Corrupted Texts: Silent Cinema and the Intertitle

By Kyle Westphal

Intertitle card from Queen Kelly (1929)

Film archivist and programmer Kyle Westphal has mused for the SFSFF blog before—on music and silent-era film, Magnascope, and the Nitrate Picture Show, among other things—and now takes on the intertitle.

"Titles are regarded as the blight of silent pictures, an insurmountable obstacle to full enjoyment by a modern audience," lamented Kevin Brownlow in The Parade's Gone By in 1968.

The situation has not much changed in the intervening decades. Query someone who's never seen a silent movie before, and the biggest presumed hurdle to engagement is almost always the presence of intertitles, a foreign pathogen attacking the orderly flow of the story. Follow up afterwards and "I was enjoying it so much that I almost forgot I was reading intertitles" is likewise offered as the highest praise...

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