For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.

Illumination (Discovering Silent Cinema)

by Franklinton Underground Cinema
… “We didn’t need voices. We had faces then.” – Billy Wilder When I initially discovered films of Bergman and Kurosawa seven or eight years ago, I discovered cinema. Cinema has roots in silent expressionism. It’s an art form unto itself, unlike “movies”, which rarely transcend mere entertainment, for which they are made. Both Bergman and Kurosawa made films with words, but their focus, their narrative, was told through their characters faces without sentimentality or melodrama. A great actor like Toshirô Mifune was rarely even noticeable from one film to the next due to his extraordinary ability to “change face”. The eyes of the face are… Read more

“We didn’t need voices. We had faces then.” – Billy Wilder

When I initially discovered films of Bergman and Kurosawa seven or eight years ago, I discovered cinema. Cinema has roots in silent expressionism. It’s an art form unto itself, unlike “movies”, which rarely transcend mere entertainment, for which they are made. Both Bergman and Kurosawa made films with words, but their focus, their narrative, was told through their characters faces without sentimentality or melodrama. A great actor like Toshirô Mifune was rarely even noticeable from one film to the next due to his extraordinary ability to “change face”.

The eyes of the face are mirrors. They reflect our humanity, often when we don’t want to reveal what we keep hidden. Our irritability, our shame, our awkward infatuation, our laughter – these elements were the purity of silent cinema. Whether Chaplin’s Tramp or Dreyer’s Joan, we were looking in a mirror, together, in a theater – possibly in a deeper way than any other art form.

“We view films in the context of darkness. We sit in darkness and watch an illuminated world, the world of the screen. This situation is a metaphor for the nature of our own vision. In the very process of seeing, our own skull is like a dark theater, and the world we see in front of us, is in a sense, a screen. We watch the world from the dark theater of our skull. The darker the room, the more luminous the screen.” -Dorsky

Almost universally, we became obsessed with this kind-of meta-processing of our humanity, our existence, our meaning through the “eye” of the camera and the “memory” of film – at least as it existed in this particular form of expression, instead of the ever non-evolving Hollywood form of dehumanizing escapism.

However, like any good moment of silent contemplation – it would all-too quickly be subverted by talking.

Regardless, the best of cinema since the silent era still encapsulates visual expressionism – i.e., Michael Corleone’s glare – understanding the subjective essence of humanity’s most understated (yet most necessary – particularly in light of email/text/facebook) form of communication…

“…whereas more primitive animals secrete chemicals to communicate across the space between them, human beings use complex visual information to bridge the social synapse (information flow). We watch each other’s faces, bodies, and behaviors, constantly monitoring them for information about safety/danger, acceptance/rejection, love/fear.

…The faces of others may be the single most important source of information in our world. One of the most amazing things about our faces is the sheer quantity of information they communicate. Some of this information is sent intentionally via conscious facial expressions and gestures, while other forms of information such as blushing and pupil dilation are involuntary ‘readouts’ of our internal states. As sophisticated and complex as neural transmission, these multiple channels of communication bridge parent-child, lover-beloved (teacher-student, peer-peer, etc.)." – Cozolino 2006

.

“…the ultimate truth of cinema, the human face…” – Ingmar Bergman

Read less