Early Silent Films – The Rich History of Silent Films in Hollywood


By the middle of the 1920’s you could count on every town having at least one movie theater. Going to the movies, at that time, was a lot different then it is these days. Today you see a feature film and possibly a few previews, but overall you will only be spending about two hours on average in the theater.

This was not the case in the middle twenties as going out to see a movie was a much larger entertainment event. You would spend at least four hours watching not only previews, but film-shorts, newsreels, and maybe even a cartoon prior to the feature film. And that’s not all, chances are that there would it was a double-feature. That’s right, a second full-length film to complete the movie-going package. Going to the movies was a genuinely big event for people, who knew that they were surely getting their moneys worth!

And the most interesting thing of all is that these movies had no sound.

Films Without Sound

Hollywood’s earlier silent films left the actors dependent on method acting or pantomime in order to convey their characters feelings to the audience. Occasionally, there were subtitles for their dialog, but they were quite short, insuring the audience would not be distracted by written words. Instead, more often then not, music played a big role in these otherwise silent films helping to convey the emotion related to a scene.

And unlike watching a movie with sound, where one would have to be quiet in order to hear the characters spoken lines, audiences would talk softly further enhancing the social aspect of attending these silent films.

One tragic aspect of the silent film era was the fact that some of the public’s most loved stars were unable to make the transition into talking pictures. This was due to the difficulty audiences had adjusting to the actors real voices after having seen them in so many silent films often imaging how they would sound.

Stars that were larger then life on the silent screen, such as Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino, faded away with the introduction of sound. And as a result, a great deal of acting talent disappeared. However, stars like Charlie Chaplin and Lionel Barrymore were able to make a successful transition to films with sound and continued their very successful acting careers.

Ticket Sales

According to the statistical results for the industry at the time, everyone was going to the movies and by the late 1920’s there were over twenty-five thousand theaters across the US with tickets priced at ten to fifty-cents each.

In fact, it was estimated that one hundred million tickets were sold weekly, and this was within a population of about 130 million people. Today, there are over 300 million people in the United States with average ticket sales of only about 27 million a week. So, don’t be overly impressed with the claims of larger gross ticket sales that are based purely on higher ticket prices and not the number of tickets sold. The fact is that there are less then half the number of tickets sold today then in the twenties.

The difference extends beyond ticket sales and into film production as well. By the late 1920’s, Hollywood was releasing a thousand movies a year; in 2006, the average was down to 600.

Amazingly enough, the publics interest in silent films is making a comeback. Many of these older films have been digitally remastered for re-release and according to sales statistics, the companies marketing them are doing so quite profitably. This renewed interest has given new life to this historical art form providing an opportunity for all to share in the glory of early silent films.

Source by Carl DiNello

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