There’s a magic to silent films that goes far beyond what we usually expect from the movies these days. It has to do with the way in which removal of a sense heightens other elements, and the beauty inherent in simplifying plots to pantomime and semaphore, like fairy tales with more emotions. It also has to do with the distance that we’ve come from that age when roaring trains and cowboys pointing guns at audiences could cause some to faint.
During the greatest years of the Silent Era, small orchestras – or at least talented pianists – were on hand to provide background music and extra entertainment. Later, similar musical soundtracks were added onto many classic films – although some purists still enjoy watching films without any sound.
The enterprising Rosendale Theatre is starting up a series of once-a-month Sunday Silents with the great Danish director Carl Dreyer’s epic The Passion of Joan of Arc – considered a pinnacle of all filmmaking (and film acting) – at 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 6.
Talk about a stunner of a movie: all dramatic angles, searing inner and outer layers of pain and as good a depiction of faith as has been seen in any medium, bar Dreyer’s own later works such as Day of Wrath and Ordet. Once seen, his spare filmmaking – as well as actress Maria Falconetti’s searing performance – is never forgotten. From stunning sets to amazing editing, this is filmmaking for all ages.
Sunday Silents will include Buster Keaton’s great comedy The Cameraman on February 3; Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera on March 3; Harold Lloyd’s stunningly funny (and dangerously stunted) Safety Last on April 7; and then next autumn the remarkable Eisenstein work about revolution that revolutionized all filmmaking, Battleship Potemkin, on November 3; and an afternoon of Fatty Arbuckle shorts on December 1.
Given that this year takes off, we’re all looking forward to some Murnau, Chaplin, Lerner, Sjoberg, Griffith and von Stroheim in the years to come.
The Passion of Joan of Arc, Sunday, January 7, 2 p.m., $7, Rosendale Theatre, 408 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-8989, www.rosendaletheatre.org.