NEW SILENT CINEMA: IT’S ALIVE!

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I am delighted to announce the publication of New Silent Cinema, a collection I co-edited with my fantastic colleague, Paul Flaig. The book features essays by a group of outstanding screen scholars–including Constance BalidesJames Leo CahillBrianne Cohen, Jonah CorneBrian JacobsonRob KingJennifer PetersonBrian Price, Catherine Russell, Yiman Wang, and Joshua Yumibe–as well as interviews with Paolo Cherchi Usai, Rick Altman, and Guy Maddin. We are especially grateful to Guy Maddin, who not only allowed us to publish several beautiful images from his ongoing Séances project, but also gave us permission to use an image from his most recent film, The Forbidden Room (2015), for our cover.

New Silent Cinema explores the recent wave of interest in silent cinema as it stretches across popular and avant-garde film, contemporary art, literature, and new media. The introduction is available to peruse here. Paul and I will soon post a conversation about the development of the project, the many examples of “New Silent Cinema” that did not make it into the collection, and the diverse directions that our contributors took in examining this contemporary phenomenon. We are very grateful to everyone who supported the project–and look forward to hearing from readers!

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HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

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The Ithaca Silent Cinema community celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the famed Stewart Bridge trolley crash, staged for the Prince of India (Wharton Brothers, 1914). More information on Ithaca’s history in silent cinema can be found here. And if you are wondering whatever happened to the Wharton Brothers’ films: check the bottom of Cayuga Lake.

AFTER IT BURNED

When the Studio Burned (Lawrence Marston, 1913)

A fictional film about a real fire from a studio that actually burned down.  Thanhouser studios operated in NYC from 1909 to 1918.  It was recently reborn as a non-profit preservation company (directed by the grandchild of the original owner).  More films here and here.

GLOBAL SILENT CINEMA

Menilmontant (Kirsanoff, 1926)

I am teaching a seminar entitled “Global Silent Cinema” next semester.  This course will introduce students to the eccentricities and complexities of cinema’s first three decades. Each week will be guided by a different concept (e.g. language, narrative, the archive, etc.).

I am just starting to make my way through a long list of possible films for the course.  I recently rescreened Ménilmontant, Dmitri Kirsanoff’s intertitle-less short from 1926, and made a first pass at gathering together the work that’s been done on the film.  Much of this writing focuses on the film’s experimental narrative form.  Richard Abel argues that the film is structured by series of losses and substitutions. Richard Prouty pivots from this claim to read the film’s spatial and narrative economies: Continue reading

SHADOW LIVES

“I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night.  The shadows are there, all of them, out there, those from my childhood, and those from books, and particularly those from my dreams.  I get up.  I walk forward on tiptoe.  I chase shadows that disappear, that fade under the electric light, in rooms, bathrooms, through closets, from step to step, in the staircases, under beds, in the corners of curtains…Nothing remains but the house lit up from top to bottom like a screen on which shadows go by […] From that to the cinema, there is only one step.  You can see why I love—why I adore—the movies.  They are the endless play of all shadows, a dream in black and white.”–Josephine Baker [i]

This meditation on shadows and cinema appears in Josephine Baker’s autobiography. Continue reading

EARLY FILM REMIX CONT’D

 Silent (CB McWilliams, 2009)

Silent combines frames from five silent films: Nosferatu, Metropolis, Faust, Holy Mountain, and the Dragon Painter; the frames are (re)set to the sounds of Charles Ives’ Hallowe’en From the artist’s description:

The frames are chosen by custom software that compares data from each of the film’s soundtracks with the data from Ives’ music.  The software analyzes each film and records the audio (FFT) data and timecode for each frame. The final video is generated by processing an input soundtrack, in this case Hallowe’en, and finding the frames of film whose audio best fits that of the soundtrack.

Silent films were chosen as the source material because of their tight connection between narrative, visuals, and musical score. By using the soundtrack as the central driver of visual imagery, Silent inverts these relationships. This reversal allows forms typically associated with music-repetition, rhythm, movement-to express themselves visually.

This is a fascinating remix of film history and theory.  McWilliams presents a sharp comparison between silent cinema and new media/music.  In his description, silent cinema operates as a kind of handicraft, made by/for humans, narratively coherent and visually whole.  McWilliams takes new media as the vibrating attraction, the automated response, the work of film art in the age of digital reproduction. Chandler didn’t have a choice or make a decision: the software decided what was best for the sound.

I wonder if there is actually an inversion or reversal at work here.  It seems (more) likely that McWilliams’ film offers a return to silent film, to its visual/sound experiments.  Here, the “original” and its remix seem to exist in necessary, complementary relation.