Have you ever watched a movie and wished that everyone in it would just stop talking?

Not necessarily because the actors are bad or the dialogue dreadful, but because you’ve become aware that so much of the movie experience is taken up with words.

In what is essentially a visual medium, the verbal reigns supreme to such an extent that things like images, photography, camera movement and what film geeks and Frenchmen call mise en scene (a vague blanket term for the way a film conveys information visually) are largely ignored.

It’s a shame, as motion pictures contain multitudes of purely visual ways to move an audience, express mystery and wonder, titillate, provoke and even shock. In the hands of a master filmmaker, this cinematic arsenal is potentially the most potent art form the world has ever known.

Or, you know, you just point a camera at Gerard Butler and Kate Hudson, and have them yammer at each other.

Well, there’s one place adventurous Maine film fans can go to re-engage their visual movie-watching muscles. The Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre in Ogunquit (leavittheatre.com) is presenting a silent film series all summer and into the fall.

Some of the finest films of the pre-sound era will be reintroduced to a new generation of filmgoers in this venerable theater that opened in 1923, so it no doubt hosted some of these films on their first go-round as well.

While you may have missed their first offering, Buster Keaton’s comedy masterpiece “The General,” there’s still time to head down the coast to check out the 1924 D.W. Griffith epic “Orphans of the Storm,” which shows at 8 p.m. Thursday. In it, screen legends Lillian and Dorothy Gish play sisters on the brink of the French Revolution who travel to Paris to seek a cure for Dorothy’s blindness, only to fall victim to the violence and madness sweeping the nation.

Future films include Charles Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” (July 25); “Sally of the Sawdust” starring W.C. Fields (Aug. 15); Harold Lloyd’s “Grandma’s Boy” (Aug. 29); “Show People” starring Marion Davies (Sept. 19); and the horror classic “Nosferatu,” just in time for Halloween (Oct. 26).

To add to the silent film experience, the Leavitt has secured accompanist Jeff Raspis to provide an improvised live musical score for each (lovingly restored) film. And before you cry foul, music was an integral part of silent storytelling, with people like Chaplin even writing their own scores to best emphasize each moment. According to the Leavitt, Raspis will use a synthesizer to recreate the full orchestra pit sound.

While modern viewers may initially find the expressive style of silent film acting a bit much, those taking in this series on its own terms will come to appreciate the genre’s unique and subtle rewards.

The experience of watching a silent film is essentially to learn to watch movies all over again and revel in a language of cinema long forgotten.

Dennis Perkins is a local freelance writer.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: