The Surprising Appeal of Silent Films

I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of patience for movies. I can somehow sit and watch episode upon episode of a good TV show for hours on end, but when it comes to anything that lasts over an hour? Suddenly it’s too much. So it was surprising when, a few nights ago, I not only decided to watch a film – I decided to watch a silent film.

What’s even more surprising is how much I enjoyed it.

It (not the Stephen King version) is a 1927 film starring Clara Bow as a shop girl who falls in love with her boss. The idea behind it is that some people just have “it” – that natural charisma, that charm, that little something that draws people to them. Clara Bow’s character, Betty, has “it” – and so does Clara.

Even without words, Bow’s natural charm and charisma leaps off the screen. You barely realize there’s anyone else in the film – she steals every scene she’s in. There’s a quality about her that draws the eye. It takes a skillful actor to convey emotion convincingly on screen; it takes an even more skillful actor to convey emotion without words.

Even though there’s dialogue that shows up on screen, quite often it’s secondary to the action. Sometimes a character will “talk” on screen with no title cards appearing to show what they’re saying, so you just have to guess from the context. It’s an interesting exercise, and I personally found it quite engaging; almost as if the film were interactive. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s difficult to follow. I quite enjoyed feeling like I was a participant in the film rather than a passive spectator.

On the note of dialogue, I found some of the twenties slang to be quite amusing: “Shall we gnaw a chop at the club tonight?” (What does that even mean?) It helps that I’m fascinated by that entire era – so liberated, yet still so Victorian. Still seems preferable to the fifties, though. But I digress.

I never thought I would enjoy a silent film; I barely enjoy films at it is, but at least I can experience the dialogue with modern movies. But now, having watched this, I might branch out a watch a few more (and hope this one wasn’t just a fluke). In a way, I’m a little sad that silent films are a lost art, but at least now I can hold my own when talking with hipsters.

Review: 100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

Sometimes, you’ll read about an historical figure so amazing, so completely badass, that you know that your life will never be the same for having learned about them.

100 Nasty Women of History has 100 of these.*

I’ve always had an interest in history, particularly women’s history, and while this book doesn’t go into a lot of detail (it has a lot of ground to cover, after all), it’s a great introduction to some of the most incredible, groundbreaking, and trailblazing women throughout history. After reading it, I was inspired to do some of my own research into the figures that I knew less about.

Unlike most “history books”, however, this is an easy read. It’s entertaining, side-splittingly funny, and not at all dry like you’d expect an history book to be. Jewell does an amazing job of keeping things factual while bringing out the lighter side in some horrid situations. At the same time, she acknowledges that some of these women’s stories are too devastating to be laughed at, and in these cases the stories take on a more sombre tone.

The book is split into sections, all of which have hilarious names – “Women who wore trousers and enjoyed terrifying hobbies” and “Women who punched Nazis (metaphorically but also not)” being two of my favourites – and the stories themselves are written in a casual, conversational tone. There’s a lot of millennial humour and slang in here, but luckily there’s also a glossary of terms for older readers, or millennials who spend all of their time in their rooms playing video games and reading books instead of interacting with others and therefore don’t “get” their generation. (Who, me?)

Another wonderful aspect of this book was how diverse the historical figures in it were. Jewell made sure to include women from all over the globe – including my beloved New Zealand, tucked away in our little corner, which will now gain more exposure thanks to the inclusion of figures such as Nancy Wake, Jean Batten, and Whina Cooper. Pity we’re still not on all the maps.

If there’s one complaint that I have about the book (and it’s less a complaint than a minor annoyance, really), it’s that the stories aren’t in any particular order – they’re separated into sections, but inside those sections they just seem to be thrown in randomly. My chronology-loving brain had a hard time with that one.

Apart from that, though, I would recommend this book to anyone, even those not very well-versed in history. The writing style and short chapters make it a great read to dip in and out of when you want to feel inspired. And the humour, while it probably won’t gel with everyone, makes this already great book even better.

 

*Technically over 100, since one chapter encompasses four sisters. But I digress.