No Audio Required
January 30, 2013 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend movies that view coherently with the sound off. The example that I offer is 'Cast Away,' which, even during the book-ends of its series of scenes that have dialogue, every last minute point of film's exposition is conveyed through blocking, apparent emotions, and, obviously, action.

I have multiple reasons for this, and have set to determining which other movies in my collection fit this description, but I am interested in contributions from the hive, especially since I can test your contributions (films that are new to me) directly, by actually watching it without sound myself.

Among my reasons for getting a list like this together:
-potential material for settings with music on (e.g. a party, where 1 or more guests are interested in following a film rather than socializing; during a recording session)
-as a teaching tool for story structure
-as a candidate for a 'Dark Side Of The Rainbow' sort of pairing (or matching w/ audio for another film)
-as a candidate for a live MST3k experience
-neurotic curiosity
posted by herbplarfegan to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The Artist or any other silent movie
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:27 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Answers that are films without dialogue in the first place are OK, but I strongly favor ones with the sufficiently-short leap required when specifically imposing the no-dialogue constraint where dialogue is present.

Also, it might go without saying, but English will be the first language of most viewers in question (and now that I think of it, the language by definition would not contribute to your answer), but films in any language are abundantly welcome.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:28 PM on January 30, 2013

The original (only) Star Wars trilogy.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:28 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: Schumacher's Batman and Robin is not only coherent with the sound off, it is only coherent with the sound off.
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I guess you're not interested in actual silent films, right?
I'd say just about any golden era Western holds up--Stagecoach, Red River, and here's a list from
posted by Ideefixe at 1:30 PM on January 30, 2013

My Dinner with André. KIDDING

Brokeback Mountain.
posted by Melismata at 1:30 PM on January 30, 2013

Best answer: Hero.
posted by elizardbits at 1:37 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This can probably be done with anything that's reasonably well-shot. Film is a visual language, so most directors rely heavily on blocking, expression, framing, set, costumes, and other visual means to convey the overall story or intention.

Your technique is a great way to appreciate cinema. Try it with The Godfather movies.
posted by suprenant at 1:37 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not sure if it's what you have in mind, but non-narrative films like the Qatsi movies, Baraka and Samsara might meet at least some of your qualifications.

Also, maybe nature documentary-leaning stuff like Winged Migration or Sweetgrass.
posted by box at 1:39 PM on January 30, 2013

I first saw Trainspotting on a monitor in a club. Every shot looked gorgeous.
posted by Leon at 1:40 PM on January 30, 2013

It's a shame to miss the music, but 2001: A Space Odyssey is just as comprehensible without the sound.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 1:40 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I managed to inadvertently watch Jim Carrey's "Mask" on an airplane once with no sound. I didn't purchase the headphones, but I was able to follow the whole story surprisingly easily with no real effort on my part.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:41 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would bet that a lot of movie musicals would fall under this category. The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz come to mind.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:41 PM on January 30, 2013

3-Iron is a Korean film with very little dialog between the two main characters. Other characters in the film do talk so you would miss out on some dialog but you would be able to understand all of the key scenes. It's a slow drama and you probably need to watch the whole thing for any of it to make sense, so a lot of the scenarios you listed probably wouldn't make sense. I think it would be a perfect choice if you were going to watch a foreign-language film with sound but without subtitles though.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:42 PM on January 30, 2013

Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot movies.
posted by brujita at 1:43 PM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have had a theory that Wall-E would be perfectly understandable without sound. Have not tested it yet, though.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:45 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Enter The Void and Stranger Than Paradise might fit the bill. They're both more about mood than plot.

Any of Roberto Benigni's pre-Life Is Beautiful films, too.
posted by doublesix at 1:47 PM on January 30, 2013

I bet the movie Duel, Spielberg's first film, would work.
posted by bondcliff at 1:48 PM on January 30, 2013

I actually think this would apply to a lot of movies? Like, I saw Real Steel with no sound on a plane and I can't imagine that it would've been better with dialogue added. Like, not every movie, or every Hollywood movie, or every genre movie, but many, many action movies and Westerns.
posted by SoftRain at 1:49 PM on January 30, 2013

The Red Balloon.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:01 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, I'll offer one back myself: Rubber.
posted by herbplarfegan at 2:09 PM on January 30, 2013

Mommy Dearest.
posted by Addlepated at 2:14 PM on January 30, 2013

Ryûhei Kitamura's Versus
posted by griphus at 2:25 PM on January 30, 2013

Pretty much any general-audience animated film is designed like this. Bambi, Little Mermaid, etc etc.

Black Stallion is my default answer to any movie question and especially appropriate for this one.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:30 PM on January 30, 2013

Seven Samurai.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2013

Triplets of Bellville lacks dialog.

