Sunday, February 7, 2010

Media Monday: Silent Film

I know what you're going to say. "This is the twenty-first century, and 'talkies' have been around for almost a century. Why am I writing about silent film?!"

I'm writing about it because I like it! When I started borrowing VHS tapes and DVDs from the library (great way to save money, by the way), I made a point of expanding my knowledge of classic film. In the process, I discovered that I love Best Of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin
silent films. The classic, Metropolis, is good too. Since then, I have also watched some silent drama, and generally enjoyed it. Most of all, though, I love silent comedy. I'm a sucker for slap-stick and sight gags. But liking something does not translate to recommending it on this blog. There are many things I like that I do not recommend for Aspies, but silent film is worth a recommendation.

First of all, before 1930, movies were not standardized at all in length, and most were fairly short by modern standards. Film makers took as long as they needed to tell a story and that was it. Modern film often irritates me by adding unnecessary fluff to a story just to make sure it reaches the 1:30 hour standard. Moreover, a film that long, even a good one, can test one's patience--especially that of an active child--and silent films are often shorter than their modern counterparts.

I like that, while film makers did use special effects back then, they were supplemental to the story, rather than a centerpiece. More importantly, films were not modeled after video games. While there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, it often leaves something lacking in the dialogue department (not to mention character development!), and that irritates me. What words there are provide exactly enough information to convey what cannot be told through pantomime alone. I also like the classical or ragtime soundtracks put to these films, as they underscore what is happening and the pace of the film more than they try to elicit emotional responses.

I like that I can converse while watching without missing anything, but that I still have to pay close attention to get all the detail of the story, even when the story is a simple one.

In terms of showing such films to children, especially those with AS, I really like that a lot of the story is conveyed through body language and facial expressions. It is truly amazing to see that the majority of communication really is nonverbal. We've all heard it, but it doesn't really sink in without an example!

I like that the violence is pretty tame by modern standards. There is rarely anything on screen that one could describe as gory. Likewise, there is very little nudity, and what was "scantily clad" by 1920's standards is pretty well-dressed by ours (of course, parents should always monitor what their children watch and use their own judgment).

Since the film is silent, the frequency of bad language in such a movie is pretty limited. And any bad language has to be read. For example, Buster Keaton, in one film, makes a boat from a DIY kit, and names it the "Damfino." This later leads to confusion when he is asked the name of his boat and he replies "Damn 'f I know." But the reader has to know what he is trying to read in order to get the joke.

Of course, serious films especially may be used to give examples for history lessons (Metropolis spends a lot of time on unions and Communism). And each film is an example of the culture of the time and place in which it was filmed.

Like I said, I appreciate the possibility of conversing during a silent film without missing anything. With Aspies, this provides an excellent opportunity for parents to ask questions about what is going on and what different characters are expressing.

So look on your county library's catalogue and see if you can rent some old gems of the silver screen.

Join us next week for more Media Monday.

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