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Film Studies: Silent Films

Whether you are a film student looking for research materials or just want to sit back and enjoy a classic movie, this guide will help direct you to resources to make your search easier.

The "silent film era" encompasses the 35-year span between the initial development of film technology (around 1894) up through the widespread adoption of synchronized sound (around 1929). 

One of the best online sites to explore the history of silent film is The Bioscope. Although it ceased being updated in 2012, it remains a great source for locating films, books, journals, associations, etc. -- all devoted to the silent film genre.

Our silent films are arranged by DIRECTOR and then TITLE under the call number DVD PN1995.75

Research Tools: Music and the Silent Films

Recommended Selections in Silent Film

The Birth of a Nation – D.W. Griffith (1915)

[187 min.]  Based on the 1905 novel The Clansman, this two-part epic follows the impact of the Civil War on two families: the Stonemans of the North and the Camerons of the South. Their lives first intersect during the war, when Confederate colonel (Ben Cameron) is captured and a nurse (Elsie Stoneman) petitions for his pardon. In the second part of the film, describing the Reconstruction era, Cameron founds the Ku Klux Klan and battles Elsie's congressman father and his African-American protege. The film features groundbreaking visual effects, but was controversial for its slanted portrayal of African Americans.

Within Our Gates – Oscar Micheaux (1920)

[77 min.]  African American director Oscar Micheaux created this, his second film, in response to the “white supremacy” ideology of The Birth of a Nation. The story revolves around the character of Sylvia Landry, a mixed-race school teacher who tries to raise funds for a rural school in the Deep South for black children. A series of flashbacks slowly reveals her family’s past, including the lynchings of her parents.

The Phantom Carriage – Victor Söström (1921)

[107 min.]  This Dickensian ghost story/morality tale from Sweden recreates a legend: that the last person to die on New Year’s Eve before the clock strikes twelve is doomed to take the reigns of Death’s chariot, collecting souls for the next year. Victor Söström cast himself in the central role of an alcoholic who is shown the error of his ways.

The Battleship Potemkin – Sergei Eisenstein (1925)

[69 min.]  In the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the Battleship Potemkin attempt mutiny against brutal conditions on board the ship. The ship's return to its home port on Odessa sets off a brutal massacre of innocent civilians, highlighted by the famous "Steps of Odessa" montage scene.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – F.W. Murnau (1928)

[95 min.]  Bored with his life, a farmer (The Man) falls under the spell of a city girl (The Woman from the City) who convinces him to drown his wife (The Wife) so they can run away to the city together. This film took home three Oscars at the inaugural Academy Awards, including one for Best Cinematography.

The Man with the Movie Camera – Dziga Vertov (1929)

[68 min.]  In the silent documentary category, this Soviet Ukrainian film captures images of life in Moscow from sunrise to sunset.

Our Complete Collection

Luis Buñuel (1900-1983)

  • Un Chien Andalou

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

  • City Lights
  • The General
  • The Gold Rush
  • Modern Times

Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1986)

  • La Passion de Jeanne D’arc

Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948)

  • The Battleship Potemkin
  • Stachke (Strike)

Louis Feuillade (1873-1925)

  • Les Vampires

Louise J. Gasnier (1875-1963)

  • The Perils of Pauline

D.W. Griffith (1875-1948)

  • The Avenging Conscience
  • D.W. Griffith’s Biograph Shorts
  • The Birth of a Nation and the Civil War Films of D.W. Griffith
  • Broken Blossoms
  • Intolerance
  • Orphans of the Storm
  • Sally of the Sawdust
  • Way Down East

Rupert Julian (1879-1943)

  • The Phantom of the Opera

Fritz Lang (1890-1976)

  • Metropolis
  • Die Nibelungen

Auguste (1862-1954) and Louis (1864-1948) Lumière

  • The Lumière Brothers’ First Films

George Méliès (1861-1938)

  • Films of Méliès, Volume 1

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951)

  • Within Our Gates

F.W. Murnau (1888-1931)

  • Faust: Ein Deutsche Volkssage
  • Nosferatu
  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
  • Tartuffe

Fred Niblo (1874-1948)

  • Blood and Sand

Victor Sjöström (1879-1960)

  • The Phantom Carriage

Dziga Vertov (1896-1954)

  • Chelovek s kin-apparatom (The Man with the Movie Camera)

Robert Wiene (1873-1938)

  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari