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Cinema, which started its journey with the Lumière's train, traveled since the beginning through a complex and refined musical universe. But audiences who marveled at the arrival of the industrial technology of film sound, at the end of the 20s, soon forgot about the richness of what they left behind. Silent cinema metaphorically moved to second-class.
However, the silent cinema was not an ancestor of the "sound" one. It was, instead, another cinema.
The attention towards this "another" cinema revived during the 80s, thanks to initiatives like the restoration of Abel Gance's Napoléon. Often, the film screenings have been accompanied by all new music, inviting thus contemporary artists to discover expressive possibilities which cannot be featured in sound cinema. It is meaningful that, in recent years, international directors like Aki Kaurismäki or Michel Hazanavicius released full-length silent films.
Other kinds of modern audiovisuals showed as well curiosity towards silent cinema: for example, it's possible to name the music videos Cloudbusting by Kate Bush and Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) by The Arcade Fire.
But what defines a silent film?
It is not enough for a film to be understandable without sound. It is in fact possible to imagine a sound film with this characteristic. Instead, there seem to be two more relevant features.
On the one hand, there is the live performance of music and sounds. Each silent film screening is a unique event.
On the other hand, sounds for silent cinema do not need to imitate reality, because the spectator is not expecting to be able to hear the sounds from the world "beyond" the screen. The "pact" between the author and the audience is different from the one of sound cinema. So, sound events could often have poetic reasons, in order to enhance the images, more than making them "realistic".
The contemporary cinema could take back this expressive freedom. Any visual style can profit from such a language, by using advanced digital technologies as well as old analog techniques. This is the reason behind the shows of Moving Silence, where live performances sustain and "amplify" the films. The Moving Silence network proposes to directors and musicians to breathe new life into silent cinema, which inappropriately remained "silent" for such a long time.
Silence is not silent!