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Studying Early and Silent Cinema$
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Keith Withall

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781906733704

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781906733704.001.0001

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Prologue: What was Silent Cinema?

Prologue: What was Silent Cinema?

(p.1) Prologue: What was Silent Cinema?
(p.iv) Studying Early and Silent Cinema

Keith Withall

Liverpool University Press

This prologue provides an overview of silent cinema. Our sense of cinema as a site of commercial entertainment can be traced back to the Lumière brothers. In December of 1895, they attracted a fee-paying public in Paris to sit and watch flickering images on an illuminated screen. The commercial Pandora's Box they opened was to blossom in a few years into a world cinema industry and, at its peak, the fantastical Hollywood. Yet in the 30 years in which this miraculous construction was accomplished, audiences rarely had to listen to films, only watch them. Hence, the early decades of cinema were characterised by the title ‘silent’. In fact, there was a lot of noise, machinery, audiences, musicians, and commentators. Even so, the absence of the human voice and dialogue make the films seem rather strange when viewed by a modern audience. Nevertheless, while they lack the audio impact of the sound film, the photographic quality of many silents is superb. Not only had the film-makers mastered the main techniques of photography, but as the industry developed they also added a whole range of techniques for editing and movement.

Keywords:   silent cinema, Lumière brothers, Pandora's Box, world cinema industry, Hollywood, early cinema, silents, film-making

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