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The best silent films in history: from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton to “Stan and Bran”

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In 2023, silent films no longer seem relevant to audiences. However, any cinema lover will be able to appreciate them at their true value and understand what the “poet meant”.

Silent films were the beginning-the beginning, and without them, obviously, there would be no Avatar 1 or 2 today… nor Teambuilding or… (even worse) Romina, VTM.

Sadly, cinema nowadays seems to be in somewhat of a decline, quality-wise, but of course, again, it depends a lot on who you ask.

While today, state-of-the-art technology is used for special effects that-are-more-than-good, in the alpha stage of filmmaking, the efforts were almost superhuman. Filmmakers were “going out of their way” to make up for the lack of technology we now take for granted.

Imagine a small movie theater, a silver screen, an orchestra providing atmosphere from under the stage, and an audience enthralled by the magical images that unfolded on the screen: it was all magic.

In order to pay homage to the beginnings, but also to the efforts of people who did their best to entertain you more than a century ago, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to introduce you to some of the silent films that made history, as well as a number of details that, for one reason or another, you might have missed.

The silent film era ended for good with the release of the first “talking” film, 1928’s The Jazz Singer. In the spirit of fairness, the demise of silent films wasn’t marked until a year later, in 1929.

However, in 2011, the silent film The Artist won an Academy Award, much to everyone’s amazement.

The first silent film: The Roundhay Garden Scene

The Roundhay Garden Scene is the name by which a 2.11-second sequence considered to be virtually the earliest film in cinema history is known. The marvel was made in 1888 by French inventor Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince and runs at 12 frames per second. Basically, you get about 25-26 frames in total.

Granted, we may not exactly be talking about a full-fledged film, but it’s certainly an essential part of cinema history.

The best example of this is 1902’s Le Voyage dans le Lune, the making of which is even mentioned in Hugo (2011), with Méliès himself (played by Ben Kingsley) as one of the main characters.

The most beloved actors of the silent era

In terms of actors who became famous in the silent era, worthy of mention are, without fail, Greta Garbo, who starred in The Mysterious Lady (1928), The Single Standard (1929), and The Kiss (1929).

Furthermore, the famous “Stan and Bran” (Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel) delighted audiences around the world for decades. The two were “big sensations” in Romania, even at a time when “talkies” were no longer a novelty. We, however, still loved the childish antics of the two comedians.

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I also can’t help but mention Charlie Chaplin, who effectively redefined the notion of silent films. In the same category is Buster Keaton, the actor, director and stuntman who turned the impossible into the possible, according to a former mayor of Bucharest, now behind bars.

