Silent film

From ArticleWorld

During the early years of the cinema the silent film was what people watched. These films were totally devoid of sound, this included not only background or atmospheric music but also meant that there was absolutely no speech or dialogue. As such these films relied entirely on their visual aesthetic and required the actors to magnify their expressions to make clear to the audience what they were feeling. These films were usually very impressive visually and were high quality productions.


Although silent films were made without sound and were designed to be understood through watching them alone, music also played a part in the silent film era. It was quickly realised how beneficial music could be to the audience as it helped to convey a mood or atmosphere, something which can be done through facial expression alone but not as easily.

Small cinemas started to hire pianists who played music which was suited to each point in the film as it was played to the audience. These pianists played live and initially improvised what they would play from their own skill alone. As time passed the cinemas, particularly larger ones, began to utilise full orchestra ensembles and then the Wurlitzer organ which was capable of sounding like some orchestral instruments and producing entertaining and appropriate sound effects.

Over the years the improvisation of music was replaced by pre-written scores, designed specifically to complement the pictures on the screen. These began to be delivered to cinemas at the same time as the film itself from 1915 onwards.


Many silent films featured subtitles, or intertitles, to assist the audience’s understanding of the film. These were not used as subtitles today are for the deaf but served to inform the viewer of important details such as the time, place or date of a scene. The characters in silent films rarely spoke in order to limit the amount of subtitling required, although dialogue was occasionally displayed when it was imperative to the story.