“The Artist” Proves We Haven’t All Fallen Under the 3D Spell

Despite 3D films appearing every week at cinemas around the world and technology taking entertainment into new territories, a black and white silent film excites the Academy.

the artist, scoops ten Oscar nominations,

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I’m a nostalgic fool. Although my cinematic preferences would indicate a warm welcome to the coming of sound (particularly of the surround type), colour, and CinemaScope, I can’t help but warmly embrace the appearance of a mainstream black and white silent film arriving at my local multiplex. The fact it has been received so well by audiences bred on colours and sounds, and more recently force-fed cinema’s latest technological fad 3D fills a nostalgia junkie like me with glee.

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’ homage to the silent film era, was today bestowed ten Academy Award nominations including Best Film. Following the exploits of 1920s film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), The Artist sees the iconic actor become disillusioned with the coming of sound when his frequent producer decides to stop making silent movies.

Despite hearing the odd story of people requesting a refund because there’s no dialogue in the film, The Artist has received almost universal praise. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said the film “had me on my feet cheering throughout the final credits.” He added, “One of those films you yearn to watch again and again. It is one of the most eloquent movies imaginable.” Geoffrey McNab of The Independent concurred, saying, The Artist is “both a sure-fire crowd-pleaser and a magnificent piece of film-making” in giving it a five-star review.

Although my cinematic preferences would indicate a warm welcome to the coming of sound (particularly of the surround type), colour, and CinemaScope, I can’t help but warmly embrace the appearance of a mainstream black and white silent film arriving at my local multiplex.

Yet I cannot get over the feeling that it has arrived at an odd time. Not least, the fact it is released eighty years after the talkies began to dominate Hollywood cinema, but perhaps more interestingly, in its entry into a box office teeming with not only colour, but colour that comes out of the screen with the aid of 3D glasses. The film industry appears to have embraced 3D film to such a degree, one seems to appear every week.

It isn’t just at the cinemas. With our Ipads and Iphones, 3D blu-ray players with online capability, streaming film technology, and even the ability to pause live television, our media diet is not just three-dimensional and filled with colour, its interactive, instantly available and more often than not carried around in our pocket. The world is a much smaller place than it was when Charlie Chaplin’s great silent film City Lights was released in 1931.

academy awards, the artist,

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’ homage to the silent film era, was today bestowed ten Academy Award nominations including Best Film.

Yet French filmmaker Hazananvicius’ had the audacity to strip his medium bare and go back to basics. The director admits he wanted to make a silent film for many years before he eventually got around to doing it. No one took him seriously – unsurprisingly – but the success of his spy-films OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, gave the ballsy filmmaker the credence to move in any creative direction he wished. Utilising the considerable talents of actor Jean Dujardin and wife Berenice Bejo, Hazananvicius settled on the melodramatic idea of an enthusiastic, well-loved film actor who finds himself going from riches to rags with the coming of cinema’s most revolutionary technological advancement.

The director, who also wrote the film, endlessly studied his favourite Hollywood movies from the 1920s in order to mimic the style and technique in The Artist. He also decided to photograph the film in 1.33:1 ratio, the common framing of the period before widescreen took hold. The end result is a film that celebrates classic cinema with a undeterred joy that explodes from the screen thanks to the filmmaker’s obsessed attention to detail. In effect, these are the marks of cinema at its finest. Regardless of its lack of colour or dialogue, it is the technical construction that stands out. In other words, cinema doesn’t need the gimmicks – the 3D glasses and the merchandising tie-ins – it just needs, as it always has, a great story told with vigour and imagination.

trip to the moon, milies,

In other words, cinema doesn’t need the gimmicks – the 3D glasses and the merchandising tie-ins – it just needs, as it always has, a great story told with vigour and imagination.

And that is what I feel Hollywood is getting further and further away from. A few years ago it was an over-abundance of remakes and sequels, now it is indulgence in 3D remakes and sequels. 2011 saw the release of Final Destination 5, Transformers 3, and another Harold and Kumar film all in 3D while films such as The Lion King got thrust back into theatres with the high-definition multi-layered gloss of three dimensions. It all comes with the distinct reek of commerce, and a severe lack of quality (in respect of the three sequels) and imagination (in respect of re-releasing classic Disney).

