Those who have heard of ‘The Artist’ will have undoubtedly know that it is a silent film. (Apart from, apparently, those in Liverpool who are demanding refunds when they did not get the words they were expecting.) The film is an homage to the age before ‘talkies,’ the first feature film with sound was released in 1927. The last silent Hollywood film was released in 1935, excluding Chaplin’s films. Why, then, did Hazanavicius feel now was the time to bring back this lost art to our big screens? And why is it such a hit?
The film has been hugely successful, nominated for 12 Baftas including best film, best director and best lead actor and actress. In a world of 3D, where each film must be bigger, more expensive and more visually impressive than the last, this film has won over audiences across the country. The quality of the filmmaking proves this is no gimmick. This is not a director who has made a half-arsed stab at a silent film in order to rake in novelty viewing. However, there is a certain nostalgia that must be accounted for. Even for the many of us that weren’t alive during the silent film era there is an undoubted charm in the Hollywood glamour of the past. The novelty also recreates the idea of going to the cinema as an event. The opening of the film shows an audience at the cinema, dressed to the nines and applauding the end of a picture. These days it is so easy to get hold of and watch any film-whether legally or otherwise- that turning up to the cinema in your best frock seems absurd.
This ‘event’ of going to see a silent movie provides an entirely different atmosphere. At the beginning of the film there is a while where we see credits rolling but there is no background music. The silence in this time was distinctly noticeable. Of course there was a soundtrack to the film- beautifully scored by the almost unknown Ludovic Bource. However, there were moments of absolute silence in which you can hear the audience around you, the tension building, the projector whirring overhead. (In hindsight, that was probably the air conditioning, but I can pretend otherwise.) It can’t be denied that there is just something special about removing the dialogue from a film, wiping the colour and taking us back to what some might call a Golden Age of cinema.
The film itself is all kinds of meta. Silent films within a silent film. The latter concerning itself with the triumph of sound over silence, which is itself the age we are viewing it in. In the film sound is new and fresh. Of course, silent films are not new but this is certainly refreshing. I’m not generally one to hark back for tradition, but this film is an example of one which is enjoyable throughout without the need for the nuanced, cliché ridden scripts we are burdened with in so many modern films.