“The Pause That Refreshes”

The tag-line above first appeared in 1929, the final year of the silent film era. The idea encouraged busy Americans to pause and enjoy a carbonated beverage. Today we may substitute the act of taking a cleansing breath. In a restaurant…perhaps some sorbet before moving on. Intertitle cards in silent films also serve this function.

You may wonder how necessary all those titles are in Silent Film. Some of them may be full of poetic language, or appear that the title writer was paid by the word. (Some of them were.) Some of them may just say “Later” or “The next day”, something we could probably figure out from whatever we take in during the next shot we see.

Having watched silent films whose sub-titles do not survive at all, or which only exist as a frame or two, I can tell you it’s exhausting. With all the visual stimuli we’re constantly ingesting and decoding, every once in a while you need that break. For your brain to go inhale-exhale.

Those titles serve a purpose. They’re a page turn at the end of a chapter. A pause to refresh. Not a big break, like a seventh-inning stretch, but just a little semicolon to separate one scene from another. The way the mouth-wiper in the feeding machine sequence of Modern Times separates each of the dishes the device forces on Charlie.

The first post in this series is here.
The previous post (#18) to this one is here.
The next post (#20) is here.

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