Film movements- Silent cinema

Key terms-

Realist Film

A style of film-making that attempts to represent the look of objective reality as it is commonly perceived. Attempts to emulate real life without manipulation.

Expressionist film

These films depict a widely distorted reality for emotional effect (surrealism).


Short silent films around 20 minutes long.

Slapstick comedy

A form of physical comedy. Usually involves violent, physical action such as chases and practical jokes.

Star system

Studios created stars in the old Hollywood system. These stars were owned by studios and exploited as a marketing tool. Star personas were created as a result of this.

Iris shot

The frame is partially masked in a circular frame. Commonly used to end or begin a scene, a common convention in silent cinema


Buster Keaton’s auteur signatures-

Keaton was famous for his deadpan expression and was known as the “great stone face”

He was also known for doing is own stunts and slapstick comedy.

His sets often included mechanical objects as seen in The High Sign where there is a variety of trap doors and escape hatches.

His on screen persona often included a simple man dealing with a chaotic world who is prone to mishaps and faces a series of obstacles before he achieves his goal. He is often seeking a soulmate by competing for a womand affection.

Cinematography Flat lighting, deep focus, key character often placed at the centre of the frame, straight on eye-level (no expressionist angles)
Mise en scene Mechanical objects, symmetry within the mise en scene, Objects and props appear to take on a life of their own, objects often imposing and appear larger than they may do in reality
Editing Editing and shots are structured around the development of the gag and edited for precise comic timing

“For fast action you cut things closer than normal, For a dramatic scene, you lengthen them out a little bit more”

Sound There is no set synchronised score for silent films. Early audiences would experience silent films in a theatre with live musical accompaniment, usually a piano. The musicians would play along to the film to heighten the emotion and emphasise the comedy.
Performance ‘The Stone Face’, large eyes to emote, ‘verisimilar’ acting style, acrobatics

Overview of early film comedy-

Film comedy emerged as a staple genre in the USA in 1912.

Keystone company and studios (founded by Mack Sennet) earned a reputation for short gag based fast paced slapstick comedies and was on of the biggest comedy film producers in the mid 1910s . Keaton gained insiration from keystones work especially Keystone cops.

American silent film conventions-

American silent films often consisted of-

Falls and chase sequences played for big laughs .

Star comedians with intriguing personalities in inplausable scenarios.

Fast paced stories told efficiently and clearly

Critiques of American society.

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