Ben Model is one of the top musical accompanist for silent films. He is intimately familiar with silent film timing, and the technique of “undercranking”. For those who don’t know, early movie cameras were hand cranked by skilled camera men. The speed of cranking could also be manipulated to change the effect of the motion. Movie projectors were mechanically timed to be as consistent as possible. By cranking the camera more slowly, undercranking, the resulting playback gave us the sped up quality we are familiar with in silent comedy. It’s like appying a time warp to an animation curve, but done live on the set.
Mr. Model has taken some clips of silent comedy and slowed them down to approximate real time. It reveals interesting things. Not only does speeding up the motion make it funnier, it allows the actors to move more carefully. Chaplin would create precise choreography of the actions, and they could intentionally do them at a slower pace to get it correct. When sped up, it makes Chaplin look even more skilled because he was doing amazing things very fast. Here is a great example:
And here is another quick example of an actor, Harold Lloyd, properly doing some dance steps, which get speeded up to produce a more super human effect.
This reminded me of something from animation. When I worked in the commercial department of Industrial Light & Magic, the supervisor would occasionally ask to see a take played back faster, say 36 fps rather then 30. It often resulted in motion that was more fun. It was then easy for the animator to go back into the scene and select the keys, and scale the timing to match the exact percentage the supervisor had requested. Changing the speed of your playback is a very quick way to test out new timing.
Ben Model has a youtube channel with several more examples:
His own web site is: