Lists are very difficult for me to write because there are just so many movies that I love and that are important to me. So, since I haven’t written anything in a few days, I wanted to take a moment to share some movies that are either completely silent or close enough to count. This list is more or less straight off the top of my head.
“The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1929, dir. Carl Theodore Dreyer)
This visually powerful and stunning silent film is a must watch — not only for fans of silent films, but fans of movies in general. It’s such a powerful testament to the cinematic form and that the presentation faith in film does not have to be cheesy. If the cinematography and set design alone are not reason enough to watch this movie then the magnificent performance of Maria Falconetti should be. This is not only one of the most famous silent films of all time, but is one of the most referenced and influential. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a wonderful film worthy of your attention.
“The General” (1926, dir. Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman)
Orson Welles is quoted as saying this might be the finest movie ever made, and I’m not one to disagree with him. Not only is The General an incredibly detailed Civil War movie, it’s also one of the liveliest comedies you’ll ever see and features some of the best stunt work of any movie ever. The art direction is particularly good, as the look of the film is extremely convincing and will oftentimes look like a period photograph. The attention to detail is actually quite stunning. It’s also just a really funny movie.
“Battleship Potemkin” (1925, dir. Sergei Eisenstein)
This is an odd movie to talk about, as it isn’t super thrilling by today’s standards unless you go into it knowing what to look for. This movie is largely famous for its (at the time) radical editing patterns and visual continuity. In 1925 there was not another movie that looked or felt like Battleship Potemkin. The film is entirely political to its contemporary time, and so much of its context is lost on viewers today, and yet it has a visual freshness and excitement that make it an entertaining film to view.
“The Naked Island” (1960, dir Kaneto Shindo)
This wonderful little Japanese film contains very little anything. In the true sense of the Japanese, this movie has been parsed down into only its most needed elements and focuses on those exclusively. There is little dialogue, and the environmental sounds and music are really all there is to the soundtrack. Visually the film is an unprecedented lesson on storytelling with the camera. From an atmospheric and artistic point of view The Naked Island cannot be beat. It is one of the finest films ever made, and is a testament to Japanese artistry.
“Mon Oncle” (1958, dir. Jacques Tati)
In terms of pure visual comedy two names come to mind for me: Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. Tati was not a silent film actor and yet made films which could have very easily been silent. Talking in his movies is usually relegated to mumbling and French-sounding gibberish from his actors, meanwhile his character, Monsieur Hulot, seems to only know his own name. The delightful comedies Tati left behind are charming, wonderful films that show visual humor can leave just as big (if not bigger) an impression as vocal wit. This film, and this is a promise, is hysterical.