug addict who keeps shooting up a syringe full of some unidentified substance (heroin?).

More than once I found myself laughing out loud at Chaplin’s physical comedy, which was good enough to make me forget the lack of dialogue. He was a real riot. I walked around the living room trying to imitate his trademark shuffle, but Stephanie said I just looked constipated. I guess physical comedy isn’t my thing. However, I think I could get used to silent movies – or at least Charlie Chaplin.

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