The Artist – The Film that got Everyone Talking

It came as quite a surprise when The Artist scooped the majority of awards at the BAFTAs overtaking high budget blockbusters such as Hugo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and British film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Last night its winning streak continued at the Oscars when it earned three of the top five awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

The Artist is the first silent film to win an Oscar since 1929, however silent film production continued into the 1930s; most notably those made by Charlie Chaplin. But the unanticipated success of The Artist both in terms of audience numbers and the awards it has earned begs the question, is sound and colour really necessary in cinema?

The Artist is a ‘back to basics’ approach to filmmaking, no colour, no sound, no special effects and to us Brits and American audiences, no big name film stars. So what made The Artist so appealing?

Largely it is the story, it’s what filmmaking is all about, a story being told and that’s exactly what The Artist does. It has an ‘American Dream’ plot as it follows two people whose lives drastically change during the introduction of sound in movies. The character of Pepper Miller starts out as a normal girl and a movie fan, and becomes one of the most famous actresses in America, while the life of her idol, actor George Valentin, takes a dramatic nose dive.

It’s a reoccurring pattern; rags-to-riches stories appeal to audiences during times of recession as the same thing happened during the 1929 Wall Street Crash, after the Second World War and during the 1980s when jobs were scarce.  

Another reason The Artist has fared so well is the cast. All the actors give stunning performances and the fantastic acting says more about the characters than words possibly could. The two leads in particular, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, stand out. But praise must also go to Uggie the dog whose acting during a critical scene towards the end of the film brings a tear to the eye, and whose comic timing beats that of most actors today.

It was the French who created cinema and here they show the world how it’s done. The Artist is a visually rich film; it is incredibly well lit and has perfect period settings. But it has been audience curiosity that has made it so successful. A silent film hasn’t been made for decades and the opportunity to watch a modern silent film is not something movie buffs were prepared to pass up. The film had high expectations and it didn’t let audiences down as it captures the glory of the golden era of Hollywood.  

Recently filmmakers have been looking to the past for inspiration as The Artist is not the only recently released film that looks back at the silent era. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo also did well at the BAFTAs and the Oscars, earning five Academy Awards. Like The Artist, Hugo looks back at the silent era; this time focusing on director Georges Melies rather than the film star. Once again the film focuses on the golden era of filmmaking and how sound changed the industry forever resulting in dramatic changes for those involved.

It’s just possible that this nostalgia is the beginning of a trend as another silent film due for release this year is the appropriately named Silent Life. Set in 1926, Silent Life is about Rudolph Valentino the famous film icon of the 1920s who, after falling into a coma, reflects on his life. The film is believed to feature surrealist scenes and a good portion of the film has been shot in black-and-white too. Sound familiar?    

Silent cinema fell out of fashion in the 1930s as sound enriched comedy and plotlines. It was also during this time that Technicolor became more widely used. But The Artist just shows that a film doesn’t need CGI effects, famous film stars and huge marketing campaigns to be successful. All a film really needs is a great plot and good cinematography.

Quite simply Hollywood is going back in time, with recent releases all looking back for inspiration, such as Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse, the revival of Tintin and Disney‘s The Muppets. Could Hollywood’s future lie in the past?

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