We find ourselves in the unusual position of having a “silent” film potentially winning the Academy Award for best screenplay in the next couple of days. While those of us that know better wouldn’t normally bat an eyelid at such an occurrence, it’s interesting to see the mainstream media and general public reaction to the idea of a film with no audible dialogue taking home an award for writing, somehow presumably under the impression that no dialogue equals no pre-designated direction. Now of course this isn’t the case, with the current lauding of Michel Hazanavicius’s work on The Artist bringing to the fore one of the great misconceptions of the early cinema and leading to what will hopefully be a productive dialogue between the mainstream and, for want of a better term, the niche.
Anyway, in a nice coincidence early today I pulled up a chapter from William Everson’s American Silent Film, for a student, and stumbled upon some of his musings on the relationship between the silent movie and the scripting stage (Everson’s book was written in the 1970’s). Aware that many filmmakers (such as Griffith) worked largely sans-physical script, instead choosing to rely upon the vision in his mind, I was surprised to find just how lowly the average production considered the figure of the scriptwriter to be. Below are a couple of notable extracts. It’s especially interesting to me how loose the relationship between the British film “industry” and our stable of great writers was. The mind boggles as to what might have been achieved had things been different. H.G. Wells for one, might not have greeted Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with such ambivalence had the authorial culture shifted earlier.