Monday, January 16, 2012

Silent Movie

The Artist is already being tipped to win the Oscar for Best Picture and it is easy to see why. First of all, it is a movie about Hollywoodland, the academy always loves that. Secondly it tells the story of the joys and sorrows of a life spent making movies inside the Dream Factory. And lastly, it is a silent film.

One of the things that is most interesting about The Artist is the fact that it is a proper silent film. It is not a 21st century parody or pastiche with tongue in cheek, it is an affectionate recreation of a 1920s era melodrama of the sort that used to be made by Max Ophuls, replete with old fashioned acting and authentic film grammar from the silent era.

Lead actor, Jean Dujardin, is cheesily great as a Hollywood matinee idol, mimicking the movements of silent era icons, who were often far more adapt at using their bodies to express emotion. Equally, Berenice Bejo is cute as a button, playing rising star to Dujardin's fallen idol - she moves like a dancer and her large, expressive eyes convey wells of emotion.

The silent era grammar was interesting in itself because it really made one think about what one was watching. The filmmakers could not rely on any of the usual array of narrative crutches that can normally rescue a mediocre film and instead had to rely on old-fashioned performances, music and cinematic storytelling.

Had The Artist been made 80 years ago, it might have paled in comparison to the cinematic greats of the silent era - Chaplin, Keaton, Lang - but in 2012, a black and white silent film presented in 4:3 aspect ratio is a welcome breath of fresh air and a reminder that there is more than one way to make a movie that works for audiences and critics alike.


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