I know that to the modern viewer, the silent film looks sort of. . .comical. Overacting is necessary to convey a story without sound, and the jerkiness of the film itself makes the actors look like humorous parodies of human beings.
But all that aside, watch this little story of adultery by one of France's pioneer filmmakers, Charles Pathe.
What struck me, watching it, was first of all how different people must have been back then. Today, you could hardly get anyone to sit through anything without sound, without stunning visuals, explosions, sex, and fast paced action. Much less could you get most people today to *follow* a story told purely through mime. There's something admirable in that: the silent film makes you think, and use your imagination to fill in the story. Modern film not only gives us everything on a silver platter, turning us into two hour zombies as we absorb the film, it also often shoves overdone cinematics down our throats.
The second thing that struck me was the beauty of some of the visuals. A great deal of time and effort must have gone into setting up a scene, almost like laying out the props for a painting or an artistic photograph. You could take a still shot from almost anywhere in the video, frame it, and put it up on your wall. This attention to detail in the creation of a visual moment has become well established in cinema today (although, not everyone uses it). When it is applied well, attention to detail can raise a film from pure entertainment, to art. It is interesting to see how far back this goes, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. In the silent film, the visual was all that was available to convey, so much thought had to be put into how each image was laid out, in order to create something in any way worth watching.
While I wouldn't want to revert to the silent film (I enjoy my vegitable time, dammit), the art form certainly seems something worth exploring further. I am curious to discover the ways in which silent film has influenced film today.