Thursday, August 30, 2012

Footprints on the Ceiling

In the 20s, high volumes of women were involved in discourse related to silent cinema. As one of the few entertainments available to them, they made up over 75% of cinema audiences. Before intertitles existed, a 'film explainer' set context in films, a throwback to magic lantern shows. Another thing lost to us (since the media drive behind Psycho forbade it) is the continuous performance of films, in which a cinemagoer would commonly walk into a film - which was played on a loop - mid-way, leaving when it reached the moment they arrived.

It was believed that intertitles should be guideposts not toll-gates. Films which over-relied on the methods of other artforms, for example in the use of intertitles, were frowned upon (in the same way that Casino was criticised on release for its voice-over). On the other hand, films attempting to do without intertitles were seen as gimmicks (a little like Russian Ark).

Anita Loos was the genius of the intertitle, creating a space between the storytelling function and action - for comic, often satirical, effect. In the era of Virginia Woolf and experimentation with stream of consciousness, the wry intertitle might add another layer to observation. Silent film, in its sense of having more intention than direction, in its evocation - suggesting, reflecting and expressing - and in its insistence on contemplation, was seen by more than one as feminine.       

Thanks to Hattie Wragg

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