Did silent film actors actually say their lines or did they simply improvise “dialogue” while being filmed?

Did silent film actors actually say their lines or did they simply improvise “dialogue” while being filmed? - Herd of domestic cows standing on grassy meadow in countryside area with trees

Been watching some old Buster Keaton films. And—as is the case with silent films—there are title cards that convey setting, place and even show a few lines of dialogue that have been said by the characters on the screen.

But often it seems like actors are saying more lines than the title cards seem to convey that they are saying.

So did the actors in silent films improvise lines on camera, or was a script drafted that gave them lines to say so things seemed realistic and coherent when scenes were filmed?

Buster Keaton smiles.


Best Answer

It seems they did use scripted dialogue.

From the article Silent Movie Revisited with an emphasis of mine,

Third, one should also stress the important contribution of this book to the critical reappraisal of many stereotypes concerning the early years of the cinema, such as the (completely false) idea that silent movies were not scripted or that the actors did not really pronounce their lines as they were supposed to do. There is now a whole lot of evidence that those scripts existed, and that they really were the base of the whole production. Moreover, lip reading experiments have shown that the scripted lines corresponded with what the actors actually pronounced, and there are testimonies that the first spectators noticed when a "silent" actor pronounced, say, "What do we have for dinner tonight" instead of "I really love you, you know".

Of course, they said more lines than what written on title cards, but it is just to give the gist about what characters in the scene are up to.




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How did they show the dialogue of the scenes in the silent movies?

Because silent films had no synchronized sound for dialogue, onscreen inter-titles were used to narrate story points, present key dialogue and sometimes even comment on the action for the audience.

Did all silent actors make it into talking pictures?

Those who failed to make the transition to sound included Vilma Banky, Mae Murray and Norma Talmadge. Comic legend Charlie Chaplin had yet to talk on film. Roles for Rudolph Valentino's romantic rival John Gilbert dried up, Douglas Fairbanks became disillusioned and audiences avoided director D.W.

Did silent movies have a script?

Third, one should also stress the important contribution of this book to the critical reappraisal of many stereotypes concerning the early years of the cinema, such as the (completely false) idea that silent movies were not scripted or that the actors did not really pronounce their lines as they were supposed to do.

Did silent movies have captions?

Silent film eraIn this era intertitles were mostly called "subtitles" and often had Art Deco motifs. They were a mainstay of silent films once the films became of sufficient length and detail to necessitate dialogue or narration to make sense of the enacted or documented events.




Sources: Stack Exchange - This article follows the attribution requirements of Stack Exchange and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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