Wired for sound
The death of silent cinema was a mercenary act; a slaying perpetrated by Hollywood in the name of innovation and the public’s ravenous appetite for novelty. An art form that had been refined over three decades suddenly became redundant.
From our privileged position as 21st century observers it’s easy to imagine that this was a necessary leap forward – a move toward the verisimilitude we associate with the sound synched image, but what sound gave it also took away. Gone was the mobile camera, bold mise-en-scene, experimentation; in its place the clunky sound camera, with its sound proof hood, providing static compositions and flat angles. Compare and contrast F.W Murnau’s 1927 epic Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans with Tod Browning’s Dracula, released four years later, and you’re a witness to the devolution of the moving image. It would take a director called Orson Welles to successfully marry the human voice with the old artistry.
You sense that filmmakers, as a species, carry the guilt of their forefathers at that act of patricide. Every so often films are made as shrines to a slain parent; films that make the kids feel better about their dark past. The great ones, Sunset Blvd, one of the best movies ever made about movies, and Singin’ in the Rain, made the passing of silent film tragic, romantic; they cultivated a nostalgia and sense of lost innocence. The Artist certainly does both things, and it may be as good, but the difference is one of technique.
This is a time capsule movie, a film that eulogises a period in the medium’s history using the storytelling idiom of the day. As such it belongs to the same sub-genre as Hobo with a Shotgun. These are movies directed to seamlessly slot into the canon of yesteryear but like the flicks themselves, this is an illusion. The Artist is a modern movie – digital even; it’s the comment it makes on a bygone era using the gift of hindsight that marks it out.Pages: 1 2 3