Created By: Prfnoff on September 4, 2010

The Speed Of Silents

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Before movies had synchronized soundtracks, they had no standard framerate. Indeed, the framerate of silent movies could depend on the projectionist. This is why silent movie buffs talk about number of reels rather than length in minutes.

For some reason, modern people have been accustomed to seeing silent films run faster than sound films. Therefore, fake silent film footage appearing in shows will probably be highly Undercranked (and Deliberately Monochrome, though that's another story).

(This description could well be improved by someone more knowledgeable.)

  • In the score of Godspell, the final chorus of "All For The Best" is marked "Very fast (Silent movie tempo)."
Community Feedback Replies: 3
  • September 4, 2010
    The reason is simple - it was easier to run silent films on sound projectors which are usually faster. Of course, serious cinephile releases of silent movies are usually slowed down so that their speed looks natural. One notable exception is Metropolis, which despite being shot at slower speeds was originally screened at 24 fps, and the current DVD and forthcoming Blu-Ray editions follow suit.
    • Bram Stokers Dracula has some scenes set in London that were actually shot with a silent movie camera at silent speed.
    • Some of the flashback scenes in the TV version of Terry Pratchetts Going Postal achieve this effect with a specially modified digital camera.
  • September 4, 2010
    In the very early days of film, the cameraman hand cranked the film during filming. So setting the speed was done by hand. They used to use various songs or chants to keep time. I'm not sure if the projectionist also cranked the projector by hand, as it could be larger and plugged into the wall so a motor was easier to use.

    In any case, the speed of the film was not fixed. However, long before sound, motorized cameras were used. The early ones used springs which were wound by hand but would provide a fixed speed and would be wound before shooting.
  • November 2, 2010
    Bump for launching.