Not so Black and White: Charles Lane Discusses Sidewalk Stories


Cosette Myrick, Staff Writer

“I wanted music to be my dialogue,” said Charles Lane about his film Sidewalk Stories. On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Le Moyne students had the opportunity to attend a screening and have a discussion with the director. In a collaborative event with the Communications Department and the Department of Women and Gender Studies, Charles Lane was able to share his process in creating this film.

Sidewalk Stories is a silent black and white film shot in 1989. At the start of the film, in the bustling streets of New York City, we are introduced to the protagonist, a homeless artist. The Artist, portrayed by Lane, finds himself taking care of a little girl after her father passes away. Throughout the film, he gives her the best life he can. For an income, he draws pictures for those passing by on the bustling sidewalks of New York City. While caring for the young girl, he meets another woman and they have a brief romance in the film.

The film was shot in February of 1989 and only took two-weeks to shoot. Lane said it was absolutely freezing outside while filming, and his character only wore a denim jacket. In between shots, his crew members wrapped him in a jacket to keep him warm.

The featured slapstick comedy parallels older cinema, but features modern cinematography techniques that you would not have seen in Charlie Chaplin and Buster Scrugg films. The ability to move film cameras is not one they had back in Chaplin’s days, and the cinematography kept the film contemporary despite using the processes of older cinema.

Thematically, Lane used a variety of techniques to tell his story on a deeper level. Lane said, “The idea of doing this film was to not bury into the specific, and sometimes the limited, language of silence and films of the past.” Throughout the film there were little sound effects to add some diegesis to the film. When the characters winked, knocked on doors, etc, it was heard, but there was no dialogue until the end of the film. The artist finds himself unable to find shelter for the night and he stays with some of the other homeless around fires to keep warm. The woman he dates finds him, and as they sit on the bench, the sound of the homeless begging to those passing by can finally be heard. This has to be a commentary on making the voices of the homeless and disenfranchised heard, to “hear the voices of the voiceless.”

The silence, however, was not appreciated by every audience Lane had. Sidewalk Stories premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, where Lane watched from a balcony above. As the film started and the audience realized it was silent, a couple of audience members walked out of the theater. He wasn’t sure of the audience’s reaction until the credits rolled and the lights turned on and he received a twelve minute standing ovation from the audience. He says it was “the longest twelve minutes of [his] life.”

Sidewalk Stories challenges the genre of silent film as we know it. Silent storytelling has become rare since the development of sound in cinema. With his film, Charles Lane combats stereotypes of what early cinema—and contemporary cinema—is by using action, music and sound effects to tell the story.