Silencing Homer, a Response


CofC musician Corey Campbell plays original score to L’Oddisea

On October fifteenth I ventured to Sotille Theater to see “Silencing Homer, The Iliad and the Odyssey in Early Cinema”. The production was put on by The Archaeological Institute of America and the College of Charleston. It consisted of three short films with piano accompaniment. The audience was supplied with programs that contained a list of the films, a libretto that translated the words on the screen, and information on getting involved in archaeology.

Starting with introductions from Dr. Gentile of the Classics department and Dr. Ibarra of the Art History department, Dr. Ibarra proceeded to explain the ancient worlds influences on film in both the past and even recent years. Even films like The Mummy have ancient influences. The pianist was then introduced and the crackly films started.

I have never experienced a silent film, and was unsure what to expect. Would I be able to follow the story? Would it even be the version of the story that I know? The first film, La Caduta di Troia, quickly eased my worries. I grew up dancing, and found that silent films are much like a ballet. The grand over exaggerated arm gestures substituted for the dialogue. The piano allows the viewer to determine the mood of a particular scene similarly to the way sound tracks in movies today do. I was familiar with the story of the Sack of Troy and this film followed what I had previously known. Compared to many modern movies that stray from the original story line purely for box office sales, this film stayed as true to the original story line as it possibly could.

I have to take a moment here to praise the pianist, Corey Campbell. Having never seen a silent movie I did not really know how the music would go with the scenes. As previously stated, the music cued the audience into the mood of each scene. I was impressed to see how in tuned the pianist was with the movie though. Instead of just playing the music, I noticed how he kept switching his gaze from the sheet music to the movie. He matched the tempo of the music to the motions of the actors. For example, at one point in L’Odissea he plays the notes so that they match up with Odysseus motions of chopping down a tree.

The second movie screened, L’ile de Calypso, I could have honestly done without. This short film did not follow what I had previously known of the stories of the Odyssey. Both Calypso and the Cyclopes seemed very rushed. I was confused as to what was happening. The film was only a few minutes long and according to the program was made to show off the special effects of the time. While I understand the want to show new technology, I do not believe that it enhances the classic stories that it depicts.

L’Odissea was the third and final film of the night. Having been in a production of the Odyssey before, I was most excited for this one, and felt that it was very comprehensive for being only twenty three minutes. During this one I noticed how the color of the scenes seemed to be changing. By the end of the movie I determined that the change of colors were used to inform the viewer of the location or mood of the scene. Yellow for inside, blue for on or near water, red for death or conflict, and green for outdoors. One thing I found particular about this film was how the Italian subtitles said “Atena” for what I could only guess was Athena, while the English translation we were provided with said Minerva. I know that Minerva is the Roman version of Athena, but I thought it was an odd choice of the translator to chose the Roman rather than the Greek. Other than this one particularity, I highly enjoyed this film.

Over all my first experience of silent films as a whole was mixed. While I enjoyed how the film makers mainly stuck to the classic story instead of adding their own artistic liberties, I did not enjoy how the words on the screen that guided you through the story told you what was going to happen before it even took place in the film. I feel like that takes the element of mystery and anticipation of what is going to happen next out of the film. People go to the movies to escape from the realities of the outside world, to be surprised for or worried for the characters on the screen instead of themselves. I feel that the way silent films are set up, it leaves little for surprise. Even then I highly enjoyed my first experience with silent films and thought that the College and The Archaeological Institute of America did a very good job presenting the films.

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