Language Play: Learning Communication with Silent Films

Silence is Golden

I have always loved silent movies. My dad was a Charlie Chaplin fan and we would often go into the city to see Chaplin’s full length movies on the big screen. When I was a student in graduate school, I worked with stroke groups, many of whom depended on understanding and using gestures to communicate. I heard that other clinicians were training better communication to this population by watching sit-coms with the volume off, but I immediately thought of silent movies and jumped at the chance of using them for therapy.

Later, with better access to films, I discovered silent movies from all over the world. I had always watched comedies, but I now located silent movies that were profound with serious content. The acting was subtle, but conveyed such humanity. They were filled with rich communication. After watching them exclusively for months, I watched a contemporary movie and felt disappointed with the stiff bodies and unending dialogue of the actors (blah, blah, blah). What a loss for the world when silent movies were scrapped for “talkies.”

Then I worked with another population that needed to learn to attend and use facial expressions and body language. Since facial expressions and body language are 55% of communication, my children on the autism spectrum needed to be able to read people’s faces and gestures in order to navigate their social worlds. I told them that people can say anything but their faces and bodies are more reliable information. Out came the silent movies…

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