Avi WordCraft blog

Story Behind the Story #44: Silent Movie


Silent MovieWhen I was a boy my usual Saturday Brooklyn mornings meant movies at the neighborhood St. George Theatre. Seven cartoons. A western. The March of Time newsreel, plus a chapter from some multi-part serial. Moreover, you received a gift for actually leaving the theatre.

For twenty-five cents.

For birthday parties my father rented and showed silent 16mm silent movie shorts: Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, among others. These films had a written aspect, what were called “titles.” The titles provided dialogue or narrative information. You had to read them.

When we went to regular movies it was a double feature: an A movie and a B movie. You walked in during the middle of one movie, saw the complete second movie, then left the theatre (“This is where we came in”) at the narrative point when you arrived at the first movie. How we reconstructed that movie as a whole I’ll never know.

And at the Borough Hall Movie Theatre I saw a horror film which gave me a nightmare that repeated itself (in my head) for a good number of years—a mad scientist would give me an injection and turn me into a fish.

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

A few years ago I watched Chaplin’s Modern Times. The musical score was performed by the full Denver Symphony. A marvelous experience.

All these movies were in black and white.

And all these theatre displayed what were called “stills”—photo images of the movie currently being shown.

Which is a long way of explaining how I came to write the picture book, Silent Movie.

illustration copyright C.B. Mordan for Silent Movie

I had gotten to know—and work with—an artist by the name of C. B. Mordan. He did fine black-and-white scratch board art that instantly reminded me of motion picture stills. His art brought me back to my early movie-going days, and the picture book was my attempt to create the rich experience of a silent movie.

Still love to watch them.

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