Silent Movie Heroin of The Late 1900s

Most films are really little more than stage plays with more atmosphere and action. I think that the scope and flexibility of movie stories would be greatly enhanced by borrowing something from the structure of silent movies where points that didn’t require dialog could be presented by a shot and a title card. Something like: Title: Billy’s uncle. Picture: Uncle giving Billy ice cream. In a few seconds, you could introduce Billy’s uncle and say something about him without being burdened with a scene. This economy of statement gives silent movies a much greater narrative scope and flexibility than we have today. 

  — Stanley Kubrick, 1981

For example, this well known 1997 silent work.

I’m not saying Kubrick’s wrong. I suspect there has instead been a return to silent movie techniques. Soon after this quote, Kubrick flags advertisements for their similar power and concision, and elsewhere he defends the use of voiceovers in Barry Lyndon. Music videos can arguably be put in a similar category. As a side effect of the commercial relevance of such things, directors of the last twenty years are trained with a cinematic toolkit shared with silent films. It is a kind of marvelous revival in disguise.

Boyle’s style has been described as a long music video – which could, at a stretch, also apply to something like Lang’s Metropolis.

In another fun parallel, there’s an innovative use of subtitling in the very metropolitan Slumdog Millionaire. Instead of confining himself to the bottom strip of screen Boyle inserts colourful inter-titles at visual locations that serve the construction of the shot.

When our ancestors – silent movies – the first time they watched locomotive trains pass across the screen they screamed. — Danny Boyle