Sunday, December 2, 2012

Silent Films

There were about seven silent film adaptations of A Christmas Carol from 1901 to 1923. However, I've only been able to see three of them: Scrooge. or Marley's Ghost from 1901, a later one from probably 1910, and a rare version from 1922.

Silent films are often mis-represented today. The technology to record sound and play it back in synch perfectly didn't come around until about 1923 and wasn't applied to feature films until 1927.

Thus, films were not dialogue heavy before sound came around. We see an example already in Marley's Ghost: intertitles are used to briefly describe the scene the viewer will see. The scene is then acted in completely silent pantomine, so motions are exaggerated to convey how the characters are acting.

For 1901, it works well, though some scenes from Dicken's book are not carried over. The scenes in the offices of Scrooge and Marley now focus on just Bob and Scrooge.

The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are excised, now Marley himself shows Scrooge his past (nicely done by having the past projected in Scrooge's room), present ("God Bless Us Everyone" is written on the wall in the Cratchit home), and future, where the first scene is Scrooge seeing his tombstone. It cuts over to the grief of the Cratchits, but this is where the extant fragment ends.

For the time, the retelling is well done. I do, however, think it could have been better. For example, perhaps Marley might not just be a man wearing a sheet?

The 1910 version manages to do a better retelling of the story in about ten minutes. The intertitles do a better job this time and more of the story is displayed. The ghost effects are much better done. The three ghosts are replaced by a single ghost who first wears a wreath, then has a torch, then wears a shroud. The visions of Scrooge are projected in his room, a rather effective take on the story.

The 1922 version brought much better visuals and a better adaptation of the story, though scenes such as Fezziwig's party are still missing. Still, it's rather basic.

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