The Norman Transcript


September 14, 2013

Silver screen stars: Then and now

NORMAN — Movies are in the business of making money, they hope. However, the primary purpose of movies is to provide entertainment in good times, and diversion in troubled times.

For sheer amusement, the silent movies are, in the vernacular of old timers, a “hoot” and worth watching. You will be bludgeoned over the head and the brain will be rendered numb with the “gawd awful” quality of acting and scripts back then. In the silent movie era, exaggerated mugging was referred to as acting. It was melodrama á la two-year old toddlers because emotions were conveyed without the benefit of sound. In other words, the acting was a true porker, smoked and hammy.

The old movie studios would be filming as many films as there were movie sets available, all at the same time. Consequently, it is probably a blessing that the movies were silent; otherwise, the cacophony of sounds from the movies in progress would have been migraine-inducing nightmares.

The makeup for the silent movies was nearly as exaggerated as for stage actors. The difference being that stage actors had to be visible to everyone, even the folks in the back row or nosebleed balconies. Since movies use close ups, there was no need for makeup by the pound.

Since both men and women wore Pricilla, Queen of the Desert makeup in the silent as well as talking films, it was hard to tell if a guy was manly or not. Except for the über curly hairdos of the women and the slicked-back greasy hair of the men, with all that makeup, including heavy eyeliner, it was a challenge to distinguish the men from the women.

Why they utilized such androgynous makeup back then is a mystery because everything was filmed in black and white. Aside from shadow and light, the heavy makeup made little or no difference in black and white films. Unless, the intention of the director was clownish as opposed to natural appearance of the actors and actresses.

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