For this module I produced a short film titled, ‘The Man Inside’, which follows the story of a divorced couple who end up trapped in a lift together. The film is a comedy/drama, and incorporated a circular narrative structure, opening with a flash forward to instantly engage the audience. Furthering this, we were set the task of editing our footage in a particular style, of which I chose the silent film. After researching and looking at examples of each editing style the silent era seemed one of the most intriguing and appropriate due to our actors characterized facial expressions and the vast amount of features that come with the style.
I watched a number of silent films to gain a better understanding of the ways in which they utilize editing techniques and apply this to create the typical conventions of the silent film. I watched the classics: Nosferatu (1922), The Great Train Robbery (1903), The birth of a Nation (1915) and The Kid (1921) as well as the first recordings from the Lumiere brothers’ Cinematographe; the arrival of the express train at Ciotan and the workers leaving the factory. There is a big time differences between all of these films, yet they are all of the same genre, giving me over twenty years worth of information and features of this style.
A silent film is simply a film that acquires no recorded synchronous sound – diegetic or non-diegetic, and this especially includes spoken dialogue (the introduction of the Vitaphone system in the late 1920’s is when “talkies” kicked off). Silent films instead, relied on facial expressions, gestures, and inter-title cards to express what would be said. From the films I watched I noticed that the actors were very strong, their facial expressions were bold, their gestures were over-exaggerated so they could really convey what was going on in the film. Charlie Chaplin is a perfect example of the kinds of this type of acting; for example, in ‘The Kid’ Chaplin is attempting to stop the baby from crying, we see how clueless he is through his dramatic facial expressions, scratching his head, and his frantic full body movements. One thing I instantly noticed when watching my own film footage back was that the actors’ performances were very theatrical, the engineer was a very animated character and the performance style itself would fit perfectly with a silent film edit.
Despite having no recorded sound, music is a key feature of silent films. As these films were being shown a live pianist or musical orchestra would play to help create the ambience being portrayed on screen and add to the entertainment value. Considering this, I searched for a silent film style piano song to accompany my images. I came across ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ this not only sounded great with the visuals on screen, but also includes the sound of an old projector running in the background, accentuating the realism of watching a silent film in a theatre back in the early 1900s.
With having no spoken dialogue, yet needing to get some discourse across I used inter-titles, a vital component of silent films. The designs for which were different in most silent films, some would be signature; for example D.W. Griffith created a signature title card for ‘The birth of a nation”. I used one inter-title card throughout my film, I was fond of the style as it appeared vintage, and was visually pleasing. The typography back then was all serif, and looked hand printed. I used ‘Charlemagne Std’ as it is a serif, bold font, which is legible and I feel, fits the style.
The camera shots are also very particular in silent films, the shots are normally quite long in duration; for example the opening shot in ‘The Great Train Robbery’ is 67 seconds long, as well as being completely static, long shot. Opening/establishing shots in contemporary film tend to be under ten seconds, signifying the extent of difference in technology, style, and general practice in filming and cinematography, which is being perfected over the years. The camera was usually very large back in the early days of filming, and was manually operated by a hand crank – this made it impossible to create pans and hard to do tilts and movement. The majority of our shots were static, with the occasional tilting. As we took hundreds of shots on the day, we ended up with quite a few extended shots, which I included where possible. I took the frame rate down slightly to 20 FPS, silent films had an FPS ranging from 12 to 24, and more commonly at the beginning of the era it would lie at around 16 FPS. Also, I sped up the film slightly from 100% speed rate to 120% – silent films often look as though they are being played in a faster than average motion, this is so it would appear more energetic and engaging. The speed of silent films also depended on the hand crank, so it was the man turning the handle who controlled the speed, which was difficult to manage at a regular speed.
The iris circle transition was exceptionally common during the silent era, as they were much more limited with their video effects. To fit my film, it seemed only right to use cuts, and the iris circle transition only to really gage the era. The cuts were not always perfect in silent films, as they would physically have to cut the film and stick it together where they thought best, not having the computer technology we have now. A few of my cuts are disjointed, to replicate this effect. I also put a ‘dust and scratches’ effect and used ‘overlay’ to merge the effect to the footage, this makes the film appear as though it is being projected rather than shown digitally from the over exposed lighting flashes. The dust and scratches effect makes the film appear as though it has been stored and damaged over many years, a trait common in the silent films we are shown as a contemporary audience, which is also quite trademark for the style.
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