Trimming the Fat

One of the ways Silent Film economizes on storytelling information is by the dropping of non-essential bits of information in a scene. Sometimes these are at the beginning of a scene. But the general idea is to keep moving, and to keep the important dramatic beats — or comic ones — flowing.

If someone travels from one location to another, we are not presented with three or four shots of them in an automobile or horse-and-carriage leaving their house, then in another location, shots of them driving and thinking, then driving on another road, etc. We are presented with a visual equivalent of a book chapter end’s page turn, and then there we are.

Usually we’re given a boost by an intertitle (originally called sub-title) letting us know where our character has arrived, and maybe also giving us some info about what’s transpired before and after the previous scene, perhaps one with other characters in the story, and getting us caught up with what’s going to happen next.

Leaving it up to us to fill in the info.

The opposite would be the sit-com convention of dissolving from one scene to a street elsewhere in the show’s town or city, which then slowly pans or tilts up to the floor of an apartment building where the next scene takes place. We then dissolve to the next office or apartment, and the characters enter and have a handful of lines or jokes before the plot point is launched into.

A Silent Film scene is one that’s had its ingredients simmered and reduced down to just what’s needed to convey the story beats from the screen to our imaginations. Any extra or seemingly dead space is usually there for pacing or emotional import. But we’re still being given some sort of information, either directly or by suggestion that we fill out in our minds.

But there’s no fat to trim away. We’re continuously engaged with the screen. It’s that flow and the skipping over of elements that are part of the dream-state-like feel of experiencing Silent Film.

The first post in this series is here.
The previous post (#10) to this one is here.
The next post (#12) is here.

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Rex Fermier

Is it possible that another reason might be that there is only so much time available within the limits of 2 reels? Or, in the example of traveling from one place to another, maybe its hard to come up with jokes needed to accompany the travel sequence? (Thus the dead space was cut.)