word craft


Story Behind the Story #44: Silent Movie


Silent MovieWhen I was a boy my usu­al Sat­ur­day Brook­lyn morn­ings meant movies at the neigh­bor­hood St. George The­atre. Sev­en car­toons. A west­ern. The March of Time news­reel, plus a chap­ter from some mul­ti-part ser­i­al. More­over, you received a gift for actu­al­ly leav­ing the theatre.

For twen­ty-five cents.

For birth­day par­ties my father rent­ed and showed silent 16mm silent movie shorts: Chap­lin, Buster Keaton, Lau­rel & Hardy, among oth­ers. These films had a writ­ten aspect, what were called “titles.” The titles pro­vid­ed dia­logue or nar­ra­tive infor­ma­tion. You had to read them.

When we went to reg­u­lar movies it was a dou­ble fea­ture: an A movie and a B movie. You walked in dur­ing the mid­dle of one movie, saw the com­plete sec­ond movie, then left the the­atre (“This is where we came in”) at the nar­ra­tive point when you arrived at the first movie. How we recon­struct­ed that movie as a whole I’ll nev­er know.

And at the Bor­ough Hall Movie The­atre I saw a hor­ror film which gave me a night­mare that repeat­ed itself (in my head) for a good num­ber of years—a mad sci­en­tist would give me an injec­tion and turn me into a fish.

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times
Char­lie Chap­lin in Mod­ern Times

A few years ago I watched Chap­lin’s Mod­ern Times. The musi­cal score was per­formed by the full Den­ver Sym­pho­ny. A mar­velous experience.

All these movies were in black and white.

And all these the­atre dis­played what were called “stills”—photo images of the movie cur­rent­ly being shown.

Which is a long way of explain­ing how I came to write the pic­ture book, Silent Movie.

illus­tra­tion copy­right C.B. Mor­dan for Silent Movie

I had got­ten to know—and work with—an artist by the name of C. B. Mor­dan. He did fine black-and-white scratch board art that instant­ly remind­ed me of motion pic­ture stills. His art brought me back to my ear­ly movie-going days, and the pic­ture book was my attempt to cre­ate the rich expe­ri­ence of a silent movie.

Still love to watch them.

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