You might be following Puppy Twitter, Weird Twitter, or Cupcake Twitter, but are you following Silent Movie Twitter?
If not, you might be missing one of its best accounts, @silentmoviegifs. Created in January 2016 by Don McHoull (@dmchoull), @silentmoviegifs is literally what it says it is: GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) of visually compelling or hilarious moments from the earliest days of film. These GIFs include everything from stop-motion animation, to the earliest camera tricks of Hollywood’s first cinematographers, to epic stunts by Buster Keaton and sleights-of-hand by Charlie Chaplin.
McHoull first got the idea of making these GIFs available to the wider internet after seeing a trending GIF on Reddit from The Bellboy, featuring Buster Keaton cleaning a nonexistent window. McHoull, a film buff, was excited to see a century-old comedy still attracting millions of views, but was dismayed at the poor image quality of the GIF.
Since he possessed a Blu-ray set of high-quality Buster Keaton short films, and Photoshop, McHoull took it upon himself to provide the internet with better-looking GIFs from the Silent Era. After all, the two types of media are a match made in heaven: “Silent movies translate really easily into GIFs,” McHoull told NYFA, “because the jokes and the ideas being expressed are all being done a purely visual way.” He made sure to add, “Not to discount the role of music in the silent cinema experience.”
McHoull quickly found an online audience eager to see highlights from the Silent Era they may have otherwise never thought to seek out. As of June 2018, @silentmoviegifs has nearly 60,000 followers, including Guillermo del Toro, Rian Johnson, Natasha Lyonne, Taika Waititi, Edgar Wright, Patton Oswalt, Seth Rogen, and Neil Patrick Harris.
He continues to source his GIFs from Blu-rays and DVDs, proving that the preservation and restoration of older film is essential to remembering the art form in its very beginnings. He uses YouTube and other lower-res sources if he must, but adds that Toronto’s video stores are a “secret weapon” of his.
“In particular one, Bay Street Video, has a very good selection of silent films for rent,” McHoull revealed. “Video stores and silent films are both things that a lot of people would regard as obsolete, but for me at least they still offer something that their supposed replacements don’t.”
Not all of his GIFs are straight clips from silent films. McHoull will also take the time to painstakingly create supercuts of particular actors or genres. One of his latest projects includes a supercut of elaborate train stunts from the Silent Era, before CGI and other special effects could really be used to simulate such sequences. When asked if he had a favorite GIF, McHoull told us it was difficult to say, but named one of his most time-consuming supercuts — an evolution of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character.
Starting with McHoull’s Evolution of the Tramp then, here is just a small sample of some of our favorite GIFs from @silentmoviegifs:
The evolution of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, from 1914 to 1936 pic.twitter.com/KXXVeG21GU
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) April 16, 2017
Buster Keaton’s film-making philosophy: “I always want the audience to out-guess me, and then I double-cross them.”
(One Week 1920) pic.twitter.com/OdIcKuPlVi
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) July 15, 2018
Clara Bow in Wings (1927) pic.twitter.com/lFGqxiRudi
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) June 6, 2018
Louise Brooks in Diary of a Lost Girl (1929)
Directed by G. W. Pabst pic.twitter.com/EsTwXKoJ3n
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) April 14, 2017
Willis O’Brien’s work on The Lost World (1925) was a breakthrough for stop motion animation, and helped lay the groundwork for King Kong pic.twitter.com/ACzF6OKyPI
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) March 6, 2017
Charley Chase in Accidental Accidents (1924)
Only a fragment of this film survives, the rest is lost pic.twitter.com/v94RxUYNec
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) December 9, 2017
Laurel & Hardy
“Chaplin wasn’t the funniest. I wasn’t the funniest. Stan Laurel was the funniest.” Buster Keaton on Stan Laurel, who was born 128 years ago today pic.twitter.com/OA177EDZBf
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) June 16, 2018
Gloria Swanson riding on a crowded subway in Manhandled (1924) pic.twitter.com/znc6pLbjyf
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) April 13, 2018
Mary Pickford kisses herself in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921)
One of the most technically impressive double-exposure shots of the silent era pic.twitter.com/lG0nTF861g
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) January 5, 2017
Charley Bowers’s Now You Tell One (1926) pic.twitter.com/9rqeXSsCuh
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) June 7, 2018
40 years before Apollo 11, Fritz Lang offered a vision of what launching a moon rocket might look like in Frau im Mond (1929) pic.twitter.com/zytQIvr39f
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) February 8, 2018
Dorothy & Lillian Gish
Lillian and Dorothy Gish in Orphans of the Storm (1921) pic.twitter.com/ytCMqZZAcL
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) July 3, 2018
Here’s a 123-year-old home movie: Cinema pioneer Auguste Lumière with his wife Marie and daughter Joséphine in 1895 pic.twitter.com/HiGTykHLNF
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) May 14, 2018
Born June 13, 1879: director, producer and screenwriter Lois Weber
(Suspense 1913) pic.twitter.com/vyO7jAGWH0
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) June 13, 2018
Sessue Hayakawa, the first actor of Asian descent to become a major film star in the United States, was born 132 years ago today
(The Dragon Painter 1919) pic.twitter.com/qRlZyWr0F4
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) June 10, 2018
Greta Garbo rolling her eyes seems like a GIF with a lot of possible applications
(The Temptress 1926) pic.twitter.com/5FqPAjPZu3
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) January 16, 2018
Harold Lloyd pretending to be a reflection in The Marathon (1919) pic.twitter.com/6WSkuoottd
— Silent Movie GIFs (@silentmoviegifs) January 8, 2017
These are just a few gems from @silentmoviegifs. NYFA encourages everyone to check out the account for the rest. McHoull is the first to tell you he isn’t in this for fame and fortune, and recommends other Twitter accounts to silent movie buffs as well, including @MoviesSilently and @silentlondon.
He’d also tell you not to limit yourself to Twitter, recommending YouTube as a great source for silent movies, as well as Imgur and Reddit (including his own subreddit), telling NYFA that when it comes to GIFs, they have several technical advantages over Twitter.
Watching the earliest movies put to film is a great way to study and learn the art of cinema, and any serious film student should consume as many silent films as they can, however they can. And the next time you’re in Toronto, maybe rent a few from Bay Street Video.