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Difference Between Silent Films and the Contemporary Movies Research Paper

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Louis Lumiere receives recognition for inventing the moving image camera in 1895. Lumiere’s tool kit was significantly small considering the civilization at the time. It functioned as a camera, a motion processor and a display all folded in one.

Lumiere would film in the morning, develop it after lunch and display it for his audience during supper. His first motion picture was the entrance of the locomotive at Ciotat (Cook, 2004). Cinematography developed into complete maturity during the silent era (1895-1930).

In the late 1920s, synchronized sound was developed with the invention of Vitaphone system (Cook, 2004). Since that time, films have been produced with perfect sounds and dialogue. The striking difference between films produced during the silent era and the modern movies is the absence of sound in the former.

The introduction of sound in movies had far-reaching implications on movies. For example, the overacting evident in silent movies disappeared with the introduction of sound. This study examines the difference between silent films and the contemporary movies in terms of the synchronization of sound with motion pictures.

Main Body

Human desire to document himself in activity dates back to early cave images. Clear examples are in existence in France and Spain. The Indonesian leathered puppet silhouette performance is a later illustration worth mentioning. Filigree performance silhouette are projected on a display as entertainment.

Movies that were produced later did not contain synchronized sound although they were accompanied by sound such as directives from directors or live performances as the movie was being projected (Christie, Felperin & Roddick, 1996).

Cinematography industriously started at the dusk of the 19th century. Louis Lumiere developed the initial equipment for capturing, processing and displaying motion picture. In 1888, Thomas Edison presented cinematography with a new beginning when he assigned the role of solving the problem of making still pictures to move according to the movement of what was being captured to an employee.

The foundation of filmmaking was the exposure of unprocessed film through a shutter. Edison’s initial attempt was just the start as it was not a moving picture on display. Lumiere was the pioneer of motion pictures. The first production was displayed in France in December 1888. The film projected depicted events from daily existence (Christie, Felperin & Roddick, 1996).

This proved to be a big hit in the history of cinematography. Lumiere concentrated on his invention to develop a series of events and capturing reality. However, both the approach and structure were random.

Towards the end of the century, Leland Stanford’s interest in capturing motion pictures resulted in the hiring of Eadweard Muybridges. Actually, Muybridges was requested by Stanford to assist him in proving that when a stallion is running, all the legs are in the air. The captured events lacked synchronized sound that would have been captured during the recording.

Stanford’s idea was later contributed to by the development of celluloid film by George Eastman and the concept of a roll film by Stephen Marey. In 1888, the effort by Thomas Edison gave cinematography a solid foundation through the development of Kinetograph camera. The image captured would be propelled via another device to view the image. The 35mm film was developed with 16 undeveloped frames.

It was later upgraded to 24 undeveloped frames that are still used modernly. Despite the progress in capturing motion pictures, the ability to capture motion images and synchronize sound with the motion picture was still lacking.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Edwin Porter was the pioneer in serious filmmaking. He produced for the Edison Company in a method referred to as ‘primitive’. He lacked a specific standard for managing his roles for making movies. He actually acted as the cameraman, supervised the actors, revised the movie, repaired the tools and still settled the bills. Porter maintained the pace for a decade.

However, the company became critical of Porter’s techniques. He was consequently asked to leave the company (Bennett, 2009). The movies that the company produced with his aid were all silent movies since nobody had discovered how to integrate sound in the movies.

Among the earliest, most memorable and captivating movies include The Great Train Robbery and The Kleptomaniac. Despite the lack of sound, these movies received credit in America and Europe given the captivating story lines, ability to deliver, production styles and creativity.

The first films to be produced were the silent films. The name is derived from the fact that the pictures on display were not accompanied by synchronized sound. The characters in the movies had to let the viewer know what was happening without saying. This was challenging since the actors had to exaggerate acting to deliver. The body language was the only form of expression the characters would use to express their ideas and feelings.

The body was hence essential in acting. The actors would hop around, dangle their arms and throw the legs in the air for the audience to decipher what they were attempting to express. The Great Train Robbery is considered an American classic movie that used body to express ideas and feelings. Until 1912, movie was the solitary most creative event. Porter effectively used ellipses to develop the story.

The ellipses were fundamental in allowing Porter to omit the unnecessary. The absence of sound did not diminish the attention the movie received (Christie, Felperin & Roddick, 1996). Despite the progress, silent movies remained unsynchronized with sound.

The Golden Age

The Golden age was the era in which cinematographers discovered how to integrate sound with motion pictures. The innovation on how to integrate sound to accompany motion picture was a fundamental step in changing how acting was done.

The innovation was relieving for actors who no longer had to use their bodies excessively to express what would be expressed verbally (Bennett, 2009). Evidently, the contemporary audience would not want to be overly subjected to silent movies. However, many silent movies are legendary creating entertainment for the audience despite the silence.

