Before I started watching silent films, I was a bad lover. Terrible, actually. I didn’t pay attention to my girlfriend’s wants or needs. I was frequently late to pick her up from work. I often tied her to train tracks in hopes that she would get run over by a speeding train. So many things, really.
And then, I started watching silent films, and it was like my whole outlook on life changed. I realized that I didn’t have to put my needs in front of hers. I didn’t need to prioritize my own enjoyment at her expense. I didn’t need to tie her to train tracks.
Now, before I go any further, I just want to be clear about something. I loved Mary Lou very much. I always have. And whenever I would criticism her outfit or tie her to train tracks, I thought I was doing it out of love. I thought I had her best interests at heart. I had no idea how it must have really felt for her. I mean, she always told me to stop twirling my mustache and tying her to train tracks, but I never really took it seriously, you know?
I didn’t even talk to most of the prostitutes at the saloon. I figured Mary Lou would appreciate that.
Then I saw my first silent film, and my whole life changed. There was this guy on the big screen who kidnapped a girl and tied her to train tracks, and even though his mustache wasn’t as big as mine, he somehow reminded me of myself. And I realized: I was acting like a total jerk. Was this really how everyone saw me?
All this time, I thought I was a good lover. I mean, I always provided for Mary Lou. We lived in a nice house. We had a nice car. And every time we needed more money, I’d just rustle up the gang and we’d go to the bank and steal large white sacks with dollar signs on the side. It was a good gig.
But watching this movie, I knew that money wasn’t going to buy happiness. I couldn’t continue this cycle. It had to stop. So I went home and told Mary Lou that I wasn’t going to tie her to train tracks anymore. I was going to start acting like the good guy from now on.
I decided to watch as many silent films as I could. I even took notes. A lot of the lessons were pretty self-explanatory: Don’t walk into quicksand, for example. Don’t tell anyone about a gold mine that you just discovered.
But there were some new lessons, too. I learned not to tie bombs to people. I learned that horse-riding was good, but stealing cattle was bad. I learned all the best ways to avoid Injuns. If Mary Lou ever got hysterical, I learned the proper way to slap her on the face. (Open-palmed, apparently.)
After three whole days of silent movie watching, I was finally ready. I snatched Mary Lou out of her bedroom and I took her to our favorite saloon. We listened to our favorite ragtime songs. We drank our favorite whiskey. I thought everything was going well, aside from a shootout that erupted halfway through, but overall things were fine. On a scale of one to ten, this was about an eight. I didn’t even talk to most of the prostitutes there. I figured Mary Lou would appreciate that.
But then some guy in a white hat swooped in and took her away from me. I had seen this guy before. He was like a sheriff or something, but I didn’t really know him socially.
Anyway, I chased after them. Long story short, we had this big old shootout and a bunch of my henchmen died. Somehow, none of his friends got hurt. When I finally got close enough to them, I saw that Mary Lou and this sheriff were making out. Like, hardcore.
I was so mad. Why would she choose this guy over me? I was trying to be a better boyfriend, after all. I had just complimented her on her hair. And I hadn’t shot any elderly farmers in hours. Couldn’t she see that I had turned a new leaf?
I knew there wasn’t anything I could say to make the situation less embarrassing. So I just walked home. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. I had lost the girl, but I had learned to be a better lover. The next time I kidnap a rancher’s daughter, I’ll know how to treat her right.
Evan is a contributing writer for Silent Film Archives, a brand new database for everything you'd want to know about the early days of Hollywood. Train tracks not included.