Historians like to break time up into periods, to help people understand the sequence of events. I’ll be using the following periods to discuss silent film.
- 18?? to 1904: Age of Attractions. This represents the infancy of film, during which people went to see movies at circuses and carnivals, in music halls and vaudevilles, in which the movies were presented as one of many spectacles of the modern age. This period is sometimes called the “primitive” stage of film, but I don’t like the connection that term has with colonialism and European superiority, so I’m using “attractions” instead.
- 1904 to 1914: Nickelodeon Era. This is sometimes called film’s “adolescent” period, in which audiences began to mature and demand something more than simple moving pictures; they wanted a bit of a story and identifiable characters. The nickelodeons were the first dedicated film theaters, and they had a surprising amount of power over production at the time.
- 1915 to 1929 or so: Silent Classical Period. At this point, film became much more what we expect today: an emphasis on feature-length films, big name movie stars, studios as media conglomerates with theaters as the middle-men, no longer calling the shots. If you haven’t seen a lot of silent movies, chances are you’ve seen one or two from the classical period.
Since I’m starting this project in 2014, obviously most of the first movies I’ll review will be from periods 1 or 2. We’ll start getting into period 3 next year. As an aside, I’ve left the birth of film blank on purpose. A lot of people date it from 1895, the year when the Lumiere brothers first publicly showed off their new movie camera/projector, but there were some experiments in moving pictures even before that, and I want to keep open the option of discussing those on this blog as well.