American Silent Film: Discovering Marginalized Voices

American Silent Film: Discovering Marginalized Voices

American Silent Film: Discovering Marginalized Voices

American Silent Film: Discovering Marginalized Voices


Gregg Bachman and Thomas J. Slater present an array of essays that reveal the incredible complexity of silent films and the era in which they were produced. Essentially, silent films conjure the names of Mary Pickford and a few white men, including Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith. These eleven essays, however, demonstrate that minorities and women other than Pickford also responded to the times through film. The contributors deal with changing American society at a crucial time, examining our hopes and fears as a nation during the silent film era.

Opening new vistas, this book introduces us to people, films, issues, and concepts that few of us have encountered. One example is screenwriter June Mathis, who wrote more than one hundred scripts, brought Rudolph Valentino to stardom, and supervised all productions at the Goldwyn Studios in 1923. Equally intriguing is Nita Naldi, whose career and tragic life speak volumes about America's combined fascination with and fear of ethnic minorities. Other key players in the drama of silent films include John Randolph Bray (animated cartoons), Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and female producer, writer, and director Nell Shipman.

Contributors are Kay Armatage, Jean Chateauvert, Maureen Furniss, Mark Langer, Anne Morey, Diane Negra, George Potamianos, Joanna Rapf, Thomas J. Slater, Sam Stoloff, and Judith Thissen.

Seventeen illustrations enliven this study of silent film.


Gregg Bachman

Thomas J. Slater

Comparatively speaking, film scholarship is in its infancy. This fact, however, has not shielded the field from committing some of the same mistakes of exclusion as its older siblings in the humanities. Recently, new voices have been emerging and gradually transforming our understanding of silent film in terms of how it was shaped and the various roles it played within American society. Careful study of acclaimed masterpieces and directors reveals almost nothing about what the experiences of going to the movies actually meant to silent film audiences. It also fails to enlighten us about the variety of voices that attempted to (and often did) express themselves through American silent film. Neither do we learn much about the historical events and social forces that shaped the images present in a majority of films (not just the canonized elite), or the talented and dedicated professionals whose work helped build American movies, but who were excluded from popular memory because they did not fit into established historical narratives. To gain this greater knowledge, we have to look at the careers of previously overlooked filmmakers and the ways in which the public made the movies a part of their lives. We also need to examine the business and social institutions that shaped the filmgoing experience and drew people into the movie culture. in addition, it is necessary to consider how the social forces of prejudice, fear, and the difficult transition from a culture dominated by Victorian ideals to a modern consumer society shaped the images on America's screens.

This volume is intended as a contribution to the growing field of silent film studies that will answer some questions for a number of scholars and inspire others to go further in these areas. Producer Harry Rapf was one of the founders and guiding forces behind mgm, with a workload and set of responsibilities equal to those of the much celebrated Irving Thalberg. But he has been conveniently cut out of popular film history. As his granddaughter writes, Rapf's story β€œis not unique, but it is a stunning . . .

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