How Were Silent Film Intertitles Used

How Were Silent Film Intertitles Used?

Watching a movie in the silent film era versus watching a movie now was certainly a different process. One might even agree that watching movies from the silent film era required a bit more focus and a lot more understanding. This is largely because early films used a mix of silent film intertitles which would narrate the key points of the film and present important dialogue to help the audience understand the action taking place on the screen.  

In fact, it’s largely understood that silent film intertitles were used as a means of delivering key details on plot to assist the audience in understanding the actions occurring on the screen.

But exactly how were these intertitles incorporated into the motion picture?

What are Silent Film Intertitles?

If you’re not sure what we’re talking about, silent film intertitles were the written texts that were placed on the screen to help the audience connect and understand the action taking place.

Silent film intertitles were sort of like subtitles in a way. They were text that would intercut the action on the screen to deliver pertinent information about the film’s plot or action to the audience.

AKA Title Cards

Also called title cards, intertitles were important because silent films often were accompanied by an orchestra.

Or some other live music performance that would fail to properly associate with the actions on the screen. Musicians often improvised performances for silent films.

And therefore failed to properly match their music to the action. This would make the film difficult to digest and fully understand for the audience unless intertitles were incorporated in.

How Were Silent Film Intertitles Used?

Because films were so difficult to follow without any true dialogue or accompanying sound, intertitles became incredibly popular.  

These short blurbs of content on the screen would help the audience to understand the narrative.

Intertitles were used to:

  • Push the story along. 
  • Provide descriptive material about the film.
  • Deliver narrative material about the film to the audience.
  • Offer character dialogue to viewers. 

Story Points

Silent film intertitles were used to narrate important story points. And present specific character dialogue or commentary on the action taking place within the story.

You could look at the silent film intertitles as being similar to narration or subtitles. Which added a lot of value to an otherwise difficult to follow silent film. 

In Summation

So, how were silent film intertitles used in early films?

The title cards would be incorporated into a film between sequences to help push the narrative along. While improving audience understanding of what is taking place on the screen.

They provided much needed narrative guidance conveying particular dialogue and offering additional insight into an otherwise silent movie of its time. 

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