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How to be an audience?

02/10/2014
Tips & Resources

In light of the Silent Movies Mondays Series presented by Seattle Theatre Group, NFFTY takes a look into silent movies and what this fundamental form of cinema had brought on the plate for us movie-goers.

The first time I sat through a full length silent film was when I had to watch The Artist in during a lecture. Since then, I was completely captivated by silent films and their power to tell a story with just visuals. It was also one of the times where I felt completely drained of energy from watching a movie. It got me thinking, how did that happen?

Later I realized that it was because I had to pay full attention to the movie and in the process, I was subconsciously generating a story and writing the dialogues in my head as the visuals played out right in front of me for almost two hours straight.

With the introduction of audio and, of course, our addiction of smartphone usage, we no longer sit through a movie giving our full attention. We would look for gaps during the movie to sneak a look at our smartphone, knowing that we would still be able to understand what is going on because we hear what the characters are saying. Movie watching became a one-way information transfer, where we purely receive what is given to us through the dialogues and pictures.

Silent films, therefore, remind us of how we should be watching films.

In my recent encounter of watching Pandora’s Box, a classic silent film from 1929, in the theatres, I felt a new form of energy surging through the space as the movie was playing. Not only was I paying attention to the pictures, filling in information as the film went on, I also felt that everyone else around me was doing the same. We all laughed at different points, not because what was going on the screen cued us to do so, but we, perhaps, have given the story an interpretation that stimulated the laughter or any other form of outward expression.

I felt like more words were being spoken in silent films than in modern films, even though literally no audible sound came out of the speakers.

Perhaps, bringing back silent films would change the fundamental behaviors of us, as audience, and our engagement with the moving pictures. We bring in our instincts and our creativity to fill what the director has given to us on the screen. We are not purely watching a story, we are writing a story on our own. And that brings a whole new level of satisfaction in movie watching.

As many filmmakers would say: “to say the important things, you don’t use dialogues,” but that can only be done on the premise that the audiences are willing to receive the information through pictures, and not words. And that’s why The Artist was created, because filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius wanted to remind the audience on how we should be watching films.

The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius from Joe LaMattina on Vimeo.

But of course, this does not negate the importance of dialogue. There are films that are so well written that every single word spoken is of importance in building up the story, such as Shutter Island. You would not want to miss a single word that had been said by the characters because then when the twist is revealed and you start putting pieces together, that’s when you go: “Oh! That’s why he said that. Now that makes sense!”

The bottom line being, visual language is a universal language. What makes movie watching an exciting experience is that we may be seeing the same visuals, but we get different stories out of it. And silent movies make all of us a writer.

If you are interested in trying out a whole new experience of watching movie, be sure not to miss the final film of the Silent Movie Mondays series, The General, at The Paramount Theatre, presented by Seattle Theatre Group. Prior to the movie, a NFFTY 2013 film, Yusuf would be screened. Discover the life and dreams of a child living in Middle East countries in this short film directed by Omar A Rashed.

Find out more by clicking the image below.

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