So, ya. This will be exciting to exactly one person in the world. I have dug through Film Daily for years looking for anything on Ralph Spence, I never thought I would find anything else. Three seconds of searching on a new online archive and this appears. Incredible. Spence was a "human insurance policy" because he took crappy movies, re-edited them, and then re-released them so the studios could make a profit. Typically he just added different words. He marketed himself as a "film doctor."
I am not at all sure how I got this. My best guess is that it comes from a 1920-ish version of The Passion Play (judging from some other images I have that look similar). I kept it because of how well the tone of the text matches the eyes of the character in the next frame. It is unclear here whether this is the character that is saying this or if this is the character that is going to die.
Fritizi from moviessilently.com posts several titles from Haunted Spooks, a Hal Roach film from 1920. They were written by Beanie Walker, one of the
In silents, the phrase "came the dawn" serves as a fancy way of signifying that it is now morning. "It is now morning" certainly seems a little lackluster by comparison. Despite all claims that it was the most famous title card ever (even Alfred Hitchcock says so), I have never seen it appear in an actual movie.
British film director Cecil Hepworth wrote an autobiography entitled Came the Dawn. In it, he gives advice that was common in the silent period - don't include too much text in movies. Let the images tell the story. Specifically, he says never to use the phrase "came the dawn."
From a 1924 issue of Life. Even by then the phrase seems to have become a cliche.
Liberty Magazine makes this claim in a 1927 article. Clawson wrote dozens of screenplays - so it may be true - but he is never credited with writing a title card.
You cannot beat the Little Rascals for biting social commentary. Hal Roach also made Came the Yawn in 1928.
A quick google search mostly points to this comic by Wallace Wood and Al Feldstein. It is sort of a precursor to Sin City. The phrase appears in other odd areas as well, including this Marvin Gaye song and in the name of this emo screamcore band. In some contexts, it appears to signify "and then it dawned on me," or "there is always tomorrow." In other contexts (such as the comic above), it suggests that life goes on, even if that life is horrible.
The term "poetry" is often used metaphorically to describe silent movies. However, actual poems in silent movies appear pretty rarely. One explanation comes from Jack Natteford, a title writer who printed this in a 1923 New York Times article:
The titling of the first series of animated cartoon drawings fell to me. The drawings impressed the office staff as being genuinely amusing, as well as novel, therefore I determined to be a bit novel myself. But how? Perhaps verse would do -- something bright and topical to give continuity to the action in the drawings. I wrote some doggerel, and all of us, including the creator of the cartoons, agreed that it ought to go big.
On the night my verses had their premiére I was among those standing three rows deep in the rear of the crowded orchestra floor. Surely a fine audience on which to test the novelty. My emotions must have been akin to a playwright about to see the curtain rise on his new play. I was prepared to experience a real kick when the audience laughed. But it didn't laugh -- at least not at my verses. They flopped with such convincing finality that I never again departed from the straight and narrow path of prose in writing titles.
From D.W. Griffith's 1910 movie The Unchanging Sea. It uses "The Three Fishers" by Charles Kingsley.
From an animated 1915 short called Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat. See it in its full absurdity here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_NNIwpWf9g
From Rudyard Kipling's "The Vampire," which appears in the 1915 Theda Bara film A Fool There Was.
The movie In Youth, Beside The Lonely Sea (1925) uses a Thomas Bailey Aldrich poem by the same name. However what really makes this movie incredible is its innovative use of a triptych.
There is a lot of say about Booth's 1901 version of A Christmas Carol. First, very few titles integrated motion - especially this early. However, if you watch carefully, you will see a ghost sail behind the text. It is surprisingly spooky: http://youtu.be/8iuao4wgakA?t=39s
Also, I love misspelled title cards, although I am withholding judgement in case this is just some odd British pluralization of Christmas. Finally, this is the earliest movie I have ever seen that uses a wipe transition - the kind that Kurosawa and Spielberg both used as "signatures" of their style. You can see it here: http://youtu.be/8iuao4wgakA?t=57s and then here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v13IkCWMWNI
Mike D'Angelo looks at key scenes from Dr. Caligari and discovers "all of the brilliant ideas that never got pursued or developed—flourishes that still seem arresting and singular today." Take a look: http://www.avclub.com/articles/old-cinema-can-still-feel-new-as-a-key-scene-from,99557/
In The Patsy (1928), Marion Davies pretends to lose her mind or actually loses her mind. It is hard to tell.
Where East is East is one of Lon Chaney's lesser known works, but it has a lot going for it, including Lupe Velez. One of the minor features are title cards like this, which occur when characters speak to someone that does not speak English. They are title cards the audience is not meant to understand.
The entire movie gets posted on youtube at times, and then removed. It is currently at:
This is a bit like Benjamin's Arcades Project, but on a much smaller scale. Intertitles, subtitles, books with images, and other monstrous hybrids.