Friday, May 30, 2008

Silent Movies

Silent movies seem to be an acquired taste. I usually have a hard time watching them. They seem hopelessly archaic compared to modern movies. But while the technology of silent films certainly is archaic, the stories themselves are not. And since these movies were made in the early twentieth century, they are less infected with all the maladies of the modern intellectual and literary world. Silent movies are closer in time to the era of Romantic art - Cyrano de Bergerac was published in 1897 - and so some of that spirit exists in them which no longer survives in the modern world.

Among the silent movies that were enjoyed by the arch-romanticist, Ayn Rand, were The Indian Tomb (Part 1: The Mission of the Yogi; Part 2: The Tiger of Bengal), The Nibelungen (Part 1: Siegfried; Part 2: Kriemhild's Revenge), The Thief of Baghdad, The Mark of Zorro (and many other silent films starring Douglas Fairbanks), The Oyster Princess, and The Volga Boatman. All of the above movies are availabe on DVD now, and more seem to be coming on the market all the time.

One I recently watched is The Winning of Barbara Worth, starring Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky, and Gary Cooper. This movie still has something of the heroic spirit of nineteenth century America in it, when American businessmen and engineers were taming the vast expanses of the West. Colman is an Eastern engineer who comes out West to build a dam to bring water to a desert wilderness and bring it to fruitful life. Gary Cooper is a native Westerner who is initially unimpressed with the soft Easterner. Vilma Banky is the woman they both adore.

The financier who funds the building of the dam is a villain who is willing to rob and kill to defeat his competitors. When this becomes clear, Colman switches sides, and convinces another Eastern financier to rescue the project (which suffered through a natural disaster), by appealing to his self interest, as well as his good will.

Colman is the hero of the story, who transforms the desert into farmland, against the natural obstacles, and against the man made interference. Cooper is a rugged Westerner who helped him achieve that goal, in spite of their rivalry over Vilma Banky.

It's a benevolent silent movie I can recommend. It's not a bad starting place if you want to begin exploring the world of silent movies.