When I was growing up, my grandmother would watch movies with us and could keep up just fine. The twist? She didn't speak any English. So like others, I suspect most movies would be far more watchable then you think.
posted by advicepig at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2013

Aria, which has no dialog (but an opera score).
Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, for obvious reasons.
Any 3 Stooges movie, and most other slapstick comedies of that era.
Microcosmos, a French film about nature at the insect-level. It can be viewed as a series of 10 to 30-second vignettes. (In fact, it contains one spoken sentence, which I think is unnecessary and jarring.)
posted by IAmBroom at 2:52 PM on January 30, 2013

2nding Hero. Sin City maybe?
posted by catatethebird at 2:54 PM on January 30, 2013

Chris Marker's La Jetée would be really interesting without sound. I think a lot of the strange, dreamlike quality of Russian Ark would survive without the narration. And how about Let the Right One In?

(I would like to add that it would be kind of a shame to watch the aforementioned Red River without the dialog, if only because of the one awesome line in this scene.)
posted by bcwinters at 3:01 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I have been to two parties where something like this was actually done, so I will attest that both Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls are fascinating without the audio.
posted by bcwinters at 3:07 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I saw Enter the Dragon without sound (or subtitles) and feel like not only did I totally grok the movie, but it was probably better without.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:14 PM on January 30, 2013

John Carpenter's The Thing
I discovered this twenty years ago, and still prefer it with a soundtrack of my own choosing.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:22 PM on January 30, 2013

The Warriors!
posted by blue t-shirt at 3:32 PM on January 30, 2013

Tarkovsky's Solaris would probably fit the bill, as it's very economical with dialogue, and in Russian all the same. However, that movie isn't everyone's idea of coherent even with sound and subtitles, and perhaps even with a copy of Stanislaw Lem's original novel.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:38 PM on January 30, 2013

I've never tried it without the sound, but I imagine Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon would work decently well (and yes, I know it's subtitled but even with the subtitles off it would still work).
posted by Vorteks at 3:42 PM on January 30, 2013

I'd also lay odds that Rear Window and Psycho would work a treat. There's an artwork called "24 Hour Psycho" which is what it sounds like-- slow the movie down from 109 minutes to 24 hours. Each second of Psycho is stretched out to almost 2 minutes in length; each frame getting about 5 seconds. The soundtrack is removed because it would be either uncomfortable, incomprehensible, or both.

Other Hitchcock: possibly Vertigo. The Birds... maybe. But I think Hitchcock would be a deep vein for this, even though I can think of some others that wouldn't work, such as Rope and The Lady Vanishes.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:47 PM on January 30, 2013

Home Alone
posted by trialex at 4:03 PM on January 30, 2013

Blow Up works surprisingly well as a silent film.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend and I did this one afternoon years ago with Das Boot as the film and Ageatis Byrjun by Sigur Ros on repeat as the soundtrack.

It was quite extraordinary however I can't say that we were in an entirely normal frame of mind at the time.
posted by deadwax at 4:34 PM on January 30, 2013

You can follow Run Lola Run without subtitles, so I imagine it'd still work without audio.

Le Bal is worth a mention, however it's a film without dialogue.
posted by zinon at 5:08 PM on January 30, 2013

Superman: The Movie 1978. I know through experience.

The screenplay itself is wonderful, but when you remove all the words and Williams' spectacular score, It becomes a different movie.

Brando comes alive. He fills the screen.

Zod yelling is so much scarier.

The romance is sexier (thanks to losing the only bad thing about the movie, Margot Kidder's voice over of the love theme)

Christopher Reeve's total manipulation of his face based on which alter ego is needed is so much more prevalent and meaningful. Not to mention his grief at the (near) tragedy at the end).

Watching Gene Hackman go from silly/bad to angry/evil is breathtaking.

Seriously, give it a shot, you'll love it!

posted by sandra_s at 5:15 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless without sound or subtitles the first time I saw it.
posted by dgeiser13 at 5:35 PM on January 30, 2013

Russ Meyer movies are great for this, 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' and 'Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!' in particular.

You have to like boobies to fully appreciate these film, however...
posted by goo at 7:06 PM on January 30, 2013

The first couple of times I watched Akira were without subtitles. Later on I saw it subtitled and it didn't make much more sense. One of the most visually interesting movies ever made, IMHO.
posted by Loudmax at 7:52 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by bongo_x at 10:11 PM on January 30, 2013

The Weeping Camel
posted by Trivia Newton John at 11:05 PM on January 30, 2013

I don't know if it would work without the sound, but the first time that I saw Spirited Away it was in Japanese and there were no subtitles. I do not speak any Japanese. I loved it. (Same Director as Nausicaa recommended above).

That said, I had sound (tone of voice, effects, etc) as a guide, and someone passing occasional plot points (That's the first old woman's sister, etc) down as clues.
posted by jb at 7:37 AM on January 31, 2013

Gerry by Gus Van Sant: Matt Damon and Casey Affleck get lost in a desert. Next to no dialogue.
posted by mahorn at 6:03 PM on January 31, 2013

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