Silent Cinema

By 1915 cinema seemed poised to enter a new phase of its development: with bigger-budgeted multireel films, popular and widely publicized stars, new modes of production and distribution, picture palaces, and aspirations of artistry all vying to define the medium in different ways, that sense of potential was more than met in the fifteen years that followed. What no one could have predicted was that the end of the 1920s would mark not only the completion of cinema's third full decade of existence, but also the end of a particular form of cinematic expression ushered in with the advent of features. Whether viewed as an economically motivated inevitability or a technologically generated caprice, the introduction of sound effectively put a stop to the unique qualities of silent cinema. Compelling arguments can be made that as many fundamentals of form and practice persisted as perished when sound displaced silence as the dominant cinematic mode; nonetheless, sound challenged the primacy of the image, resulting in a rethinking of how to harness the expressive capacities of the medium. Affected least by sound's introduction was the classical, conventional filmmaking strongly associated with Hollywood. Conversely, the experiments launched within the contexts of other national cinemas, specifically those of France, Germany, and the USSR, evaporated in sound's wake, leaving the norms of American cinema virtually unchallenged for the next fifteen years. Many would lament the passing of the silent era, some with a fervor bordering on reverence; eventually, nostalgia for a paradise lost was replaced by respect for the considerable achievements of an aesthetically distinct segment of cinematic history.

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