In a world of silence …

Silent is the name of an independently-financed feature film three years in the making which premiered in November 2008, and which is currently doing the rounds of festivals. Were it up to me, it would gain an award for its plot idea alone. Its subject is a world such as we understand in silent cinema, where everyone is silent. Into this world comes Abigaile Archibald, who discovers she can communicate in a completely different way to anyone else – she develops a speaking voice. She is delighted at being able to talk and sing, but the suspicious townspeople are horrified by this freak of nature and launch a witch hunt…


This ingenious concept you can see in action through the trailer, in which everyone inhabits a silent film world except for the vocal Abigaile, who sings of her woes in the mournful “Will I ever be heard?”. The look of the film (shot in black-and-white), which the director describes as a ‘gothic comedy’, takes its cue from Nosferatu but also the Universal horror films of the 1930s. It was shot in New Jersey, which has a noteworthy history of filmmaking itself, starting from Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio at West Orange way back in 1893. Fort Lee was a popular area for outdoor filmmaking in the 1910s, and companies such as World, Eclair and Solax had studios there. The filmmakers are keen to reference this history, even if their own efforts take their inspiration from later, and elsewhere.

The film is written and directed by Michael Pleckaitis for Revscope Pictures, and stars Katie Ritz (as Abigaile), Dan Bailey and Sam Sebastian. Silent has a website with background information on the film, photographs, production news and a blog. They have also produced a serial of sorts, documenting the film’s production, all episodes of which you can follow on the website or via the film’s website – or you can just follow the links here (Chapter 1 seems only to be available on the film’s website):

And for your special delight, here’s the music video for “Will I ever be heard?” (which bears more than a passing ambition towards the work of Andrew Lloyd-Webber):

The film has been around for a year now, but despite the filmmakers’ online efforts, it doesn’t seem to have gathered all that much attention. It is hard to see why, given the quality of the trailer (though some of the supporting information in the production serial is a tad underwhelming). For ingenuity of concept alone it deserves a wider audience, and let’s hope that the Bioscope’s noble readership can do its bit to spread the word. A DVD release is promised in due course – I’m looking forward to it.

In the studio

The Ambrosio studio during the film of Cenerentola (1913), from

There’s always some particularly fascinating about seeing films of films in production from the silent era. The business-like way a team has to go about creating fantasy, the sheer number of people who made up that team, the famous mingling with the functional. So here are some of the clips of silent films in production which you can find online. Above we have the Ambrosio studio, Turin, in 1913, with the director Eleuterio Rodolfi and actors Fernanda Negri Pouget, Mary Cleo Tarlarini and Ubaldo Stefani, during the filming of Cenerentola (Cinderella). The provenance is unclear, but the video comes from the Inpenombra YouTube channel, offshoot of the excellent In Penombra website, which features a number of clips of early Italian films.


Manning Haynes directing London Love at the Gaumont studios in 1926, from

Next up, the this Gaumont Graphic newsreel (which I can’t embed but which you can find on the ITN Source site) shows the filming of the 1926 British film London Love, directed by Manning Haynes at the Gaumont studios, Lime Grove, and starring Fay Compton, John Stuart and Fay Compton. The intriguing story behind this one is the newsreel was made on the occasion of a BBC radio broadcast about the film (the known as The Whirlpool), so we see not only film production but radio production too (including dance band). With thanks to Eve from bringing this one to my attention.


Henny Porten and Emil Jannings during the filming of Anna Boleyn, from

Newsreel websites are a handy source for films of film production, though examples from the silent era are rare. From the British Pathe site, this fleeting clip (originally from the German newsreel Messter-Woche) shows Emil Jannings (Henry VIII) and Henny Porten (Anna) incongrously arriving on set in full costume by car for the filming of Anna Boleyn (1920). A second brief clip shows Ernst Lubitsch directing the film from a platform.