Sound of Silents

I went to see the 1928 “Passion of Joan of Arc” silent film at the beautiful Paramount Theater in Oakland, California recently — complete with an orchestra, a chorus and an original and beautiful score written by Richard Einhorn (Voices of Light).  Seeing and writing about these cinema masterpieces will be my aim in writing this blog.  I’m a screenwriter and cinema lover with a keen interest in the preservation and projection of great silent films.

Of course, I also enjoy sound films.  In fact, my favorite movie of all time is “The Wizard of Oz,” which I find wonderful in every way — great story, great acting, great songs, great special effects and the kind of charm that makes it seem fresh viewing after viewing.  But I think classic silent films have a special and very different place in my appreciation.  One must watch them very attentively and catch the subtlety in their visual storytelling.  You can’t do the ironing while watching a silent film.

The Passion of Joan of Arc involves the trial and execution of Joan, played by Maria Falconetti, in one of the greatest performances in cinema history.  She portrays the subtle emotions of a woman who conveys messages from her God to the disbelieving judges.  One can really believe from her acting and facial expressions that the spiritual channel is wide open.  In other “trial” films, such as “Judgement at Nuremberg,” “12 Angry Men,” and “Inherit the Wind.” we see many more actors presenting a lot more business for the camera.  But The Passion of Joan of Arc relies on Falconetti’s emotion to carry the movie.  Carl Theodore Dreyer, the director, uses lots of static close-ups of Joan and her accusers to convey the terror of the Hundred Years War and the English invaders in France.

Silent Film — The San Francisco Silent Film Festival winter event program arrives!  View the schedule at www.silentfilm.org. I bought my tickets today.

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