Let’s Watch a Silent Film by Barbara Ardinger

Let’s go back 100 years today and watch a silent movie. As you may know, most silent films had orchestral accompaniment. While you’re reading this, therefore, you can be the orchestra. Hum along as you read. Selections from Wagner (like the Ring Cycle) would probably be best unless you want to dive deep into irony, in which case you can hum selections from Gilbert and Sullivan.

The film begins. It’s a dark and stormy night. The ocean is crashing against a narrow beach overlooked by steep cliffs. There is a deep, dark forest nearby. Out of the forest comes a small figure bearing a large burden upon its back. As the figure comes forward, we see a curly-haired young girl wearing ragged clothing.

Intertitle: O me, O my. I seem to be carrying the burdens of the world upon my back. I am so weary!

Our heroine looks out at the ocean and sees something approaching. It’s a Leviathan! It’s coming closer! Suddenly its great mouth opens. There’s something on its lip. It’s a boy. As the boy leaps toward the shore, we see it’s not a Real Boy. It’s a marionette, and the strings are all broken and trailing.

Intertitle: Save Me! O please save me. I have nowhere to go.

O yes, my boy, come to me and I will save you. You can accompany me as I carry the burdens of the world. As you help the world, you will become a Real Boy.

The girl sets down her burden and fans herself to show her exhaustion. The boy examines the ragged sack and opens it. A globe rolls out. He speaks to the ragged girl.

Intertitle: You are indeed carrying the burdens of the world. Why, you are carrying the world itself!

As the girl and the boy study the globe, rolling it forward and backward, they do not see what else is emerging for the forest. They do not see the line of men (and a few women) wearing business suits and official badges that say nothing. This line is following their leader, a huge man who is shouting and gesticulating. [Fortunately, this being a silent movie, we cannot hear the words he is shouting.] As the leader keeping shouting, the line behind him approaches the two children and the globe. The children seem not to see or hear them. Now the leader faces us directly.

Intertitle: We will take these helpless children under our control. We will take the world under our control. It will be ours to do with as we please.

At last, the children see the people, who begin forming a circle around their leader. As the music changes, they link arms and form a kick line [picture the Rockettes] around him. He now seems to be conducting an orchestra. They dance around the leader, obeying his every gesture.

The children cannot help but stare. They begin to back away, but they cannot leave the globe behind.

Intertitle: O me, O my! What can we do? These angry grownups are going to surround us! What will they do to us?

The men and women in their business suits continue to dance in a circle around the leader. [Yes, members of a circular kick line will end up kicking each other.] The leader speaks again:

Intertitle: I am still in charge! I am still the leader of the world! I hold all power and all wealth. I never lie or cheat or steal. If you want to be powerful and wealthy, Come Unto Me.

The people are still dancing around him, but as the scene goes on, they begin to fade. They fade out of their business suits, and soon the kick line is nothing but empty suits dancing in unison. The leader is still shouting and conducting. The suits begin singing.

Intertitle: Hooray, hooray, hooray. We have found our leader. We love him and bow down before him. We will seize the world together. We are the best the best the best the best the best.

The two children are very frightened. First, they try to hide behind the globe. But the circular kick line is now moving toward them The boy picks up the ragged sack and peers inside. Songbirds fly out. Small animals creep out. Larger animals stalk out. The suits are still dancing. They are unaware of the life moving inside the circle. They pay no attention to anything but themselves and their leader.

Suddenly more children begin to appear, more and more children, skipping and leaping out of the forest, rowing up to the beach in little rowboats, sliding on strong ropes down the cliffs. They gather on the beach. Although they are wearing the helmets of the famous Kops, they are not running around like crazy people. These children move purposefully.

Intertitle: We Are the Children of the World! We Are The Future!

The children of the world form their own circle around the leader. They leap upon him and knock him down. Several of them sit on him to keep him down. Others form their own circle around the circle of dancing suits. They step forward until they are upon the suits, whereupon the suits stop dancing. They sink, they expire, and soon they are lying empty and flat on the ground.

And now—shades of Georges Méliès—a rocket appears above the cliffs. It descends and lands on the beach. A door opens in its base. The children pick up the empty suits and stuff them into the rocket. Now appear what look like ghosts, which are actually the former inhabitants of the suits. Without hesitation, the children of the world herd the ghosts into the rocket. Finally, the children of the world pick up the leader, who is still talking and gesticulating, and stuff him into the rocket. They slam the door shut and padlock it.

A Moon with a face appears above the cliffs. The rocket begins to rise toward it. But the rocket does not strike this Moon in the eye. This Moon’s mouth is wide open. The rocket flies into the open mouth, which slams shut. We see the movements of chewing.

Now the children are dancing with the birds and other animals around the globe, which is pulsing with life.

Final intertitle: We children are smart. We know how to save the world. A new day begins now!

Note: If you want to see the earliest silent films, watch Hugo (2011, directed by Martin Scorsese), with Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès.

BIO: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Secret Lives, a novel about crones and other magical folks, Pagan Every Day, a unique daybook of daily meditations, and other books. She really enjoys writing her monthly blogs for FAR. Her work has also been published in devotionals to Isis, Athena, and Brigid. Barbara’s day job is freelance editing for people who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. To date, she has edited more than 400 books, both fiction and nonfiction, on a wide range of topics. She lives in Long Beach, California, with her rescued calico cat, Schroedinger.

Author: Barbara Ardinger

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

5 thoughts on “Let’s Watch a Silent Film by Barbara Ardinger”

  1. Wow! I love your imagination and this story, and it such a perfect metaphor for so much of what is wrong and so much of what is happening to make it right. I especially love the birds and animals joining the children, the Earth working with us to undo what we have done. Brava!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh the image of those empty suits Barbara – they conjure up the absurdity we are living through – it’s a relief not to rage or weep – even if temporary! You are such a fantastic storyteller! Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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