putting words on the image

February 13, 2007 § 2 Comments

From Harold Lloyd’s Just Neighbors.
The only instance I’ve seen so far of anything at all written on a moving image in silent films is to indicate any noise, sound, usually of non-human origin,, and usually for comic purposes.
For instance in this sequence (where Bebe Daniels is, incidentally, doing a lot of looking at the director off-camera, who is probably directing her — on top of the usual slapstick look-at-the-audience routine)
picture-20.png picture-18.png picture-19.png picture-16.png

This sequence is what silent films traditionally do. Shot #3 is ridiculously short, just a flash on the screen, since there is no time between the two lines, and practically this is a case where the audience is engrossed in reading funny lines, rather than looking at images. There could be no image in between and it wouldn’t matter much, except that it’s a bit more comfortable anchoring the Bebe’s reply to her image of shock, however brief.
But then the parrot in the background joins the shouting match with:

Words flash on the screen. Rather than dialogue, this is a background sound which belongs materially to the image itself. The other solution would have been a close-up, an insert of the parrot “talking”, as with instruments, trumpets, horses’ hooves, and so on. But since the parrot needs to be shown talking and his word is also important, this is probably the most economical solution.

§ 2 Responses to putting words on the image

  • […] no, I mean real titles, handwritten. What a gain in visual continuity it would have been to have titles, whether descriptive or, even better, dialogues, flashed on the images while the characters were talking ! For some reason though, this was never done. My personal take on this mystery is that images and titles do not have the same aesthetic status in a silent film. Titles clearly point to an omniscient narrator (titles may be informative, ironic, or clearly comical), while images would tend to illustrate the story. With sound, images seem to have gained in perceptual realism: they seem to have been treated as referring so powerfully to a reality in the images that adding titles over them would not diminish their perceived realistic weight. They went on showing something that really existed there in the image, beyond the camera, even with words written on them (I’ve treated an example of words flashed on the image in a silent film here). […]

  • […] words on the image – 02 This is a series that started long ago here and then rebounded here, but this is its true second […]

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