Beginner’s Guide to Silent Films


Year: 1927
Directed by: Fritz Lang

Recently restored, Fritz Lang’s 1927 dystopic look at the future is perhaps one of the greatest examples of German Expressionism. This film was so far ahead of its time, some eighty years later it still seems just as edgy and relevant as ever.

Metropolis centers around Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the spoiled son of the leader of Metropolis, who discovers the plight of the workers who live under the city, maintaining the paradise above. The film also features an amazing dual performance from Brigitte Helm.

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Year: 1927
Directed by: William A. Wellman

This was the first film named Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the very first Oscar ceremony. It’s an epic war film set during World War I, starring Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen. It’s also filled with wonderful humor and heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking, romance. Sadly, it’s not availble on DVD in the United States.

Check it out on MUBI

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Year: 1927
Directed by: F.W. Murnau

Murnau’s most famous film is probably the 1922 horror film Nosferatu, but perhaps his most accomplished film is this sweeping psychological romance. Sunrise also won Best Picture at the first Academy Awards, but under the category “Best Picture: Unique and Artistic Production.” This was the only time that award was given.

The film centers around The Man (George O’Brien), The Wife (Janet Gaynor) and The Woman From The City (Margaret Livingston), with whom he is having an affair.

Check it out on MUBI

Die Büchse der Pandora

Also known as: Pandora’s Box
Year: 1929
Directed by: G.W. Pabst

Another film that centers around sexuality and the dangers that come with is this German film from fellow German Expressionist, G.W. Pabst. Louise Brooks’ performance (or at least her imagery) in this film is arguably one of the most iconic of the silent era. The film also contains electric performances from Fritz Körtne and Francis Ledere, who play a father and son who both fall in love with Brooks’ Lulu.

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Modern Times

Year: 1936
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin

One of the last silent films, it was originally planned to be Chaplin’s first talkie, an idea he quickly abandoned. Unlike earlier silent films, sound technology was available and thus the film has synchronized sound effects and music score. At this point in his career, Chaplin had been making films for nearly twenty years and this is considered one of his finest films.

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16 Responses

  1. amy says:

    I had only seen Broken Blossoms for the Asian Americans on American Media article, and I just finished watching Battleship Potemkin – woah, such naturalistic performances in the Odessa scene, combined with the dramatic score… pure dramatic thrills!

    By the way, I didn’t know about Openflix. It’s awesome! Saw Birth of a Nation a while back, but it was split into 14 parts… was a bit turned off by that to think about watching Intolerance… BUT! Openflix has Intolerance (and BoaN) on one go!

  2. Jenna says:

    I’ve never actually sat down to watch a silent film, but this post sure makes me want to. I’ll have to pick one out to watch. This is a great list!

  3. amy says:

    Question! You’ve seen them… how can I watch Wings and Sunrise? x) And/or how did you get to watch them…

  4. amy says:

    I just wanted to say… I did it! I finish your list, Marya! LOL It took me a long time, but I finally did. xD We need to make a badge hahaha

  5. Stacy says:

    I found a book, it has a comprehensive list of Silent Films released in the US, basically it’s a directory with illustrations.

  1. February 3, 2011

    […] be sure to head over to YAM Mag and check out the piece I wrote about Silent Cinema for them. It’s part of a new feature for […]

  2. September 17, 2013

    […] starting her Beginner’s Guide to Silent Films, I had only watched Broken Blossoms, but for the rest, I had to find the time and find the way to […]

  3. September 17, 2013

    […] second film featured on the opening night of the festival was F. W. Murnau’s 1927 classic Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, but with a twist; the screening featured the world premiere of a new score by Giovanni […]

  4. April 10, 2014

    […] the Donald Sosin Ensemble. Also featured on opening night is F. W. Murnau’s 1927 masterpiece Sunrise, with live accompaniment provided by Giovanni […]

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