As a commercial medium, silent film lasted for only about 30 years, but those 30 years represented a creative explosion with few parallels in the art world. Evolving from one-shot experiments into immensely complex formal systems in record time, movies captured the energy of an emerging industrial society in all of its beauty and horror. Without the benefit of spoken words, silent films developed a system of expression based on light and movement that led down new creative paths. And by drawing on the spectator’s imagination to complete their partial worlds, by filling in vocal nuance and ambient sounds, they solicit our attention and involvement in a unique way: to watch a silent film is to participate in its creation.
It’s estimated that only 20 percent of the films made between 1895 and 1930 survive, and yet the work of preserving and restoring the remaining films continues. MoMA is one of several archives around the world with significant silent film holdings, and this program is an attempt to catch up with some of the work being done by our colleagues and ourselves, all presented here in East Coast—and in some cases United States—premieres.
Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, Department of Film.