In assessing cinematography, it is imperative to examine sound enhancement in movies. The Jazz Singer is famous as the earliest sound movie. It was among the Golden Era movies released in 1929. It generated a marvelous demand for sound among the audience. All the movies that followed essentially had sound though still unsynchronized. After WW1, movies with sound received a novel life.

Lee De Forrest developed synchronization of motion picture with sound. He managed to solve some of the challenges that faced producers for decades. That is, he effectively solved the challenges of amplification (Christie, Felperin & Roddick, 1996). The Western Electric Laboratory created and vended sound-to-film disc dubbed as the Vitaphone in 1925.

The Warner Brothers would later purchase the system after the realization of the potential of synchronization of film with sound. The entry of former music, gig and opera theater performers into sound-film industry received recognition by the audience.

Others gradually went into the venture. William Fox was an ambitious producer during this era and entered the industry with his system called the Movietone. The development presented the distinction between silent movies and the golden era movies.

Bennett (2009) claims that the new method that involved synchronization required the installation of sound equipment in movie theaters. This was significantly expensive and consumed considerable time. Consequently, the introduction of synchronized sound in movies affected the producers as well as the performers.

Individuals whose voice and accent were considered unacceptable were dropped from participating in acting roles. Unlike in the silent movies, the advent of sound into the movie industry brought with it the hiring of diction coaches during the Golden Era. The practice persists in modern movies.

The 1920s saw the entry of a novel group of actors who were funny and creative. The actions by the individuals remain delighting to-date. They were among the first people to introduce comedy in movies. They included Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

However, the comedies had no sound unlike those produced during the Golden age and the contemporary comic films (Christie, Felperin & Roddick, 1996). The actors had to express themselves by making funny poses and escapades that the audience would easily decipher. Such was the case the Roach Studio employed by bringing together Keaton and Lloyd.

The characters were physically different as Keaton was fat while Lloyd was skinny with very different persona. Since there was no sound, the technique involved presenting the actors with a sequence of dilemmas that ballooned into a theatrical and very funny climax. The films barely involved any kind of sound.

The concept of silent movies was popular with earlier cartoons. Such is the case with the production of the famous ‘Tom and Jerry’ animated film. The cartoon is made popular by the actions and nothing is ever said by the characters. Amazingly, individuals sit and watch for hours given that the actions make the film funny.

Contemporary silent movies involve special input including the dependence on special sound effects making them different from silent era funny films. The innovation of synchronizing sound with motion pictures has been fundamental in the filmmaking industry. Silent movies are important in studying the history of cinematography (Bennett, 2009).

Without the discovery of silent films, it is hard to imagine how the contemporary movies would have been invented. Silent movies were a vital contributor to movie development to get cinematography where it is today. Upon the discovery of synchronization of sound with motion picture, few silent films were produced in the 1930s.

This was with the exemption of Charlie Chaplin. The actor in Tramp had expressed perfect body moves in a wide range of brief movies from 1910 to 1920. Despite the discovery of sound and picture synchronization, the innovation did not deter Chaplin from producing silent movies.

He opted to retain the melodrama in Tramp (Bennett, 2009). However, contemporary comics are integrated with sound that enhances the intended comic effect.

For the first two decades of cinematography, silent movies involved sounds that were generated by opera, directors or live theater performance as the film rolled. The sounds were not credibly innovative. The ability of a movie to deliver the message and entertain the audience was highly regarded despite the absence of the accompanying sound (Koszarski, 1997).

The use of body language was central in silent movies. The actor had to combine gestures, movements and facial expressions to ensure that the viewer understood the message intended.

That is, silent movie characters emphasized gestures and facial appearance in order for the viewer to understand what the character was experiencing emotionally. In the contemporary movies, such gestures, movements and facial expressions are further backed by sound synchronized with the movements.

Most of the silent movies presentations are bound to hit the contemporary audience as naive. The exaggerated acting that places the characters in awkward positions to appeal to the audience was central in silent movies. It elucidated the experiences of the actor to the audience in order to be part of the events taking place. Silent movie actors were required to convey larger-than-life expression to emphasize the message.

However, not all directors and actors went out of their way to deliver the message. They ensured that there was restraint and simple naturalism in the movies thus making it a virtue (Cook, 2004).

The synchronization of sound with motion sound diminishes the presence of directors when the movie is being viewed. The audience does not require listening to other sounds as amplification of sound and other sound effects surpass the live directives or live bands that accompanied silent movies.

Consequently, as the larger percentage of audience developed a taste for naturalistic acting, actors were required to adopt a naturalistic acting style. It is important to highlight that some audiences still preferred the melodramatic style for its escape value. On the other hand, modern movies lack the melodrama of the silent era. The movies typically involve many scenes to be captured in order to make sense of the entire script.

