The silent cinema hit the world like a hurricane, destroying élite notions of culture overnight. As a feature-length art form, it lasted less than twenty years, from 1912 to 1929, yet more than ten thousand features were made in that period in the United States alone. From the beginning, the silent cinema was an art devoted to physical risk and to primitive passions, to rage, lust, ambition, and obsession (silence made emotions more extreme in many ways), and it produced obsession in its huge audience. I’m hardly the first man to worship at the shrine of Louise Brooks’s careless but overwhelming appeal. “The Artist,” a likable spoof, doesn’t acknowledge that world of heroic ambition and madness—it’s bland, sexless, and too simple. For all its genuine charm, it left me restless and dissatisfied, dreaming of those wilder and grander movies.
Accompanying Denby's piece is a slide show, The Lost Stars of Silent Film. The title is a bit askew as its nine images present three of the great women of silent cinema — Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, and Louise Brooks. One commenter there gripes that too many of the truly fine silent-film women go unrepresented altogether, and even I — who, like Denby, am reduced to bibbling tumescence at the existence of Louise Brooks — wouldn't allocate four of only nine slots to her. Still, I'm pleased to see it there.
On my iPad, the tablet version of Denby's article adds a video. It's Denby explicating Louise Brooks' backstage seduction scene in Pandora's Box. It's a scene that literally took my breath away the first time I watched it, and it still leaves me swooning many viewings later. Denby's video is not available for linking, alas. (My own say on Pandora's Box is at DVD Journal.)
In related matters...
The 16th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival starts tomorrow at Washburn University. Among the numerous delights there will be the newly restored version of Georges Méliès 1902 ur-classic, A Trip to the Moon, which featured so prominently in Hugo.
Next month, the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival headlines a new restoration of Abel Gance’s epic Napoleon, "the Holy Grail of silent masterpieces," with a new score conducted live by composer Carl Davis, at the Art Deco Paramount Theatre in Oakland. "Due to the expense, technical challenges, and complicated rights issues involved, no screenings are planned for any other American city." Hoo boy!
Finally, at We Are Movie Geeks, TCM Celebrates THE ARTIST With List Of 10 Most Influential Silent Films. I appreciate that the list does hit "most influential" rather than just "most popular/familiar."