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Lecture Library

Approaches to Visual Storytelling
by Danny Baldwin

A collection of clips that showcase several of the ways in which filmmakers have historically used moving images alone, rather than dialogue, to convey important narrative information.

The following film clips all showcase different ways in which filmmakers have conveyed narrative information through film style and form, rather than by using dialogue. All of the clips feature no dialogue (denoted by the tag "completely wordless") or very minimal dialogue, but nonetheless convey important information about story, character, and/or setting. The clips are intended to showcase a wide range of eras, styles, nations, and philosophies of filmmaking. Compiled for Stu Pollard's Production I (CTPR 507) filmmaking course at the University of Southern California, in which students are required to produce a five-minute dialogue-free short film for their first assignment.

28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002) — Wandering London by Danny Boyle (2002) Cillian Murphy's Jim can't find another soul on the streets of London after he awakens in his hospital bed.
American in Paris, An (Minnelli, 1951) — Wordless Finale by Vincente Minnelli (1951) The wordless reunion of lovers following the spectacular dance finale in "An American in Paris."
Amour (Haneke, 2012) — Georges Smothers Anne, Then Copes by Michael Haneke (2012) After he mercy kills his wife, Georges paternally cradles the bird who annoyed him throughout the rest of "Amour."
Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) — Unicorn Dream by Ridley Scott (1982) Deckard's full unicorn dream did not make it into the theatrical cut of "Blade Runner," but it is one of the distinguishing elements of "The Final Cut."
City Lights (Chaplin, 1931) — I See You At Last by Charles Chaplin (1931) The Blind Girl can see The Tramp for the first time.
Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, The (Leone, 1966) — The Ecstasy of Gold by Sergio Leone (1966) The chaotic search for Arch Stanton, accompanied by Ennio Morricone's iconic "The Ecstasy of Gold," in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly."
Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai, 2003) — Life in the Cinema Space by Tsai Ming-liang (2003) A cinema manager walks the halls and caverns of the decaying palace on the eve of its closure.
Great Escape, The (J. Sturges, 1963) — He's Blind by John Sturges (1963) The Forger (Donald Pleasance) comes to terms with his blindness in "The Great Escape."
Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) — Slow Death by Steve McQueen (2008) The physical toll of Bobby Sands' (Michael Fassbender's) hunger strike is captured in "Hunger."
It Follows (Mitchell, 2014) — The Pool by David Robert Mitchell (2014) Protagonist Jay Height (Maika Monroe) confronts the lethal supernatural presence of "It Follows."
Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962) — Torture by David Lean (1962) T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is tortured by his captors.
Lord of War (Niccol, 2005) — Voyage of a Bullet by Andrew Niccol (2005) A bullet is manufactured and exported in the opening title sequence of "Lord of War."
M (Lang, 1931) — Whistle While You Prey by Fritz Lang (1931) Peter Lorre's child murderer Hans Beckert zeroes in on a potential target in "M."
Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945) — Thwarted Suicide by Michael Curtiz (1945) Mildred's (Joan Crawford's) suicide is thwarted by an onlooking policeman.
Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone, 1968) — The Harmonica Reveal by Sergio Leone (1968) The mystery behind Charles Bronson's Harmonica Man is climactically revealed in "Once Upon a Time in the West."
Philadelphia Story, The (Cukor, 1940) — Wordless Opening by George Cukor (1940) The opening scene of "The Philadelphia Story" pays homage to silent comedy, functioning as a prologue and telling us so much about the characters without any words at all.
Rosemary's Baby (Polanski, 1968) — The Knife by Roman Polanski (1968) This sequence near the very end of "Rosemary's Baby" is a classic exercise in tension-building.
Samouraï, Le (Melville, 1967) — Wordless Opening by Jean-Pierre Melville (1967) Nary a word is spoken in the opening 15 minutes of Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samouraiï."
Searchers, The (Ford, 1956) — Final Shot by John Ford (1956) The iconic final shot of John Ford's "The Searchers."
Shining, The (Kubrick, 1980) — Hiding from Jack by Stanley Kubrick (1980) An extended wordless passage of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) on his murderous third-act rampage in "The Shining."
Shining, The (Kubrick, 1980) — Danny First Sees the Twins by Stanley Kubrick (1980) One of the most iconic visual motifs of terror at the Overlook Hotel.
Sullivan's Travels (P. Sturges, 1941) — Brushes with Poverty by Preston Sturges (1941) John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) learns what poverty is really like.
Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958) — Opening Tracking Shot by Orson Welles (1958) The iconic opening tracking shot from Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil."
Upstream Color (Carruth, 2013) — The Pigs by Shane Carruth (2013) Kris (Amy Seimetz) finds peace at the end of "Upstream Color," when many of the film's narrative puzzle pieces are put together.
Upstream Color (Carruth, 2013) — The Sampler by Shane Carruth (2013) The Sampler character is introduced in "Upstream Color."
WALL-E (Stanton, 2008) — Introduction and Meeting EVE by Andrew Stanton (2008) WALL-E's programmatic existence is turned upside down by his first encounter with EVE.