UW News

December 22, 2014

Silent slapstick: UW Libraries now has streaming video of silent films

UW News

Agnes Ayers and Rulolph Valentino in the 1921 film "The Sheik," directed by George Melford. The film is one of many now accessible online through UW Libraries.

Agnes Ayers and Rudolph Valentino in the 1921 film “The Sheik,” directed by George Melford. The film is one of many now accessible online through UW Libraries.

For those who love the silent film antics of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and others, UW Libraries has something new that’s as good as a Christmas present: the Silent Film Online database.

It’s a streaming service administered by Alexander Street Press that includes more than 500 silent films, serials and shorts produced from the 1890s to the 1930s. Fritz Lang’s famous “Metropolis” is there as well as works by Mack Sennett, D.W. Griffiths (including his odd version of the Dickens Christmas tale “Cricket on the Hearth“), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and even Thomas Edison.

The movies feature some of the great players of bygone days: John and Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Clara Bow and even Rudolph Valentino in the film that sealed his fame, “The Sheik.”

Jennifer Bean, associate professor of comparative literature and head of the UW’s Cinema Studies Program, called the database “a genuinely unique resource that’s invaluable, fun — and time-consuming for anyone who gets hooked!

“It provides easy, immediate streaming access to high-quality silent era films, especially those that have been restored and distributed in recent years,” Bean said. “These films are the sort that never pop up on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Having such a database available is part of what makes the University of Washington a preeminent research environment.”

And Bean knows the subject well: A recent Seattle Times article about silent movies at Seattle’s Paramount Theater and its Mighty Wurlitzer Organ listed some of her favorites, saying she “knows more about silent films than Stephen Hawking knows about physics.”