The Thief (1952): The introduction of sound to motion pictures may have liberated the medium, but it killed a certain breed of filmmaking: the kind told almost exclusively via moving images (and the occasional intertitle). Even Charlie Chaplin held onto the torch, stubbornly releasing the mostly silent Modern Times nine years after The Jazz Singer. Deep into the 1950s, little-remembered filmmaker Robert Rouse paid homage to this era with this gimmicky noir, in which nuclear physicist Ray Milland tries to evade the FBI after leaking secrets to an enemy country. The hook: no one speaks, and the deafening silence is meant to mirror our anti-hero’s guilt. There’s no other reason to remember it than for the gimmick, but it’s enough.
Le Révélateur (1967): Arguably more so than Jean-Luc Godard, Philippe Garrel (Regular Lovers) was likely the most formally daring filmmaker to emerge from France in the 1960s. Case in point: his nightmarish abstract horror-thing concerning the vague plight of a 4-year-old and what appear to be his parents, filmed in inky B&W and, most importantly, without sound. No dialogue, not even a score. Silent.
Silent Movie (1976): Silent comedy is perhaps the saddest casualty of sound’s advent, though some have tried to resuscitate it, albeit with quotation marks. Riding high on Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks sent up the era with loving retro gags and sound effects; the only voice you hear belongs to Marcel-Marceau. (See also: Charles Lang’s 1989 Sidewalk Stories, a nod to Chaplin’s The Kid, and 2005’s Keaton-esque Dr. Plonk.)
Juha (1999): No shock that Finnish deadpan master Aki Kaurismäki (late of Le Havre) would make a silent film, with intertitles. There was some shock that he chose the schtick for one of his darker, not-so-funny efforts.
Cowards Bend the Knee (2005): In which Guy Maddin, our most beloved retro filmmaker, finally got to make a silent feature. This loopy serial was originally an installation that forced viewers to watch through peep holes on bended knee (heh). Later, The Brand Upon the Brain!, also silent, was originally mounted with live orchestra, narrators and foley artists.
The Artist (2011): A tiny carp: It would be even better if Michael Hazanavicius’ award-gobbling retro-silent actually looked like the films to which it pays homage.
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Calendar: Nov. 25-Dec. 2
Artie Lange knows the score
Calendar: November 18-25