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History & Evolution of American Silent Film

The technology for making movies was in place by 1895, but the true potential of movie-making was not realized until two decades later with D.W. Griffith's 1915 full-length feature film "Birth of a Nation." The narrative form and filmic techniques employed by Griffith may have ensured that movies were a viable art and entertainment form, but the rise of American film as a key industry was based on other developments of the first two decades of the 20th Century, notably World War I. The Great War "placed the American film industry in a position of undisputed economic and artistic leadership" (Cook 48).

According to film historian Donald Cook, "movies were intended to talk from their inception, so that in some sense the silent cinema represents a thirty-year aberration from the medium's natural tendency toward a total representation of reality" (Cook 6). It is a misnomer to describe the silent film era as silent since live music accompanied the showing of each film, and the actors "spoke" on screen even though they could not be heard (hence subtitles). It would be more accurate to state that films were silent because the technology or know-how did not exist regarding synchronizing recorded sound with the recorded image. Out of this lack of technology, however, a unique language was created that is known as silent film. This paper will examine the history and evolution of American silent film through 1920, focusing on changes during World War I in terms of technology, uses


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History & Evolution of American Silent Film. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 03:20, July 31, 2015, from