A popular headliner at comedy clubs around the world Ross Bennett has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, and, along with countless other TV appearances, was the winner of the Best Supporting Actor in A Comedy Web Series at the LAWEBFEST2016. You can hear him on SiriusXM’s comedy channels, Ross is also a recurring guest on The Bob and Tom Show and at charity events everywhere. He’s got a brand new album out, “…Not if You Were the last Man on Earth,” from Stand Up Records, which you can find on amazon.com, on iTunes, and everywhere albums are sold. For Ross it’s the little things: showing up at a thrift store the day after a guy your size dies. a soft, pillowy death-bed helpfully placed in Ikea’s assisted suicide sample room.
There are lots of problems that stand in the way of enjoying movies that are over 90 years old. And it is not just the fact that they are silent. Often the comedy is sophomoric or even worse, not funny. The drama is over the top and unbelievable. The horror is not scary. This being the case, we often do not even try to watch them. However, there are some great silent movies you can still enjoy today. These 5 silent gems are the perfect places to start if you ever do decide to give the early days of cinema a shot.
1. “The General” Buster Keaton’s masterpiece “The General” is probably as perfect a silent as you will find. Keaton was more than just a comic. He came from a family of acrobats and he was a physical genius. Set in the Civil War, Keaton must retrieve a stolen locomotive. His physical dexterity in performing dozens of dangerous and clever physical gags is delightful to watch.
2. “The Penalty” Lon Chaney was known as the Man of a Thousand Faces because of his abilities to use makeup to create horrifying characters. In “The Penalty,” no makeup is applied to his face. Instead, he disguises his body. His character is an embittered man who lost his legs to a botched surgery in childhood. His resentment over this festered inside of him until he became a violent criminal kingpin. He’s a double amputee who walks around on two stumps terrorizing all who stand in his way.
3. “City Lights” Charlie Chaplin is probably the most famous movie star of all time. He created an iconic character that is still recognizable today. His skills in front of the camera were eventually joined by his skills behind the camera as well. “City Lights” is his masterpiece. It was a silent movie made a few years after the rest of the industry had already converted to sound. For me, the last five minutes is the most moving in cinema history.
4. “Safety Last” Harold Lloyd is probably the least known of the “Big Three” of silent comedians. But that is largely because he was a better businessman than Keaton or Chaplin. He never allowed the rights to his films to fall into public domain. So if you wanted to see a Harold Lloyd movie in the last half of the 20th century, someone had to pay. This may be one of the reasons that viewing “Safety Last” can be such a revelation. Although most people are familiar with the iconic image of Lloyd dangling from the hands of a clock face located on high above a city street, the rest of the movie is one hilarious and dangerous surprise after another.
5. “The Big Parade” Silent movies about World War 1 are revealing because they were made just a few years after the events they are depicting. People who actually had been in the war often made them. “The Big Parade” is one of those multi-layered war films that, as it unfolds, makes you realize that it is actually making an anti-war statement. As superbly made as it is, what keeps bringing me back to it is Clara Bow. She was known as the “It” girl of that time. All of the other female leads of the day (with the possible exception of Garbo) seem tame and old-fashioned. But Clara Bow is always fresh and modern and a joy to watch.