Why Early Silent Films are Meant for YouTube (or Vice Versa)

This gif never gets old. Image: Tech Noir

We (as in, yours truly) strive to be a Productive Member of Society. We volunteer and recycle, and we try not to block the aisle in the grocery store.

But we do have some unproductive habits, such as being Greatly Distracted by short videos on YouTube.

We’re powerless against these things! A bulldozer runs over a car, a raccoon steals dog food, a man drops a birthday cake – doesn’t matter. Sign us up for more!

We suspect we aren’t alone. How many times have you researched something on YouTube, only to find yourself, an hour later, watching penguin videos?

So when Fritzi at Movies Silently issued a Silent Movie Challenge, we saw our chance to exploit our YouTube habits and look like a film advocate at the same time! Brilliant!

Those crazy silent film folk! Image: gfycat

In our opinion, some of the earliest films are perfect for our media-savvy age. Just like many viral videos today, these films are short and clever.

We invite you to take a look at the films below. We’ll wager they’re just as amusing as anything you’ve seen lately on social media.

(All clips below are from YouTube, naturally.)

Challenge #1: Watch 5 Films Made In or Before 1905

Fritzi’s Silent Movie Challenge is a two-parter. The first challenge is to watch five films made in or before 1905. Those were the heady pioneer days of filmmaking; folks Wrote The Playbook as they Went Along.

We chose five offbeat films, and each one runs less than a minute. Our picks include a bizarre animal procession and boxing cats. Boxing cats!

Seriously, this stuff is prime gif-making material.

Serpentinen Tanz (1895), Max Skladanowsky

The Boxing Cats (Prof Welton’s) (1894), William K.L. Dickson and William Heise

The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1896), Lumière Brothers

The Cabbage Fairy (1896), Alice Guy Blaché

Promenade of Ostriches, Paris Botanical Gardens (1895), Lumière Brothers

Challenge #2: Watch 5 Films Made Between 1906 and 1914

The second part of the challenge is to watch five films made between 1906 and 1914.

We’ve chosen five comedies for you: The first three run less than 10 minutes each, and the last two are about 12 minutes long. These are one-reel films.

Smarty Pants Tip: A reel holds about 1,000 feet of film, which runs about 10-12 minutes. In the Silent Era, films were often shown at 16 frames per second (fps). When sound film was introduced, 24 fps became the standard. (Some films nowadays are experimenting with higher frame rates, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

We digress. Please enjoy the films below, which feature some of the biggest names in comedy Back In The Day.

(Note: Some of these films have Dutch and French intertitles, but we think you’ll get the gist.)

The Hand Bag (1912) starring Flora Finch

Le Chapeau de Max (Max’s Hat) (1913) starring Max Linder

The Glue (1907) directed by Alice Guy Blaché

Fatty Joins the Force (1913) starring Roscoe Arbuckle and the Keystone Cops

Mabel’s Busy Day (1914) starring Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin

Looking for more resources on silent film? Check out Century Film Project and, of course, Fritzi’s site, Movies Silently.

But let us not forget YouTube. In its way, it is a champion of the Silent Era.



  1. I’m so surprised other film buffs don’t sing the praises of YouTube! You never know what rare movie will pop up on it. Oh, and the sprinkler short was inspirational…I need to try that on my neighbor!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did the challenge as well, and I was dying to include something with Flora Finch – well, now I know where to find her! Thanks!
    Indeed, YouTube is perfect for those short films that are also part of a film education – not those “uneducational” videos without proper research that do more harm than good. It’s wonderful when old and new media can walk hand by hand!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Ruth,

    It looks like you had a lot of fun participating in this challenge. You wrote a very nice article about it, and you discovered some very entertaining and amusing silent films. Fritzi thought of a very innovative challenge. Although I wasn’t able to participate, I heard about it.

    By the way, I would like to give you another challenge by inviting you to join an event I am hosting on my website, #CleanMovieMonth: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/july-is-cleanmoviemonth. Starting on July 1st, it’s a month long celebration of Code films and clean entertainment. All you have to do is watch movies from the greater Breen Era exclusively. Then, in the beginning of August, you can write an article about your thoughts on the experiment. It shouldn’t be hard for you, since I know how much you love old movies. Even if you think you’ll be too busy to write any articles for this event, I would be very grateful if you would read my announcement and consider reposting it on your website. Your articles get so much more traffic than mine do, and I could really use the publicity.

    Thank you for all your help and kindness, Ruth. I’m enjoying reading your book!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan


  4. I got my ‘boxing cats’ fix today thanks to your post 🙂 YouTube is a treasure trove and I’ve seen a bunch of Chaplin shorts that way. Though I do approach the site with caution as not easy to know what are the official and fan-made cuts. In the case of Htchcock’s The Lodger (1927) I got the dvd from the library to be sure of the correct running time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this blog. It’s the first I found and chose to follow. Old movies are so enchanting. I’m also a fan of the early musicals and the wonderful June Haver, Ray Bolger and all their contemporaries. Thanks for sharing these clips. I look forward to following!

    Liked by 1 person

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