Art of film

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Sound films vs. Silent films

        Two distinct types of movies exist, one is movies with sound and the other is silent films. Within both these types of movies are elements which make them appealing. Although for the new generation sound films hold the greatest appeal sometimes people can catch themselves enjoying the older style silent films.

        Although silent films are a type of movie I would rarely catch myself watching or rather even considering renting, the Art of Film 1 has given me a new understanding of this type of film. Before taking this class I didn't know actors like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Georges Melies even existed. After watching Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, my respect for silent films greatly increased because the way the material was presented, was in a matter that I hadn't seen because I was brought up in an age of sound, computer animation and video editing. The material within The Great Dictator, acted and directed by Charlie Chaplin, although slow, portrayed the humor as well as conveyed the point Chaplin was trying to send to his audience in a very simplistic manner. In my generation, we're used to having many stories being told at once and the point being illustrated in a complex manner, but no one said simplicity has to be bad. The reason why I found it different is because in this generation people are used to connecting thoughts to understand the big picture; Chaplin had one main thought and that was the main picture. Buster Keaton, another director and actor of silent films, showed his great work in, The General. His film was one that I could not even deny my laughter, because although sound didn't exist and it was black and white, his use of comical acting was something worth noting. Georges Melies, a silent film director and actor, uses his film A Trip to the Moon to show a whole new world to people. Although now I'm used to the futuristic aspect of films being portrayed through animation and computer design, watching this silent film was actually eye opening. When I think about it from the 1902 aspect I can see why this movie was such a hit. Science fiction was something new during this time period and Melies allowed his audience to explore a whole new genre. He starred the characters and himself on regular Earth, but he then shows the building of the rocket ship where it is then taken to some other planet. On this new planet he shows creatures that people have never seen before. The emotions portrayed by the actors and himself give the audience a great understanding as to how they felt towards these new creatures as well as how the creatures felt towards them, words weren't needed to express this, only emotions.

        The major elements of the art of film that are portrayed in silent films are music, character development, and theme. A big factor in all the actors' work is music. Since Charlie Chaplin didn't express himself through words, he would use music to convey emotions. For instance, when a villain was around (like when he was boxing in City Lights) there would be sinister music playing, or in Gold Rush, there would be sweet, sappy music playing when his love interest was around or fast-paced, droning music when he was working at the factory in Modern Times. Buster Keaton will have music fit into whatever he needs; we feel an emotion of triumph as Keaton, who is known as Jonnie Gray in the film The General, sets his cannon up to scare away the union spies who hijacked the train. In Melies' A Trip to the Moon, there was a charming tune being played in the background, and even the "daunting" monsters held a cute appeal - the outfits had a childlike allure to them.

Since silent comedians aren't relying on their words to convey emotions, they use exaggerated facial expressions, body language, and music to help the audience understand what their character is thinking and feeling. In this way, they can develop their character so that the audience can still get the message. Chaplin, Keaton, Melies knew how to be funny through just their faces and actions; modern comedians can't say that. Imagine watching an Adam Sandler movie without sound; you'd be completely lost. With Chaplin, Keaton or Melies, you know exactly what's going on. This was also true with another movie that was released in 2008, WALL-E. Although this was a modern film, the audience can see elements of early films through the fact that the first half of the movie is basically silent. Thus, the characters were compelled to express themselves through such "facial expressions" as well as body language, which for the robots were their eyes and LED screens. Although they are robots and there is no dialogue going on, the audience knew exactly what was happening.

Charlie Chaplin was big on thematic works; his movies were intended to deliver a point to the audience, such as in Modern Times, in which he tried to portray how poorly the workers were treated and how the conditions they worked under dehumanizing. Another was The Great Dictator, in which, through gentle humor and poking fun at Hitler, he showed just how terrible everything was that was going on with the restrictions being made against Jewish people and how they were slowly losing their basic rights and their freedom to live. By evoking the audience's pathos, Chaplin's movies were made for more than just entertainment - they were hinting towards something bigger and greater, the world as a whole. WALL-E showed itself to be an early film in this respect as well; it had many underlying themes, such as how we need to protect the environment and how when big government collaborate with big business disaster is written all over it.

Technology has increasingly developed throughout time and the use of colored films is now the "in" and black and whites are obsolete. Personally, I find it easier to watch the colored films because most times when I think of a black and white I associate it with a method that is archaic as well as monotonous. Color films hold a greater appeal to me because it holds a sense of realism. The world I live in isn't one that is black and white so why should the movies I watch be? I experience the world in a colorful manner, so I hold that same expectation for the movies I watch.

Sound and color play a gigantic role in the enjoyment of a movie. The different method of sound plays its own part in making a film enjoyable. A vital role is played by dialogue in a film. Dialogue differentiates someone as an individual or a real person rather than something created through a person's imagination. As is the case with stage drama, dialogue enables the characters to tell the story andexpresses feelings and encompasses the emotions of the audience. Most times within a film the audience perceives little or no difference between the character and the actor if everything is done correctly. Another aspect which plays a big part is sound effects. Sound effects are used in two ways: synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous sounds illustrate the realism of film as well as assist in engendering a specific aura. A great example of this which is shown in many films is the "click" of a door when it is opened. This "click" which is heard is used to convey two things, the first, a simple way of convincing the audience that what is being shown is genuine, and second that the audience is subconsciously expecting that sound. However, by slightly altering the scene to illustrate a different event, the sound mixer may emphasize the "click" by increasing the volume of the sound; which in turn will help engage the audience in a different mood. On the other hand asynchronous sound effectsare sounds that do not correspond to what is being displayed on screen. The purposes of these sounds are to exemplify emotional nuance, and aid a film by adding a sense of realism to it. Music also has a powerful affect on an audience. Music brings a film to life like nothing else can. It has its own language that can signal a certain theme, a mood, a quality in a particular character or even give landscapes in the film a characterlike quality. Certain kinds of instruments can be used to create this effect. The instruments can evoke a certain era or time period, culture, country or a fantasy land. According to the Psychology Press, Music is a complex acoustic and temporal structure that induces a large variety of emotional responses in listeners. Ongoing research and practical investigations have displayed that basic emotions, such as happiness, anguish, fear, and grief, can be recognized in and created by musical stimuli in humans. Color in films also played a vital role. The sequences of color which er used gave a distinctive dramatic emphasis for the film. Films that were made in color were capable of giving a larger-than-life atmosphere.

I feel that silent films are much better than "talkies" solely because they are forced to have better character and plot development. The actors in silent films had to convey their stories with just their faces and body language, which is a far cry from actors nowadays who cannot act for their lives and simply read prewritten scripts. If you look at the actors who win awards today, it is the people who truly act that win - they are the ones who put emotion into what they're doing onscreen, not just reciting lines. In terms of plot, early films were the pioneers for all genres, so there was never the "cliché" feel that we get with a lot of modern romance or even comedy films - it always feels like it's been done before. Character and plot development are a big part of movies that I feel is being lost as time goes on; early films were great but they are definitely deteriorating now.

        Altogether, I believe that early, silent films are far superior to modern films. Don't get me wrong, modern films are highly entertaining, what with their explosions and loud music and special effects, but they are not as good at telling a story or sending a message as the early ones were. Also, the caliber of acting is fading at an alarming rate; actors and actresses are selected based on their looks now rather than how well they can deliver their roles. The elements of the art of film such as great music, camera angles, and character and plot development are just not present in modern films the way they were in early ones. It is for these reasons that early silent films were my favorite out of all of the genres that we watched.