For the first few decades of movie making, there was no sound. Instead, a piano would be played in the cinema to act as the film’s score. It was during this period of the late 19th and early 20th century that most of modern cinematographic techniques were invented.
Comedy became the most popular genre at this time. French actor Max Linder became an early pioneer who greatly influenced Charlie Chaplin. Buster Keaton mixed slapstick comedy with daredevil stunts.
Epic movies were also exceedingly popular. D.W. Griffith was at the forefront of this genre. His film Intolerance (1916) featured at that time the largest set ever built. This director is most well known for the controversial civil war film, The Birth of a Nation. It has some of the most beautiful sequences and impressive techniques of any silent film. However, the racist content had serious repercussions for the country, which included reinvigorating the Klu Klux Klan.
Sadly most of the films of the silent era are now lost forever. It is estimated that as much as 90% of films made before the year 1930 are gone forever. This is due to the fact studios intentionally destroyed them because they were not considered to be lucrative. Fires also greatly contributed to this loss.
However, there is still a number that does survive. These films show the great artistic and historical value that the silent era had. They have greatly influenced the look of future movies of multiple genres. Metropolis was the forerunner to the science fiction films of today. Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari were creepy German horror movies that are very important to the look of this genre. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans remains one of the best romantic works that the Hollywood studio system has ever produced.