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May 14th, 2021

Keeping silent cinema alive, showing the films of the era at the right speed and in their original image format, and having a pianist accompany them with respect, is all part of the normal work of a cinémathèque. But at a time when electronics are offering filmmakers new ways of making their images, it is even more relevant to periodically recall how eloquent the images of the so-called silent era of film history were.

After the era of the pioneers who had tamed the cinematograph and its emulators, the filmmakers of the 1910s discovered a style of writing that the 1920s would bring to an unequalled degree of perfection. Deprived of sound, and therefore of dialogues, the filmmakers had to master perfectly the image and the light, without which their work would never have held up. Without THX to dominate the spectator - some pianists (or orchestras) of the time obviously did not escape this temptation - the film had to find its power in the images and in their assembly.

Very early on, certain filmmakers understood that with these means, however limited, one could compose a show and even bring the spectator back to a theater week after week to find out what happened next. Feuillade, following in the footsteps of the anonymous authors of American serials, was a master in this field: the complete version of his Judex (1916) is an exceptional example of this poetic spectacle that the first filmmakers knew how to invent.

In 1929, when some countries had already adopted sound film, Soviet filmmakers used the means of silent film with an admirable science and art to speak of their changing country, their concerns and their hopes. Dovjenko, Eisenstein, Romm and Vertov sum up in their films of 1929 a great moment of cinema where black and white images, silent for a very short time, expressed the emotional and intellectual power of cinema.

Silent cinema is therefore an essential component of the Cinémathèque's programming. And it's not a bad thing to remember that it was these works and these filmmakers who made modern cinema possible, not to mention that it's always nice to be able to return for a few hours to the era of talking pictures.

Pianists in residence: Gabriel Thibaudeau, Roman Zavada, Guillaume Martineau and Chantale Morin

Guillaume Lafleur, Director of Diffusion, Programming and Publications