Friday, December 18, 2015

In 2016, tackling the silents

When I started these yearly month-by-month series back in 2010, the aim was to get more acquainted with types of movies that I don't automatically seek out as part of my daily movie-watching routine. I had specifically designed it to get more caught up on older films, but strayed from that goal throughout, as when I looked at Australian movies two years ago (all the movies in that series were released after 1980) or when I watched famous flops the year before that (most were from the last few decades).

In 2016, I'm going to go back farther -- and challenge myself a lot more -- than ever before.

This is definitely the one I've been putting off. I had this idea a year ago, but let myself off the hook by going for Oscar winners instead.

That's right, in 2016, I'm going silent.

In keeping with the play on words of Audient Auscars and Australian Audient, I'll call the series No Audio Audient. Catchy, eh?

I have not yet mapped out the movies I'm going to watch. In fact, I don't even have half of them, which tells you something about how much of a challenge I consider them to be (I've been procrastinating thinking about it, actually). But that's okay, because that gives you some space to recommend some, if you like. I've seen fewer than 20 silent films, so chances are, if you recommend it, I haven't yet seen it.

Look, I'm not some philistine. In fact, my objection to silent films, to the extent that it can be characterized as that, is more a matter of the ways I've chosen to compare apples to apples when deciding what qualifies as a film, and what does not.

Being otherwise willing to compare almost anything someone would consider a "film" to something else someone would consider a "film," I do have two rules that distinguish them:

1) Works of art created to be consumed on television, with no expectation of any kind of theatrical viewing. Those have failed to rise to the level of "film" for me on many occasions.

2) Those that do not meet a minimum length requirement.

Number 2 is what has given silent films a disadvantage as far as I'm concerned. If we want to go all the way back to the origins of the medium, you're talking about "films" that are two to three minutes long. I can't seriously watch a two- to three-minute movie and meaningfully compare it to what we would today consider a feature-length film.

But if I am going to be completely rigid in my thinking on this topic, it's going to disqualify a lot of films from before The Jazz Singer introduced us to sound. Films that are genuinely important for any serious student of film to see.

So I've decided that I can lower my minimum length requirement to 30 minutes for what constitutes a feature, just for the silents. (Today, a movie has to be at least 65 minutes for me to consider it a feature.) This will allow me to count a couple films that I already have targeted, which really did pass all existing litmus tests of the time for what constituted a film.

I'll get started in January with the feature that really helped guide me with that new length standard: Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. This is seminal Keaton viewing, but if I'm going to stick to my traditional length standards, I'd miss it. Keaton's The General qualifies for my standards, at 75 minutes, but Sherlock Jr. is a full half-hour shorter than that.

But hey -- if I consider this to kind of be like homework, at least I'll have a whole lot less of it!

Meet me back here in January, and watch Sherlock Jr. if you can.

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