This requires the scriptwriter, producer and the director to ensure minimal melodrama by using verbal expression. There is usually less action sequence. Accordin to Cook (2004), modern movies are largely composed of elaborate sequences that offer cue to the audience on what is about to transpire or create suspense. Sound synchronization requires dialogue writers so that the actors may execute their roles effectively.

Another outstanding difference between silent films and modern movies is in the way sound was produced in the film and delivered to the audience. An early question arose with the introduction of motion picture. The filmmakers would not define clearly the appropriate method to deliver sound to films. After the invention of motion picture, two companies upstaged war on presenting sound to the audience.

These were Fox Film Corporation and Warner Brothers. According to Koszarski (1997) assertions, the former boasted of Vitaphone while the latter had Movietone as the equipment of choice for moviemakers. The sound technologies were not radically different. Vitaphone technology would record sound on a detached polish disc. The disc was then given to the projectionist to harmonize the recorded sound with the movie.

This was essential but difficult task given that the technology was clouded with other challenges. The disk was susceptible to breaking and scratching. Since they required regular replacement and paramount maintenance, the disks were not usable after twenty movie shows. This is unlike modern movies where sound is recorded concurrently on the same media with motion picture.

Although the sound can be separated from the motion picture using technology, they are typically recorded simultaneously. The major difference between the pre-recorded sound in silent films and modern movies is that home censors could not edit and cut out vulgar dialogue. This was a major problem considering that a high percentage of early talkies were sprinkled with sufficient levels of saucy conversation.

On the other hand, the Movietone process documented the audio directly to the filmstrip containing the motion picture. By the end of the fiscal 1927, this method was most preferred.

However, the changeover was with a host of associated problems. Koszarski (1997) concludes that, modern movies surpass silent movies and early talkies in terms of methods used for recording and the ability of the producer to edit sound to censor offensive dialogue.

The foundation of filmmaking is the capturing of events as they unfold and have them roll on a film as if they were real. Silent films entailed the capturing of real events, processing and eventually availing the film for viewing later. Similarly, the contemporary films involve the capturing of events whether acted or real and later avail what is captured to an audience.

Silent films used to be as a big hit as modern movies when they were first invented. It is only that modern movies are more advanced. It will not be surprising if modern movies will be regarded obsolete by the invention of a better version of films.

This assertion may currently sound as ridiculous as it would have sounded during the silent era if one mentioned that in decades motion pictures would be accompanied by sound (Koszarski, 1997). However, considering that silent films lacked the ability to be edited in terms of sound, contemporary movies will present the opportunity to edit to the desire of the editor.

The producers meant both modern movies and silent films for entertainment and delivery of a message as intended. The producers of silent movies used titles to clarify what was transpiring. They would also edit scenes and include subtitles to elucidate what was happening. It is imperative to underscore that silent films were not essentially silent. The footages were accompanied by live tunes.

During the primitive development of the cinema industry, producers recognized that music was a fundamental element of any motion picture. The music gave the viewers expressive prompts for the event and action occurring on the display. Township and local movie halls typically had a pianist to provide music as the film rolled. In large town movie halls, there would be a full orchestra.

In the contemporary movies, music is typically included. The music emphasizes on the emotional content of an event. It effectively punctuates the action sequence.

In horror movies, music helps in building suspense. Unlike in silent movies, music in the contemporary movies creates the atmosphere that the producer wants the audience to have an attachment with in a particular scene. Based on Denby’s (2012) claims, music triggers the necessary emotions in the audience. In silence films, the music was intended at diminishing the silence.

Movie hall organs had a variety of special effects included. The popular “Mighty Wurlitzer” of the silent film era roused the orchestral music accompanied with varied drumming effects (May, 2010). The live sounds would be produced in accordance with the scene. A scene involving animals would be accompanied by galloping sounds while rain would be depicted by rolling thunder.

Contemporary movies do not extensively utilize these effects. Instead, sophisticated equipment is used to synchronize artificial sounds with the scenes. The animals, humans or weather conditions in the movies are mainly the sounds made by the original thing heard in the contemporary movies. They are enhanced by artificial sounds mainly created with computers in studios.


Bennett, C. (2009). Silent era: A collection of news and information pertaining to silent era films. Reference Reviews, 23(4), 45.

Christie, I., Felperin, L., & Roddick, N. (1996). Cinema history. Sight and Sound, 6(11), 34.

Cook, D. (2004). A history of narrative film. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company Incorporated.

Denby, D. (2012). Has Hollywood murdered the movies? The New Republic, 3(2), 29-40.

Koszarski, R. (1997). Silent cinema. Film History, 9(1), 3 – 4.

May, J. (2010). A field of desire: Visions of education in selected Australian silent films. Paedagogica Historia, 46(5), 623-637.

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