Ho! I’m going back to where
We were youngsters.–Meet me there,
Dear old barefoot chum, and we
Will be as we used to be,–
Lawless rangers up and down
The old creek beyond the town…
–James Whitcomb Riley
Silent films arguably popped up at the perfect time. They didn’t just introduce a new art form, important as that was. They also captured a way of life that was, while alive and well in many ways, nevertheless slowly disappearing: traditional, pre-electric rural life. And it specifically captured a great deal of rural life in the U.S.A., being the birthplace of Hollywood and all. “Country folk” hijinks in short comedies and sweet “home folks” melodramas made various rural tropes familiar to audiences around the globe.
I’ve always been deeply drawn to rural-themed silent films, because small-town America is a part of me. I grew up in a house in the country with woods on one side and farmland on the other, just outside of a little town. Those wide open spaces and thick wooded ravines were my playground.
And I’ve always had a fondness for old things in general, too–those old brick buildings you see on various Main Streets, those weathered old barns in the country, the remains of old farm machinery or automobiles sitting in the corner of a cow pasture. In a way, they’ve become relics of a day gone by–and to me, happy reminders of it.
And then there’s the great, rich pop culture of the early 20th century–all the old songs and poems (many familiar since the 19th century), the literature and tall tales, the slang and various dialects. Films are certainly a major part of that pop culture and a wonderful way to explore it. Thus, I’ve decided that August will be Rural America In Film Month here on Silent-ology, taking a look at how silent films both captured and portrayed country life from back in the day.
This will be a bit different from other theme months, because I’m planning on having a number of articles that are about 50% new and 50% reposts. I’ve covered a bunch of rural-themed films in the past and can’t bear to leave them out of their perfect theme month! Plus, new readers will get to see some pieces they might not have stumbled across yet.
So please stop by often throughout the next few weeks, my friends–and I hope you enjoy!