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FAQ: National Silent Movie Day 2022

Louise Brooks
September 29, 2022 is National Silent Movie Day. But what exactly is it, when did it start and what is its purpose?

A few frequently asked questions (and answers) around National Silent Movie Day 2022.

What is National Silent Movie Day?

National Silent Movie Day is meant to be a day where events around the country and world celebrate all things silent film. Local theaters and big chains show silent movies, hold special screenings and offer unique programming for modern audiences. Special programs on television networks such as Turner Classic Movies (TCM) also participate.

The day is also meant to educate the public about the importance of film preservation and raise awareness among a new generation to the talent of such silent movie stars as Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Gloria Swanson, Louise Brooks, Mary Pickford, Ramon Novarro, Lon Chaney and many more.

Why do we need to worry about silent film preservation?

An estimated 70-80% of silent movies are gone forever, according to the Library of Congress. Can you imagine if eight out of every 10 movies you watched in your lifetime vanished and no copies were ever available to view again? That’s what happened to the majority of movies made before 1930. Because early movies were filmed on unstable and highly flammable materials, many were destroyed over the decades by fire, poor storage or neglect. Some studios even decided their silent archives weren’t worth the price of storing them and tossed them!

Today, through technology and more importantly, human effort and awareness, more silent films are being preserved so that fans now and in the future can enjoy the silent movies we have left.

Related: Movie Posters from Silent Films – Pictorial highlights from early cinema and the silent movie era

When did National Silent Movie Day start?

National Silent Movie Day was established in 2021 and is now every September 29.

Why are silent movies, ummm … silent?

The technology didn’t widely exist before the late 1920s to record and pair an audio track and a visual film on the same reel. Instead of sound dialogue, audiences would read text on the screen between or over the film scenes. It was a little like TikTok before TikTok and Instagram before Instagram!

But for movie-goers at the time, the silent movies weren’t silent at all. Every theater had an organist or some kind of music and sound effect accompaniment to pair with the film. Watching a silent movie with the complete soundtrack is a feast for the eyes AND ears!

Why should I watch them today?

Almost every modern movie you watch today can trace its roots to early cinema and silent movies. From plots and tropes to characters and special effects, many movie traditions were established in the early years before 1927.

Westerns, mysteries, melodramas, horror movies, romantic comedies, adventure stories – silent movies had them all.

Some silent movies (and indeed many movies from not-so-recent past) reflect outdated, biased or offensive views and opinions. But preserving these films offers an unvarnished look at the material as it appeared at the time and can spur dialogue about how much has changed (or not in some cases, unfortunately).

Where do I start? What are the must-see silent movies?

We’ve compiled a starter list here: 11 must-see silent movies

For classic movie buffs, check out how many you’ve seen on the list and add your recommendations at @ReelOldMovies on TikTok and Instagram

Where can I watch silent movies?

Check your area movie theaters this National Silent Movie Day for special screenings.

For on demand and streaming, a few places that regularly include silent movies are:
Many silent movies are available to Amazon Prime customers such as Douglas Fairbanks in 1922’s “Robin Hood” and Charlie Chaplin in 1918’s “A Dog’s Life.”

... Or for individual rent/purchase via Amazon such as 1927’s “Sunrise” with Janet Gaynor

Finally, old school DVDs still exist for silent movie classics such as the first best picture Oscar winner, 1927’s “Wings,” or a box set of Gloria Swanson’s best movies.

A scene from 1927's "Wings"
A scene from 1927's "Wings"

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