For me, 3D is like a fairground attraction. I remember enjoying the “3D Experiences” at Universal Studios theme parks such as the Spider-Man and Terminator “rides”. They use live-action and visual projection to create an exceedingly entertaining spectacle – a mix of film entertainment and conventional theme park ride. But these last a matter for minutes. And that’s all you need. Like the rollercoaster – just as soon as it has started it is all over. You don’t have time to lose interest and the magic remains. Sometime in the second hour of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 in 3D I was wishing I could take my glasses off and watch the film in conventional 2D. Of course I couldn’t. But how many times have I heard people say to me – the 3D adverts before the film start are the best part of today’s 3D cinema experience! No surprise they are no more than a minute long – short, sharp and, in many cases, fun. What I’m saying is that 3D is a fad, that will soon run its course and the studios will have to think of something else to get people to buy tickets to their movies.

3d film,

Sometime in the second hour of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 in 3D I was wishing I could take my glasses off and watch the film in conventional 2D.

What The Artist has done is remind me that cinema’s greatest attributes will never die – certainly in my lifetime. That the real qualities of the medium we all love do not have a shelf life. The sparkling spectacle of the moving image – everything from its ability to stir the emotions, to inspire, to educate, to make you fall in and out of love, to make you terrified, to make you happy, to make you mad, to make you contemplate your own existence, and ultimately, to entertain. These are attributes that exist despite bells and whistles such as 3D.

Yes, of course, cinema itself was a major technological forward step for humankind, I’m not against the improvement of our experience of the moving image. But 3D doesn’t work for me (I have watched and loved Avatar but I have never seen the film in three dimensions) and The Artist is a joyous reminder of simpler times for a nostalgic fool like me. Okay, okay, so Martin Scorsese’s brilliant 3D extravaganza Hugo got more Oscar nominations than The Artist but – and correct if I’m wrong…isn’t it about that great silent film pioneer Georges Melies…

Written by Daniel Stephens

What did you think of The Artist? Does it deserve so many award nominations? Was The Artist your first experience of a “silent” film? Would you prefer to watch a great black and white silent film or a poor 3D colour film?

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Johnny Messias Reply

    Really enjoyed reading this, I agree The Artist has arrived just in time to be a massive contrast to our average 3D multiplex fare.

  2. Dan Reply

    @Johnny: Cheers Johnny, The Artist certainly offers an alternative – in every possible way – to today’s over-indulgent 3D movies.

  3. Rodney Reply

    Great article, Dan, well written and you got the point across. Top work.

    I agree with you, of course, with my hatred of 3D hardly a secret. Films should primarily tell a story, and if you need to see things pop out of the screen to do it, then okay, but otherwise, just get the story right first.

  4. amy Reply

    Cool article, Dan. The Artist wasn’t a bad film, one of the highlights of 2011 for sure, but I didn’t love it as much as other people did. I would prefer watching something by Joan Crawford or Greta Garbo again than watching The Artist another time, though. 😉

    And I couldn’t agree more on your 2nd hr of Harry Potter in 3D. Besides me thinking splitting the last book in two was cheap, making it in 3D spoiled the feel of the series for me. LOL I had to watched HP7.2 in 3D because that was the screening, and the movie wasn’t good enough for me to go watch it again in 2D xD

    I did watch HP7.1 twice, even though I didn’t need to. haha

  5. Castor Reply

    I’m definitely pulling for The Artist to win Best Picture. I will be really pissed if Hugo somehow managed to eek out the win. You are right, it’s not about flashy gimmicks or over-the-top performances that make a movie great, it’s about telling a meaningful story that goes to the heart of the human experience. For me, The Artist perfectly fits the bill.

  6. Dan Reply

    @Rodney thanks Rodney! Although it is 3D 11 v bw/ silent 10 in Oscar noms for Hugo and The Artist it is great to see the back to basics film competing. It isn’t as if I suddenly want every film to be like The Artist, far from it, I just want less films to be like Final Destination 5!

  7. Scott Reply

    Nice Article Dan. I am a firm believer of story first no matter what. If the Artist had a rubbish and un inspiring story it would not have captured the hearts of us all. It is not just the fact it is silent.

    If the story is there in the first place, then I haven’t got a problem with 3D, in fact I am becoming quite a fan… especially at home… I am loving it very much!!

  8. Dan Reply

    @Scott: It is interesting you should say that 3D is getting better in the home. That is the next logical step for the technology I suppose. But then that does make going to the cinema to see 3D less of an event since you can get it in the home. What will the production companies do then to entice us?

