The Silent City

The other day, Rob and I went to see part of the Silent City series at the Film Forum. The evening started off with NYC Treasures from the Library of Congress, which was a collection of short subject from 1898 to 1906. They had a live pianist providing accompaniment. Seeing the city bustling around in some ways made me feel as if only the fashions have changed. Granted, they’ve changed a lot, but watching these people in unguarded moments of laughter or frustration made me really aware of how little human nature changes. The fashions though…people definitely dressed better then. One put on a suit and tie to go to Coney Island.

After that collection, we watched Lonsome. Again, set at Coney Island, this film from 1929 is your standard boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl and they live happily ever after. The male lead, Glenn Tryon, was out of the same mold as Stefan Karl, quite delightfully so. One of the things that fascinated me was how modern the text cards appeared. I’m so used to faux silents with their old timey text, that I’d forgotten how recent these films actually were.

At one point, Our Hero followed the Girl to the beach. He tried to gain her approval by feats of acrobatics and then finally settled down next to her and said, “Hello.”

In sound.

I tell you, the entire audience gasped. It was as if we had never heard a talkie before in our life. This film, which I had thought was a standard silent film, had three minutes of dialogs in it. The moment when he opened his mouth and sound came out was electrifying. I can only imagine how much more it must have been for people who didn’t even know that such things were possible.

So, that thing I said about only the fashions changing isn’t completely true. Technology has given us a lot more possibilities. But it’s awfully nice to know that the sense of wonder can be regained in the right context.

Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon!