Most people end up seeing, as their first silent movie, the wrong silent movie.
What do I mean by the wrong silent movie? Well, look at the kinds of movies that people see as their first silent film: They see D.W. Griffith movies such as THE BIRTH OF A NATION or INTOLERANCE, which are very, very early silents and extremely old-fashioned in style and sensibility — even for their time.
They see incredibly unfunny silent comedies projected at the wrong speed, with people hitting each other with pies.
They see two of the worst Lon Chaney movies, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA — and they see none of the good ones.
They see German Expressionist horror movies, like NOSFERATU, which — like the Griffiths — are undeniably important but of a very specific appeal.
Or they see genuine a genuine masterpiece like, say, SUNRISE, which — for all its virtues — was just as much an art film in its own time as it is now. A great film, but a bit of work, and limited in its appeal.
And if they see a Buster Keaton film, they see THE GENERAL — which genuinly is great AND enjoyable, but is the one of Keaton’s films that isn’t really all that funny.
What they DON’T see are the normal good releases — the routine better than average movies — from the late 1920s, when the art of silent film as at its zenith. And they don’t see normal good releases — the routine better than average movies — that take place in the era in which they were made, films that are NOT period pieces by design, that reflect what was then a modern sensibility and which remain fairly modern today."
Amen. Mick LaSalle recommends non-canon silent films.