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Film Genres

This guide highlights library resources for some of the more popular film genres.

Defining silent cinema

1. In common usage, the period in which cinema first appeared and developed, from the mid 1890s through to the introduction of synchronized sound in the late 1920s; films produced during this time did not have a soundtrack, though, in fact, they were rarely shown in silence.

2. In film studies, silent cinema (films made from around 1904 until the late 1920s) is usually considered as a period of film history that follows early cinema (films made from the mid 1890s until around 1904).

In practice, the silent era is not fully distinct from the early cinema period, with a transitional cinema shaping film production between 1908 and 1917. It is in this period that a number of key changes shift the cinema of attractions towards a feature film-driven standard. Above all, World War I had a damaging effect on the film industries of France, Italy, and Denmark; this, combined with the rise of a vertically integrated studio system in the US, shifted the balance of power in the world’s film industries, with filmmaking conventions associated with the emergence of classical Hollywood cinema becoming increasingly prominent worldwide from 1916. In this period, the multi-reel feature film, increasingly screened in dedicated cinema spaces, or picture palaces, became dominant (see exhibition). The career of D.W. Griffith is indicative: Griffith’s early films, including The Lonedale Operator (1911), make increasingly sophisticated use of editing, narrative/narration, and continuity techniques; and in 1915, The Birth of a Nation brought together intertitles (see subtitle), an original orchestral score, location shooting, elaborate costuming, iris effects (see mask), unusual and innovative camera placements and angles, extensive use of colour tinting, dollying and panning camera shots, closeups to reveal intimate expressions, dissolves to blend images or switch from one image to another, high-angle shots, panoramic long shots (see shot size), and extensive parallel editing. Griffith also cultivated a naturalistic acting style, in contrast to the histrionic acting associated with early cinema. Griffith’s work functioned as a showcase for the filmmaking techniques associated with a truly ‘international style’ emerging in the major film-producing nations, as, for example, in the work of Abel Gance (Napoleon (France, 1927)), Alexsandr Dovzhenko (Zvenigora, (USSR, 1928)), Carl Theodor Dreyer (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc/The Passion of Joan of Arc (France, 1928)), and Fritz Lang (Metropolis (Germany, 1927)) (see France, film in; Germany, film in; USSR, film in). This period of filmmaking is widely celebrated as an influential era of great artistic flourishing (see canon).   ...

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Silent cinema. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 Jun. 2023

Finding library resources for silent films

The Jones Media Center has a collection of silent films for viewing. To find them, you can do a subject search for "silent films." The first heading with over 180 entries contains most of the titles in the collection. Other subject headings are listed below.

If you want to find silent films from other countries, scroll down the list to see silent films followed by a country name. The entries under those headings are films produced in that country. However, don't overlook the list under the first heading. That list also contains foreign produced silent films.

To find books about silent films, look at the subject headings that contain "history and criticism." These books will discuss silent films in general or those produced in different countries.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book title(s)

A selected list of silent films

Find more silent films in the library's collections.

Finding scholarly articles & journal title(s)

Articles and other writings about movies can be found in many publications. Our collection has 2 journals which look at silent films. They are listed below. Other film journals within our collection will cover silent films. You can use Film & Television Literature Index to find relevant articles.