As Time Goes By

The authentic artists of silent cinema—and the list gets longer as more films are retrieved—touch us by the deliberateness with which they directed our eyes toward what was there, or rather to what still is there in their work. Such viewing can easily create odd moments of temporal displacement. If 1912 can become the present, 2012 can just as easily become the remote past. Watching the recent and disastrously received Disney release John Carter, with its digitized frames densely packed with thousands of battling Martians and swirling airships, I found myself looking at it as if it were the artifact of a long-vanished era that devoted itself to such curious spectacles. The people of that time, it seemed, had sought to make images that mutated so rapidly that no single image could be looked at long enough to become fixed in the mind. If they had been looked at that long, it would have become too obvious that there was nothing there to see.

— Geoffrey O’Brien, “The Rapture of the Silents,” New York Review of Books, 24 May 2012

Featured image: Scene from The Phantom Carriage.

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