When films were first released in cinemas they did not come with sound. This was because the technology to record synced dialogue had not been invented. In order to explain the narrative, title cards would appear on screen. These would also be used to inform viewers of the dialogue being said by actors.
Despite being called silent films, these early motion pictures could still be accompanied by music. A piano or other instrument would be placed inside the cinema and played by a member of staff. Sometimes distributors would give out specific sheet music to be performed for certain scenes.
Silent films had to focus on their visuals and editing instead of dialogue. Therefore stunts and special effects were prevalent in the best movies released during this era. Buster Keaton was revered for his death-defying stunt work. The French illusionist Georges Méliès invented many effective techniques that are still used today.
Sadly, the vast majority of silent films are now considered lost. Their reels were either recycled or destroyed. On occasion surviving prints are rediscovered by members of the public. These reels are extremely valuable for modern culture and are often restored by specialist organizations such as the BFI.