Hollywood stars have always led both public and private lives. Fans have been insistent that stars’ images match the glamour of the cinema, and stars’ very livelihoods rely on being in the tabloids, dating their co-stars, and mirroring Hollywood glamour in their day-to-day lives. In private, their lives have been much more complicated. Years later stories have emerged: of messy break-ups, affairs, and, of course, bearding (or straight relationship that hides being gay). Gays and lesbians have often taken on beards, finding either opposite sex gays to enter into marriages of convenience with, or otherwise ostensibly living as a straight person so that they could remain popular public figures. During the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first, many stars hid their gayness or bisexuality from the public because the consequences of doing otherwise would end a career. In some cases, public acknowledgment even culminated in violence: William Haines was attacked by an angry mob, while Mexican-American actor Ramon Novarro was beaten to death.

Silent (2016) shows a moment in the lives of two silent film stars whose sexual preference is kept invisible. In the beginning, two men lie in bed together before they separate for a publicity event. William, the already established star, attempts to school the younger Carter in the importance of giving good public face. He seems more world-weary, while the younger, more passionate actor seems less interested in what the rest of the world thinks. He does, however, succumb to the seemingly unavoidable need to separate, and the two attend the event separately.

Ironically, the first part of Silent is dominated by constant talking. William and Carter can’t seem to stop discussing things; this bedroom is a space of free discourse. In bed, between kisses, they lament the structures of the modern world that keep them separate. The younger one begs the older to stay, just for a while longer, while the older waxes on about his rise to stardom. He tells the younger about how glorious fame and fortune is, and how he even envies the younger because his star is on the rise while the elder’s one is waning. At first, while the two are in bed, it seems impossible to place the film in time, but later the film elegantly places the film in the silent era. As the two move to get dressed in their event finery, they slide into the old-timey, full-bodied underwear appropriate to that era. As they put on the outmoded clothing, they also dress in the customs of the time. They enter a world in which homosexuality is covered, rendered invisible, and isolated. Once the two separate, the Silent enacts a split screen, which is a smart way of shifting from the constant stream of dialogue to the primarily visual end of the film.

The film has some challenges with the setting and mise-en-scene, which looks a bit too contemporary and feels like a little bit of a trick. There are, of course, many challenges to creating dialogue for a historical film, especially one that deals with such a secret world, and the film’s somewhat contemporary dialogue can come off as clunky. However, the film draws you in; its lack of dialogue in the final scene creates a melancholy, defeated ending.