Whether you’re studying them in college, or you’re seeking them out on your own free time, silent films are important part of film history. Not only that, they present a unique perspective on film language and filmmaking in general - a perspective that, while antiquated, is unique and not easily found in modern cinema.
The upside is that most silent films are able to find online freely, due to the fact that many of them are in the public domain. Here are five silent films you can watch on YouTube for free right now (and I highly recommend you do so).
1927 || DIRECTED BY FRITZ LANG
Considered by many to be the last German Expressionist film, Metropolis is a sweeping sci-fi story that encompasses everything from a story of working people uprising against elites to a traditional love story, this silent film epic sets itself apart with unique and dynamic visuals. The final thirty minutes of the film are a wonder of kinetic editing and precise composition, both of which help create the sense of urgency and panic that envelops the final act of the film.
Even for those who wouldn’t typically watch a silent film, this German masterpiece is worth your time.
4. A PAGE OF MADNESS
1926 || DIRECTED BY TEINOSUKE KINUGASA
One of the earliest horror films ever made, this Japanese silent film was lost for forty-five years. Defined by a supremely creepy and unique aesthetic, and using fascinating editing techniques that help elevate the suspense and horror of the story, this fascinating film has sadly not been seen by many people. Yet, it’s one of the best silent horror films out there (and there are a few to choose from), and deserves your attention if you’re ever in the mood for a moody, silent film.
3. THE LODGER: A STORY OF THE LONDON FOG
1927 || DIRECTED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK
For fans of HItchcock, this silent film will definitely be of interest. Not only can you see trademark elements of the filmmaker Hitchcock would become — his trademark editing style for instance — but The Lodger is also unique from a visual standpoint. Its usages of deep blue tints to represent the outdoors, contrasted by the harsh sepia of the scenes that take place in the lodge, and the purple tones that color the scenes between certain characters all imbue the film with a unique sense of character. It’s enthralling to watch and fun to analyze.
1922 || DIRECTED BY F.W. MURNAU
Nosferatu has long been one of my favorite horror films for a number of reasons. Its gorgeous camerawork, the harshness of its lighting, Max Schreck’s chilling performance — all of these things help propel this silent film to immediate “classic” status.
1. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
1920 || DIRECTED BY ROBERT WIENE
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is often considered to be the first horror film ever made, and its easy to see its influence on modern cinema. Through the lens of German expressionism, this world is distorted and strange, surreal and horrifying. The narrative is well-written and leads to a few surprises that were revolutionary when it came out.
I still love watching this film today; it never gets old.