Charles Lane's new film, "Sidewalk Stories," is a silent movie shot in black and white. If you are absolutely sure you wouldn't want to see a silent, B & W movie, read no further. There is no help for you here.
What I want to evoke is the different consciousness created by watching a silent film. Sitting in the dark, viewing "Sidewalk Stories," I became aware that somehow my attention had been heightened and I was looking at the screen with more intensity than would usually be the case. Why was this? I think perhaps the silent format inspires us to participate more directly in the movie. A sound film comes to us, approaches us - indeed, it sometimes assaults us from the screen. But a silent film stays up there on the glowing wall, and we rise up to meet it. We take our imagination and join it with the imagination of the filmmaker.
That's what happened to me during "Sidewalk Stories." Another interesting thing also happened. Watching this movie photographed in New York City in 1989, I found myself being set free from a lot of my stereotypes and preconceptions about the big city by the fact that the film was silent. In a sound film, the characters usually represent themselves. In a silent film, they represent a type. They stand for others like themselves, which is one reason silent films are more universal than talkies.
In sound movies set in modern cities, for example, we are likely to assume that street people are violent, disturbed and anti-social. "Sidewalk Stories" opens with a long, elaborate tracking shot past a row of sidewalk entertainers - jugglers, pavement artists, magicians, three-card-monte shills - and because the film is silent, we do not assume that they are all clones of Travis Bickle. They seem like gentler, more universal characters, like people we would meet in a film by Chaplin. That's a strange assumption, since the movie is set in an area of present day Greenwich Village where drug dealers and other vermin are always present, and yet the silent film somehow mythologizes the characters.