The 100 best silent movies of all time

  1. The General – 1926 – Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
  2. Metropolis – 1927 – Fritz Lang
  3. Sunrise – 1927 – F.W. Murnau
  4. City Lights – 1931 – Charles Chaplin
  5. Nosferatu – 1922 – F.W. Murnau
  6. The Gold Rush – 1925 – Charles Chaplin
  7. The Passion and Death of Joan of Arc – 1928 – Carl Theodor Dreyer
  8. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari – 1920 – Robert Wiene
  9. Bronenosets ‘Potyomkin’ – 1925 – Sergei M. Eisenstein
  10. Greed – 1924 – Erich von Stroheim
  11. Die Büchse der Pandora – 1929 – G.W. Pabst
  12. The Crowd – 1928 – King Vidor
  13. The Wind – 1928 – Victor Sjöström
  14. Napoleon – 1927 – Abel Gance
  15. The Birth of a Nation – 1915 – D.W. Griffith
  16. Intolerance 1916 D.W. Griffith
  17. Sherlock, Jr. – 1924 – Buster Keaton
  18. The Big Parade – 1925 – King Vidor
  19. Safety Last – 1923 – Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
  20. The Phantom of the Opera – 1925 – Rupert Julian
  21. Broken Blossoms – 1919 – D.W. Griffith
  22. Der letzte Mann – 1924 – F.W. Murnau
  23. The Kid – 1921 – Charles Chaplin
  24. Steamboat Bill, Jr. – 1928 – Charles F. Reisner
  25. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – 1925 – Fred Niblo
  26. The Thief of Bagdad – 1924 – Raoul Walsh
  27. Flesh and the Devil – 1927 – Clarence Brown
  28. Our Hospitality – 1923 – Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone
  29. Wings – 1927 – William A. Wellman
  30. Chelovek s kinoapparatom – 1929 – Dziga Vertov
  31. Nanook of the North – 1922 – Robert J. Flaherty
  32. Faust – 1926 – F.W. Murnau
  33. Way Down East – 1920 – D.W. Griffith
  34. Häxan – 1922 – Benjamin Christensen
  35. Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen – 1929 – G.W. Pabst
  36. The Unknown – 1927 – Tod Browning
  37. The Cameraman – 1928 – Edward Sedgwick
  38. The Circus – 1928 – Charles Chaplin
  39. Show People – 1928 – King Vidor
  40. An Andalusian Dog – 1928 – Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali
  41. The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923 Wallace Worsley
  42. Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler – 1922 – Fritz Lang
  43. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – 1921 – Rex Ingram
  44. The Sheik – 1921 – George Melford
  45. Die Nibelungen – 1924 – Fritz Lang
  46. The Freshman – 1925 – Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer
  47. The Mark of Zorro – 1920 – Fred Niblo
  48. Tol’able David – 1921 – Henry King
  49. He Who Gets Slapped – 1924 – Victor Sjöström
  50. Girl Shy – 1924 – Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
  51. The Wedding March – 1928 – Erich von Stroheim
  52. The Man Who Laughs – 1928 – Paul Leni
  53. The Lodger – 1926 – Alfred Hitchcock
  54. Seven Chances – 1925 – Buster Keaton
  55. The Last Command – 1928 – Josef von Sternberg
  56. Foolish Wives – 1922 – Erich von Stroheim
  57. Orphans of the Storm – 1921 – D.W. Griffith
  58. Sparrows – 1926 – William Beaudine
  59. The Navigator – 1924 – Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp
  60. Zemlya – 1930 – Aleksandr Dovzhenko
  61. Tabu – 1931 – F.W. Murnau and Robert J. Flaherty
  62. Les Vampires – 1915-16 – Louis Feuillade
  63. The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg – 1927 – Ernst Lubitsch
  64. Beggars of Life – 1928 – William A. Wellman
  65. My Best Girl – 1927 – Sam Taylor
  66. Cops – 1922 – Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
  67. Der Golem – 1920 – Paul Wegener
  68. The Trip to the Moon – 1902 – Georges Méliès
  69. The Son of the Sheik – 1926 – George Fitzmaurice
  70. 7th Heaven – 1927 – Frank Borzage
  71. It – 1927 – Clarence Badger
  72. The Lost World – 1925 – Harry O. Hoyt
  73. The Kid Brother 1927 Ted Wilde and J.A. Howe
  74. The Immigrant – 1917 – Charles Chaplin
  75. Queen Kelly – 1928 – Erich von Stroheim
  76. Oktiabr [October] – 1928 – Sergei M. Eisenstein
  77. Cabiria – 1914 – Giovanni Pastrone
  78. Robin Hood – 1922 – Allan Dwan
  79. The Docks of New York – 1928 – Josef von Sternberg
  80. Stachka – 1924 – Sergei M. Eisenstein
  81. The Great Train Robbery – 1903 – Edwin S. Porter
  82. Der müde Tod [Destiny] – 1921 – Fritz Lang
  83. Speedy – 1928 – Ted Wilde
  84. Sadie Thompson – 1928 – Raoul Walsh
  85. Tess of the Storm Country – 1922 – John S. Robertson
  86. A Woman of Paris – 1923 – Charles Chaplin
  87. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – 1920 – John S. Robertson
  88. The Last of the Mohicans – 1920 – Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Brown
  89. The Unholy Three – 1925 – Tod Browning
  90. Mat [Mother] – 1926 – Vsevolod I. Pudovkin
  91. The Cheat – 1915 – Cecil B. DeMille
  92. Variety – 1925 – E.A. Dupont
  93. Die Freudlose Gasse – 1924 – G.W. Pabst
  94. Big Business – 1929 – James W. Horne
  95. The Iron Mask – 1929 – Allan Dwan
  96. The King of Kings – 1927 – Cecil B. DeMille
  97. The Iron Horse – 1924 – John Ford
  98. The Penalty – 1920 – Wallace Worsley
  99. Stella Maris – 1918 – Marshall Neilan
  100. Underworld – 1927 – Josef von Sternberg
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