Silent lockdown: where to get your early cinema fix online

Last week, I recommended a new Buster Keaton box set. Well, there’s an evergreen sentiment. I remain a devotee of physical media (and in the interests of full disclosure, also make part of my living from it), but I realise it’s getting a little trickier for people to get hold of news discs right now, whether that’s because of distribution difficulties or lack of funds. I hear you.

So with that in mind, I wrote this feature for the BFI website all about where to stream silent movies.

Bear in mind it’s written for a British audience, but if you are in the UK the TLDR version is: check out the BFI Player, which is chockfull of silents. I also recommend a root through Amazon Prime, whichever side of the Atlantic you’re on, and I highlight a few other sites too, some of which you may not have checked out yet. Happy browsing!


While I’m here, I wanted to highlight a very cool thing that is happening each Sunday on YouTube. Ben Model and Steve Massa are co-hosting (while socially distancing) a Silent Comedy Watch Party on Ben’s YouTube channel. Rarely seen comic silents, great music from Ben, informative intros from Steve – it’s a real delight. You can tune in live on Sundays at (I think) 8pm BST/3pm EDT, or watch previous episodes on YouTube, but the live experience is half the fun.

If you can, please do drop a few virtual coins in the hat too. Silent film musicians are mostly out of work right now – it’s a tough time for live performers – so I am sure it would be appreciated, and the Watch Party is more than worth your pennies, believe me. I think we may be seeing more of this kind of thing in the coming weeks, and I’d be thrilled. It’s great to watch silents with a gang and with live accompaniment again.

For more of this kind of Good Thing, keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter, where lots of people are sharing film recommendations, clips and watch parties, such as this Ménilmontant commentalong hosted by David Cairns. If you’re missing the Kennington Bioscope right now, and of course you are, they will be streaming a film about silent cinema collector David Gillespie tonight, instead of their planned IRL screening. You can watch on YouTube here.

And don’t forget to follow the BFI’s brilliant Miranda Gower-Qian, who has been sharing some utterly wonderful “Joyful Moments in Silent Film” on her social channels:


4 thoughts on “Silent lockdown: where to get your early cinema fix online”

  1. Here’s one more film for your list. The Hungarian equivalent of the BFI, The National Film Institute of Hungary, has put up some films online for free viewing during lockdown. There are ninety in total, but there’s a seperate list of almost forty that come complete with English subtitles. The one you’ll find of particular interest is Az aranyember, from 1918, directed by one Sándor Korda. In translation that’s Man of Gold by Alexander Korda. It’s a beautiful restoration of what was clearly an expensive production, although according to a French blog the original film lasted over 4 hours, of which just under one and a half survive. It’s presented in silence, so if you want the soundtrack then you’ll have to track down the DVD.

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