Tag Archives: Canon

Shaking up the silent canon: is The General the greatest silent film?

I like silent movies even more than I like chocolate. And I do really like chocolate. So when I saw Richard Osman, best known as the co-host of Pointless, holding the World Cup of Chocolate on Twitter a few years back, I pondered whether I could do the same for silent movies. It’s a simple idea – a knockout tournament in which voters pick their favourites, based loosely on the rules of the football World Cup. I don’t have as many followers as Osman (by a very long chalk) and I had no desire to spam people’s feeds with retweets, so I shelved it.

Then Twitter introduced a nifty poll feature – multiple choice questions you could share on the social network, which stayed active for exactly 24 hours. And that meant that this year Osman’s chocolate bar tournament was bigger and more successful than before. So shamelessly, I pilfered his idea. Thanks Richard Osman!

Moroder's Metropolis
Moroder’s Metropolis
I hoped that the followers of Silent London’s Twitter account would get into it, and boy oh boy they did. To start the draw, I arranged the top 32 films from this list on silentera.com into eight groups of four and set the whole thing live. The Silent Era list, it seemed to me, was fairly uncontroversial – almost too uncontroversial – a consensus view of the established classics. And I assumed that the silent movie hipsters you find online would challenge that. But I was wrong, mostly.

In the end, Osman’s Twitter followers voted for the traddest choc bar imaginable – the dependable Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. And the Silent Londoners voted for … well the number one film on the Silent Era list, The General (1926). I have nothing against The General – it’s an unassailable classic – but I was expecting a giant-killing. The General is probably the Dairy Milk of silent cinema. Not only that, but positions number two and three on the SE list, Metropolis (1927) and Sunrise (1927) were right there in the semi-finals – with Murnau’s film making it through to the final with Buster Keaton.

So perhaps you guys aren’t as iconoclastic as I thought (those of you on Twitter that is), or perhaps from this distance the silent film canon is settled. Maybe a century later we can look at these movies and dispassionately rank them, quality sifting surely to the top. The General, and the majesty of Buster Keaton, aside, there were a few surprises in my World Cup results,* which suggest there is still plenty to play for.

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