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.
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.
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.
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.
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?