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characteristics of silent film

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A silent film is a film with no accompanying, synchronized recorded spoken dialogue. The technology for silent films was invented around1860, but remained a novelty until around 1880 – 1900, when films on a single reel became easily produced. OR Silent film is a series of images and movements within a film that consists only of the image and movements of the actors, in other words, it has no sound within the film itself.
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The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as the motion picture itself, but because of the technical challenges involved, most films were silent before the late 1920s. But the silent picture was a universal language through its messages. The silent film era is sometimes referred to as the “Age of the Silver Screen”.
The silent era basically lasted until the end of the decade when most films were all-talkie, although there were hold-outs like Chaplin’s  City Lights (1931). 
The following below are the characteristics of silent film
  • Low Budget; Silent films, usually made with low budgets and few resources, were an important evolutionary stage in the development of movies, since they forced film-makers to tell engaging narrative stories with actors who could emote (with body language and facial expressions). 
  • Based on Major foundational elements and visual vocabulary; They provided the major foundational elements and visual vocabulary of cinema, including mise en scene, lighting, cinematography, set design, costuming, camera shots, composition, movement, special effects (jump cuts, dissolves, superimpositions, miniatures, matte paintings).
  • Acting techniques; The medium of silent film required a great emphasis onbody language and facial expression so the audience could better understand what an actor was feeling and portraying on screen. The gesticulations common to much silent film acting are apt to strike modern-day audiences as simplistic or campy. For this reason, silent comedies tend to be more popular in the modern era than drama, partly because overacting is more natural in comedy. However, some silent films were quite subtly acted, depending on the director and the skill of the actors. Overacting in silent films was sometimes a habit actors transferred from their stage experience and directors who understood the intimacy of the new medium discouraged it. As stated by the jaded Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard as she watches one of her silent films, “We didn’t need voices; we had faces.”
  • Use fundamental techniques; After the film was shot, editors were compelled to use fundamental techniques (montage, cross-cutting, parallel scenes, tableaux, etc.) to convey the proper rhythm and continuity
  • Intertitles, Since silent films had no synchronized sound for dialogue, onscreenintertitles were used to narrate story points, present key dialogue and sometimes even comment on the action for the cinema audience. The title writer became a key professional in silent film and was often separate from the scenario writer who created the story. Intertitles (or titles as they were generally called at the time) often became graphic elements themselves, featuring illustrations or abstract decorations that commented on the action of the film or enhanced its atmosphere.
  • Projection speed, Up until around 1925, most silent films were shot at slower speeds (or “frame rates”) than sound films, typically at 16 to 23 frames per second depending on the year and studio, rather than 24 frames per second. Unless carefully shown at their original speeds they can appear unnaturally fast and jerky, which reinforces their alien appearance to modern viewers. At the same time, some scenes were intentionally under ranked during shooting in order to accelerate the action, particularly in the case of slapstick comedies. The intended frame rate of a silent film can be ambiguous and since they were usually hand cranked there can even be variation within one film. Film speed is often a vexed issue among scholars and film buffs in the presentation of silents today, especially when it comes to DVD releases of “restored” films; the 2002 restoration of Metropolis (Germany, 1927) may be the most fiercely debated example.
  • Use Of Live Music, The exhibits of silent films were generally not really silent because they were accompanied by live music. Film music was largely live in the silent cinema but its practice was specific to the various cultures and nations where it was heard. 
  • Use Of Piano, Small towns usually had a piano to accompany the screenings.
  • Source Of Income,It was the main source of employment for the musicians of the time, For example in United states the height of the silent era, movies were the single largest source of employment for instrumental musicians
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  • No sync Sound, Silent films does not have any kind of synchronized sound.Sync sound (synchronized sound recording) refers to sound recorded at the time of the filming of movies. It has been widely used in movies since the birth ofsound movies.
  • Theatrical performances based on more and more emphatic gestures were common.
  • The silent film was filmed in rolls of 35 mm and at slower speeds than the films with sound, it is for this reason that they tend to seem artificially fast, which emphasizes its unnatural aspect.
  • The title writer became quite a silent film professional, even got to be mentioned in the credits just like the screenwriter.
  • Usually fast rhythms were used for chases, more serious sounds when reflecting moments of mystery and romantic melodies for love scenes.
  • Black And White Shot, Most of the silent films were shot in black and white.
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