Film & TV Web Exclusives Muse Top 5

Top 5 Silent Movies

To celebrate the re-release of the classic silent movie Battleship Potemkin, Gareth Davies looks at five silent movies which are essential viewing for cinephiles

Archive This article is from our archive and might not display correctly. Download PDF
To celebrate the re-release of the classic silent movie Battleship Potemkin, I look at a cinephile's five essential silent movies. Without the luxury of dialogue, the development of character relationships within silent films had to be made known through muted or exaggerated gesture, unconventional camera work, or intertitles, which allowed for a film experience vastly different to that which we are used to today. Technical challenges involved in synchronising images to sound meant that 'talkies' only came about in the late 1920's, nevertheless silent films continued to be made up until the point where synchronising sound and image became economically viable, and the cultural norm. So without further ado here is the lowdown on five of the best silent movies ever made.

    Nosferatu - F. W. Murnau - 1922

Nosferatu rises

Perhaps the most iconic of all silent films, Nosferatu is one of the few which has managed to acquire a strong cult following. Based unofficially on Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nosferatu is the one film which perhaps encapsulates the dark, brooding and often gothic tone of the German expressionists best. Murnau's exploitation of shadow and the stark haunting contrast it grants the film make it downright creepy. Couple this with the disjointed and uncanny movement of Max Schrek as the vampire Count Orlock, and you have a masterpiece of horror.

    Metropolis - Fritz Lang - 1927

Annex - Helm, Brigitte (Metropolis)_02

Metropolis has often been hailed as the first real sci-fi movie. Telling the tale of the young and naive Freder and his struggle against a classist society. Metropolis features robots, magic, mad scientists, and a visually stunning backdrop to boot. Lang's ambitious use of special effects and grand set-pieces placed him, on a technical level, light years ahead of other film-makers, as he sought to make his sprawling art-deco/futurist vision of dystopia a reality. Featuring over 300 extras and clocking a total length of 153 minutes, this is a veritable classic of science fiction.

    La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc - Carl Theodor Dreyer - 1928


Few performances have elicited such startling reactions as Renee Jeanne Falconetti's, in this hauntingly human re-telling of the trial of Joan of Arc. Falconetti's is widely regarded as being among the finest performances in cinema history, and being part of the movie proved such an intense experience that she never acted again. The horrific image of her delicate pained face, marbled with tears, is one which is hard to shake off. The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the first movies, along with Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera, to have used dutch angles extensively for emotional and aesthetic effect, making it a psychologically dense and uneasy watch.

    Un Chien Andalou - Salvador Dali & Luis Bunuel - 1929


It may only be sixteen minutes long, but Dali and Bunuel's collaboration piece Un Chien Andalou would become one of the most influential pieces of avant-garde cinema. Using dream logic in the vein of Freudian free association, the piece presents a series of tenuously linked images, in a disjointed and fragmented narrative. The piece has become renowned for its visionary images which range from the gruesome (the famous shot of the eyeball being sliced), to the sacreligious (Pierre Batcheff cycling down the street in nun's clothing).

    Modern Times - Charlie Chaplin - 1936


It would be a crime to compile a list of silent films and not include Charlie Chaplin, the grandfather of the form. Modern Times, directed and acted by the man himself, is a wry and biting commentary on Western capitalism in the context of the Great Depression. Chaplin plays his iconic Little Tramp character, who, employed on an assembly line, faces a mental breakdown after being unable to continue with his job. What follows is a dark slapstick portrayal of one human being caught up in the grinding gears of capitalism and left out at the bottom of the system.

You Might Also Like...

Leave a comment

Your name from your Google account will be published alongside the comment, and your name, email address and IP address will be stored in our database to help us combat spam. Comments from outside the university require moderator approval to reduce spam, but Nouse accepts no responsibility for reviewing content comments on our site

Disclaimer: this page is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.