When I first heard about the experimental filmmaker Peter Kubelka’s recommendation to watch silent films without music (i.e., literally watching silent films in silence), I scoffed. It sounded like taking hardcore cinephilic dedication too far. Kubelka’s reasoning was that since movies from the silent era had no synchronized audio, the music that we hear is always an interpretation by another artist and rarely reflects the director’s original intentions. He felt it was better to cut out the intermediary and watch those movies without the audio.
And although I didn’t take the idea seriously at first, I’ve thought about Kubelka’s suggestion often in the three years since I first encountered it. I watched the Hitchcock silent film The Lodger recently, and once the soundtrack started playing a song with modern-sounding vocals (something I’m not dogmatically opposed to, but the lyrics in this case were trite and on-the-nose), I thought of Kubelka and wondered if I would be better off not listening to this inappropriate music soundtrack.
I turned off my speakers 30 minutes in and was surprised to discover I enjoyed the movie more. Doing this made the movie feel more like a difficult avant-garde film, which paradoxically goosed my engagement. It also allowed me to appreciate the visuals more, particularly the shadowy exterior scenes. From here on, I’d prefer to watch silent films with the sound turned off. And I think this is something more cinephiles ought to try.
This week’s rundown features a plethora of old movies.
The Death of Louis XIV (Serra)
Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV (Portugal/France/Spain, 30 reviews)
Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker’s Karl Marx City (Germany, 8 reviews)
Jenny Gage’s All This Panic (United States, 7 reviews)
Cinema of the Past
Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (UK/Italy/US, 1966, 18 reviews)
Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (United States, 2001, 11 reviews)
David Lynch & Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks (United States, 1990-91, 3 reviews)
David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (US/France, 1992, 8 reviews)
Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (France, 1972, 13 reviews)
George Cukor’s Sylvia Scarlett (United States, 1935, 7 reviews)
François Truffaut’s’s Stolen Kisses (France, 1968, 6 reviews)
François Truffaut’s Two English Girls (France, 1971, 5 reviews)