“Silent film – so what?” Well, they may be old but they’re still very much alive and kicking! Millions of us love them and think you could too. Here’s why…
To the world at large, the term ‘silent film’ often conjures up an image of scratched, choppy, sped-up old clips of ridiculously over-acted, plotless chases and stand-up, knock-down custard pie fights. Naturally, those of us who love, live and breathe silents know that nothing could be further from the truth. At their best, when experienced with a good quality presentation and appreciative audience, they represent an art form that was, with the coming of sound, killed off in its prime.
The silent film era contains some of the most memorable scenes and iconic imagery in the history of cinema and as such has huge potential to be presented in a way that is eye-catching, trendy, appealing and, above all, accessible to as broad an audience as possible. Indeed, those images are never far from the public consciousness: modern films, music videos, fashion and advertising, to name just a few. They all constantly plunder this rich legacy whilst rarely acknowledging its source, innovation or influence. I truly believe that given the chance, the films themselves still hold more than enough power to amaze, thrill and entertain an ever-broader section of the public at large.
Anyone who’s ever attended one of the children’s orchestra-accompanied (Orchestra bambini/Kinderorchester) screenings at the Pordenone or Karlsruhe silent film festivals knows this only too well. Up to four generations of local families join regular festival goers in seeing some of their youngest members playing along to silents, often comedies. Right from the credits onwards the audience unhesitatingly laugh and cry along in unison. No history lessons or explanations are necessary: silent films speak for themselves, across all ages and language barriers. A truly beautiful experience and my favourite screenings of all.
Whatever our connection to film, whether formal or informal, we are all fans, first and foremost. It is we fans that are, in a sense, the true custodians of its legacy and we owe it to our creative forebears to find new ways to engage the current generation of film-goers, though increasingly ‘film-watchers’ might be a more accurate description! It is only by doing this that we can assure the future survival of the vital part of our collective social history that films represent. For many reasons the further films go back in time, the more love, care and attention they need, both literally and figuratively.
This truly is the second golden age of cinema, with more movies from all eras available to enjoy than ever before. Although I personally love film of all countries and genres dating right up to the present day, I’ve a particular affinity for the nitrate era, which lasted from film’s inception up until the early 1950s. Therefore, though there is no natural cut-off point, this site’s focus will be squarely on the first half of cinema’s 120-odd year history. I hope you’ll join me on my never-ending journey to celebrate all that is wonderful about the world of silent and early film…
Now dim the lights and let the show begin!
Like many people I’ve been a film fan for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid this mainly consisted of squinting at our old tube telly. Back in those days the comparative lack of home technology was a great leveller. It didn’t matter too much whether the films were old or new: they were all in fuzzy black-and-white, square-shaped and tinny-sounding anyway!
Watching films on the box was fun but nothing came close to the unalloyed joy of taking my younger brother’s hand and catching the bus (or walking: more money for sweets!) to one of the four surviving Art Deco cinemas still to be found in our hometown at that time. This taught me two unequivocal facts: films always work best when seen on a big screen, the way they were intended, and they really come alive when you see them with other people. I’ve been on an endless quest to relive those far-off halcyon days of youthful cinema-going ever since… I don’t miss the auditoriums full of cigarette smoke though! :op
Over the years my appreciation of the art of film deepened, to the extent that I now regularly travel at home and abroad in search of rare screenings and festivals. In addition I’ve installed a bona fide home cinema and regularly invite my nearest and dearest over for film nights.
Silent film is one of my life’s passions and as it’s often seen as something of an underdog in the world of film as a whole, I’m tirelessly evangelistic in furthering its cause. In fact, I actually feel sorry for those who have to live their lives never knowing the pure joy it can bring. On the other hand, I’m also slightly jealous of anyone who is yet to experience the magic and wonder of say, Sunrise or City Lights for the first time…
Thus far I’m privileged to have helped make numerous people into fans and friends of old film. Through this website and with your help I aim to make many, many more.
You can read more about Brenton Film and me in this interview.
Brenton Film credits
Endless thanks to the following, without whom you’d be staring at a blank screen:
- Linton Reid, my not-so-little-anymore brother, for spending years relentlessly kicking me up the a*se to do it – and for thinking up the name and insisting I use it!
- Gavin Perry, for expanding my vision and dragging me kicking and screaming into the hitherto mysterious world of social media. Then teaching me how to use it properly.
- Steve Mootoosamy of Moo Creative for building mk 1 of this site and having such patience, perseverance and faith.
- Lorraine “One more thing…” Robinson of Keen Digital Marketing, who built the site you’re now looking at. A true tech Renaissance Woman; is there anything she can’t do?
- Lastly and most importantly, thanks goes to every silent film fan worldwide, including you, who in one way or another have encouraged and supported Brenton Film from day one.
Brenton Film is dedicated with love to Maurice (1909–1991) and Diana Barley (1910–2007), who saved my life and showed me the way.