The Artist & Silent Movies

Last Friday, to celebrate the release of the acclaimed silent movie The Artist, Carolina Cinemas Asheville played a marathon of silent movies in their Cinema Lounge. Normally I love when Carolina Cinemas runs a marathon of movies but the only silent movie I had ever watched in its entirety was Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1974). I love older movies but the thought of a movie without dialogue or sound effects sounded boring.

Once I realized it was outside my comfort zone, I decided I would give it a shot. I had the whole day off and was going to Carolina Cinemas anyway that day because I had a FREE ticket to see Underworld Awakening (from a Blu-Ray purchase) and they were doing an ActionFest promotion for the 7:50 showing of Haywire.

The first film was The Mark of Zorro (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks. I got to see all of this. It was quaint and mildly enjoyable for the first two acts but the third act had all kinds of derring-do and stunts from Douglas Fairbanks and was a lot more fun. I watched the beginning of Beyond the Rocks (1922) with Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. I was struck not only by how attractive Rudolph Valentino was but also by how I didn’t find Gloria Swanson attractive at all. I guess standards do change over the years – certainly I hate the frizzy hair look of the late 70s/early 80s. After Underworld Awakening, I caught Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) starring John Gilbert. Like Zorro, this was a swashbuckler but it was somewhat light on the action and was interesting but nothing I’d watch again.

This was followed by It (1927) starring Clara Bow. It is currently available on instant Netflix.

“This 1927 silent film features Clara Bow as Betty Lou, a sweet and sassy clerk at a department store who decides she has found Mr. Right when she meets the store’s owner (Antonio Moreno). One thing: She must convince him that she’s Ms. Right, too. As Betty Lou strives to catch his attention, she also tries to help her roommate, who has recently become a mother.This classic silver-screen tale is inspired by a short story written by Elinor Glyn.”

This was easily the most frustrating of the movies I saw. I say frustrating because someone came up and sat in the back row and proceeded to clack something repeatedly (balls?). This annoyance was superceded by the gentleman who came in later and sat near me with his wife and mother (a guess). He proceeded to make up his own dialogue for the film (in a loud voice naturally) and asked if I wanted to as well. After telling him that I was there to watch the film, the two women accompanying him whispered to him and they left (yay!).

The film was absolutely fascinating in its depiction of the era. Not only was the depiction of a department store fascinating but so was the apartment living – Betty Lou shares a tiny apartment with a single mom who almost loses her child because of her unemployment. Clara Bow did indeed have “It” and commanded her scenes.

I had only one more silent movie to sit through. So far I had found all of them to be mildly entertaining (rude patrons aside) historical curiosities. Safety Last (1923) starring Harold Lloyd was my final film and it blew me away. I was chuckling through most of the film and laughed out loud at several of the gags. This movie is incredibly visually inventive and features a climax where Harold Lloyd has to scale a 16-story building. I will definitely be looking to see more of Harold Lloyd’s films when I have time.

While none of Harold Lloyd’s films are on instant Netflix, It with Clara Bow is available as are several of Douglas Fairbanks’ films: The Thief of Baghdad (1924), The Iron Mask (1929), and The Black Pirate (1926).