Silent film speed (Re: "Do Detectives Think?" question)

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: alt.comedy.laurel-hardy
Date: Friday, July 10, 1998 9:54 AM

From: "Eric Perlin" <> wrote:
>>On the liner notes to the Nostalgia Archive version of "Do
>>Detectives Think?", it says that the NA version was "slowed
>>to 20 frames per second."
>>How slow is that? What was the standard projection speed for
>>silent films of that period?

>Bobster123 responded in message
>Sound films project at 24 frames per second, and this is the speed most silent
>films end up being shown at (which is why they seem to move so fast).
>Silent speed is closer to 16 to 18 frames per second.

There was no standard speed for projecting silent movies, but there were typical speeds, and these increased during the silent era. When sound came in, 24 fps (frames per second) was typical, so it was natural that it became the fixed speed for sound film. What this means for silent films is that for a film made late in the silent era (e.g., any L&H-as-a-team picture), 24 fps should be all right.

The earliest silent films were run at very few frames per second, which is why when they are speed-corrected to a natural rate, the movements are jerky, and in-between motions seem to be missing. Increasing the fps renders the movement more natural, more fluid, but uses more film for each minute of screen time.

18 fps is a good speed for projecting a Keystone or Biograph production. 20 fps works well for the late 1910s and early 1920s. (20 fps is also easy to accomplish in video reproduction, because the 30 fps U.S. video rate, divided by the two fields per frame, means that there are 60 fields per second, which divides into 20 fps evenly.)

I don't believe 16 fps was ever a theatrical standard. 16 fps was a speed used on early home movies (where economy was king), so that's why 16 fps was a setting on home projectors.

David Hayes


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