During my recent “The Kids in the Hall” binge, I spent some time poking around for information about the show on Wikipedia. While reading about Mark McKinney’s Chicken Lady character I noticed that McKinney cited the Tod Browning movie “Freaks” as his character’s inspiration. I hadn’t thought about “Freaks” since this past summer when TCM aired it. I attempted to watch it but was so, well, freaked out by some of the stars -- namely the pinheads and Prince Randian -- that I changed the channel only a few minutes in. Although I couldn't bring myself to watch the film in its entirety, I still have a kind of fascination with it, so I redirected myself to the “Freaks” Wikipedia entry.
After perusing the page I noticed that the film identified itself as a “pre-code” horror film. I'd never heard the term “pre-code” before so I, once again, consulted Wikipedia. As it turns out, I was already familiar with films that fell into this category, but I wasn't aware of the circumstances under which they had been made. Stumbling upon this list of films that, in many ways, were so far ahead of their time inspired me to take a better look at the origin of film itself.
That night alone, I went from “Kids in the Hall” to Pre-Code Hollywood to watching the oldest surviving films ("Roundhay Garden Scene" and "Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge"). It was at that point that I more or less started my silent film marathon. This doesn't mean that I've been exclusively watching silent films, but I have been concentrating a lot of my time into studying, reading about, and watching them. It's been a little over a week since I "officially" started my marathon and I've watched a little over 20 silent films varying in length, picture quality, and subject matter. Each of them has left me changed in some way. “A Trip to the Moon” and “Metropolis” have given me an astounding glimpse into science fiction's humble beginnings, Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien brought me to tears without saying a word in “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,” and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton stumbled and slipped and silently stole my heart.
It breaks my heart to know that a performance as haunting and poignant as Renee Jeanne Falconetti's in “The Passion of Joan of Arc” probably goes unstudied by actors today. But, at the same time, the availability of these films online gives me hope that more people will seek them out. With each movie I gain a greater understanding of the history and the art of film and it becomes a greater part of who I am.
The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!