We all know the stages of cinema's early development: first came the pictures, second came the motion, and third came the sound. But many of us, even reasonably active film buffs, don't realize how much the art form took its shape between steps two and three. Most of the visual language we instinctively recognize as standard in the movies today came together before their characters ever spoke an audible word. Hence the importance of not just watching the films of today, and not just catching up with important works back to the the "golden age" of Hollywood, but going even farther back, to the early 1930s, even all the way to the 1910s — deep, in other words, into the silent era. Outside a university film-studies program, you couldn't always do this easily. But now, to free you from the need to haunt specialist video stores (if your city has them) and hope for silent screenings at the nearest repertory cinema (if your city has one), we give you our collection of 101 free silent films online, part of our collection of 635 Free Movies Online.
We don't mean obscure silent films, either. You may remember our post on Sight & Sound magazine's list of the ten greatest silents of all time, nine of which you can watch right now in our collection. In chronological order: D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), Erich von Stroheim's Greed (1923), Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. (1924), Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925), Buster Keaton's The General (1926), Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927), Luis Buñuel's Un chien andalou (1928), Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929). You can also catch up, finally, on a variety of other important films besides, from four by French visual-spectacle pioneer Georges Méliès (After the Ball, Cinderella, The Devilish Tenant, The Impossible Voyage) and six of English suspense king Alfred Hitchcock's earliest works (Downhill, Easy Virtue, The Lodger, The Manxman, The Pleasure Garden, The Ring). And that's just scratching the surface of our collection of Free Silent Films.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.