Debate: Silent Movies

By Jake and Glenn

Ever since the first talking film was released in 1952, the “talkies” have stormed the nation, pushing the silent films of yore into the dustbin of history like so many ideologies.  But the Best Actor, Director, Farting and Picture awards to silent film The Artist at this year’s Academy Awards might be changing all of that.  A new discussion rages on in the film community that lives deep in the heart of Vatican City.  Should we switch back to silent films?  Should we work to destroy them, protecting the talkies from a potential threat?  This week Jake and Glenn take each of these positions, silently.

Jake:  I say that films were better before actors learned how to speak.  Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and the clown from “It” are all way better than the greatest actors of the “talkies” - Adam Sandler, Eric Roberts, Kevin Sorbo.  I hear enough talking at my job (sex phone operator) and at home (married).  Do I really need to hear talking in movies, too?  I’d rather see Buster Keaton silently try to fight against the wind and see a title card that says “The boy is fighting against the wind” instead of hearing a 30 minute conversation about what “Like a Virgin” is really about.  You can keep your talking, silence truly is golden.

Glenn:  Kevin Sorbo is hardly the “greatest actor” of the talking films (if you count the TV movies of Hercules as films, which I do).  Top 20, sure, but not the best.  The best are people like Kate Winslet, Jessica Chastain and Al Pacino before the year 1980.  Speaking of Al Pacino, yes I support sound but it doesn’t have to be in English.  The Italian spoken in Godfather II is also compelling because dialogue and noise are compelling by their very nature.  Silent films were great in the early 1900s and earlier because our ancestors did not have the gift of hearing.  But as homo sapiens started being able to hear sounds during the 1910s - a shame, given the sounds the Great War had to offer - it makes sense that our movies would naturally evolve too, also guided by the hand of god.

Jake:  Kevin Sorbo’s performance in “Kull the Conquerer” is one of the few talking performances that fills me with emotion.  All silent films fill me with emotion, from the arrival of the train in the 1896 masterpiece “Arrival of a Train” to the great train robbery in 1903s “The Great Train Robbery.”  Silent films just have more to offer than talkies, and one needs to look no further than the winner of the Best Picture Oscar at the 2012 Academy Awards.  Yes, a silent film, “The Artist,” beat every talkie that was released in 2011.  Think about some of the sound films that came out in 2011 and you will no doubt agree that the silent film was king of that year.  Glenn’s favorite actor, Al Pacino, was seen in the disasterpiece “Jack and Jill,” Jessica Chastain appeared in “Texas Killing Field” (5.6 on IMDB), and Kate Winslet was in Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” and while “Carnage” got good reviews, we cannot forget that it was directed by a man who raped a child.  No silent film director ever raped a child.

Glenn:  If we were playing a chess game (as depicted in the famous silent film “Chess”) you would have just put my king in check, but not checkmate.  Instead I move a pawn ahead in front of it by mentioning that the greatest movie of all time - according to the American Film Institute - is Citizen Kane, with the Godfather and Casablanca following close behind.  You have to go all the way down to #53, The Deer Hunter, to see a silent film.  Silent films simply cannot tell the story that talkies can.  Could you tell the story of your own life without words?  Of course not.  You literally speak words aloud every day: to your wife, to your cisgendered mailperson and to the so-called “people under the stairs.”  That is why people take a vow of silence - not to support Birth of a Nation - but to protest a policy supported by a right-wing government.  There’s just something about silence that makes me sick, cause silence can be violent sort of like a slit wrist.

Jake:  They say that silence is golden, if that truly is accurate, then maybe, in this time of economic uncertainty, we should embrace the silence.  I imagine a world where actions speak louder than words.  It seems that our mutual love of Kevin Sorbo would drive this point home.  In “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” Mr. Sorbo’s actions definitely speak louder than his words.  Silent films are more exciting than what Hollywood currently puts out, and “Tower Heist” proves that point.  The first ever movie with sound was “The Jazz Singer,” which featured Al Jolsen dressing up in black face and singing “Mammy.”  Sound is racist.  Silence is louder than a bomb (the bomb being “Wild Wild West).

Glenn:  Silence is racist!  Birth of a Nation, the favorite movie of Tea Party and “Republican-leaning Independents” is the most silent and most racist movie of all.  Meanwhile The Help, an infamous talkie, was a movie that was against the racism of the 1960s that no longer exists today.  Think of the greatest films that have advocated for social progress: The Killing Fields, On the Waterfront, Accepted (the Blake Lively/Justin Long vehicle).  What do these have in common besides Oscar-worthy performance?  In the films, dialog was used to communicate the urgent reforms needed in that era.  I am not saying movies cannot incorporate elements of silent firms - the long scenes of the iTunes visualizer in Tree of Life were amazing - but in this day and age an entire film cannot be silent.  Kevin Sorbo has a strong face and gorgeous body, but I want to hear him talking to Iolaus too.  And maybe someday the explicit fan fiction I’ve written about them will be turned into a talking film of its own!


  1. Dear wise Glenn and Jake,

    I'd be interested to know what do you think about "talkies" with long periods of silence (or music), like 2001: Space Odyssey, for example. Or real film gems like Disney's documentary Earth, where we hear sounds, but it's all animals without the ability to speak.

    Also, "disasterpiece" is the best new word of 2012. Love it.


  2. The less talking the better for me. It's not fair to the deaf. There should be more movies with only sign language.

  3. Haha! One of my favorite debates!! Let's just agree that ALL movies are racist and resolve to never see or hear again!!!

  4. I always felt that Kull the Conquerer was unfairly bashed by the critics. It is a solid adventure movie and I gave that performance my all. I nearly broke my leg during one of the fight scenes, which is pretty funny because actors are always told to break a leg when they're going out to perform on stage. If people considered that breaking a leg would take a job away from an actor they would probably stop saying it.

  5. Kevin, in the dimension I'm from, Kull the Conquerer is appreciated for what it is. It didn't win any Academy Awards or anything, but people enjoyed it. It's a popcorn movie, after all.

  6. Exactly, Obus. I'm not asking for an Oscar--at least not for that role LOL. I just think the film was treated unfairly by the critics. Thanks to One Year in Texas for finally speaking out on this unjustice.

  7. One of my favorite films is "Skull the Conquerer."