    …I think Hugo is worthy of its recognition – most Scorsese films are. But it doesn’t stand out because of its 3D (even though there are some great moments of 3D in use). I always say how much I like Avatar and yet have never seen it in 3D. So ultimately, 3D can only ever be a sort of added extra which to me makes it superfluous to what I love about film.

    It came years ago and eventually died away. Yes, the technology is better now but in its current – gimmicky form – it’ll die away again for me. That said, the home entertainment arena could be a different story.

  9. le0pard13 Reply

    Great article and points, Dan. ‘The Artist’ is worth all the acclaim it’s receiving because it is great filmmaking. Thanks.

  10. Alyson Reply

    Wonderful article, Dan. I’m hoping that with all the praise The Artist is getting that more people will come to appreciate more story driven film again and get over the 3D hype.

    I too remember those 3D theme park rides. They were a fun, quick dose of 3D, a perfect amount. Whereas, Avatar in 3D was overkill. Now I try to avoid long 3D movies (like Harry Potter). The only 3D movie I really enjoyed was Hugo, but like you said, it praises silent film as well.

  11. Claire Reply

    “In other words, cinema doesn’t need the gimmicks – the 3D glasses and the merchandising tie-ins – it just needs, as it always has, a great story told with vigour and imagination” – spot on!

    This is a very good, well-written (as usual!) post, Dan. I’m so disappointed that I haven’t been able to see The Artist. It was never showing at my local cinema and my next closest is some 45 minutes away.

    I’m still not interested in 3D. I’m looking forward to seeing The Hobbit in 3D and I really think that if PJ and his crew can’t make me enjoy and appreciate 3D, no-one will!

  12. Pete Reply

    Totally don’t need 3D. With the exception of a couple of great moments like first seeing the Avatar trailer, a couple of Final Destination moments and that stunning opening shot in Hugo, it rarely adds any pleasure for me. The Artist was brilliant and I applaud it for daring to be different but unilke many I thought the story dragged a bit and was far from perfect but then redeemed itself by the ending. It is interesting that The Artist and Hugo both hark back to cinematic days gone by though… be interesting to see a Buster Keaton biopic or a film about the Lumieres first experimentation with film!

  13. Dan Reply

    @alyson: thank you! I do love those 3D rides but they are short, sharp doses of fun. 3D in film can also look great at times but over the length of a feature I think it detracts from the true spectacle of cinema. Harry potter was real failure for me, I enjoyed the film but I’m eager to see it in 2D.

  14. Dan Reply

    @Claire: thank you Claire, very kind of you to say. I can’t wait for The Hobbit but I’d rather see it in 2D. But you’re right about Peter Jackson being the man for the job.

    Another thing that is annoying about 3D is not having the choice to see 2D. I think it was Arthur Christmas that was showing loads of times in 3D but I wanted to see it in 2D and it was on maybe once in the middle of the working day! That’s infuriating when there is no choice. I hope we get the choice with The Hobbit.

  15. ruth Reply

    “…cinema doesn’t need the gimmicks – the 3D glasses and the merchandising tie-ins – it just needs, as it always has, a great story told with vigour and imagination.” Absolutely agree, Dan! This is the movie I’m rooting to win Best Picture this year. Hopefully it’ll be like last year where the one I’m pulling for wins 😀

  16. Dan Reply

    @Ruth: thanks Ruth!

  17. Kristin Reply

    What a great article! I really enjoyed reading this. I’m right there with you in seeing that 3D really is just a fad right now, meant to bring people into the theaters.

    I loved The Artist, and like you said, it’s all about a great story – not gimmicks or bells and whistles, that will continue to attract people to see film.

    I’m happily blown away by the love The Artist has received, and hope that it continues into the Oscars by winning Best Picture.

    Also, random – didn’t realize that Michael Hazanavicius and Berenice Bejo were married! Thanks for the tidbit.

    Oh, and I saw Avatar in 3D. UGH! Don’t do it. I wanted to take my glasses off for at least half that film.

    Great post!

  18. Raghav Modi Reply

    Great article Dan. As you know I have never really liked 3D and hate the fact when movies are only released in 3D. That is not to say I do not appreciate the work that goes behind it and it works well as an alternative way to watch films. My main problem with 3D besides the cost and besides having to wear glasses on top of glasses is that it is being pushed down our throats and on that basis only I avoid it as much as possible.

  19. Dan Grant Reply

    The Artist is the Pet Rock if films. No one will remember it in 5 years. One of the worst, if not worst best picture win of all time, imo. Only Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan might be worse.

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