Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Artist - Silent Still Works

I have seen my share of silent films. If you belong to the Sons of the Desert, you learn the charm of screen acting without dialog. After you see a few good silents, you start seeking them out, looking for the most famous...for the best of the silents.

I would say that City Lights (1931) was one of the best. Chaplin used every trick he learned in his career to bring a touching story to the screen, and it really didn't need words. Although he made it after talkies had become the norm, he was convinced that silence was golden for the movies. His character, The Tramp, was mute, so film should be as well.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Artist (2011) last weekend. We went to the Ambler Theater in Ambler, PA, which was opened in 1928 as a Warner Brothers theater. The first film shown there was Our Dancing Daughters (1928) starring Joan Crawford (1905 - 1977). It was a perfect place to see The Artist.

This was our first visit to The Ambler and I was impressed. Please check out their web site, especially if you are in the Philadelphia area. The theater has undergone a complete restoration and many aspects are recreated as they were in 1928. The neon sign was removed in the 1960s so it was reconstructed to look just like the original.

As far as the new Oscar nominated film, The Artist is everything you can imagine. The two stars, Jean Dujardin (b. 1972), and Berenice Bejo (b. 1976), each have less than 40 films to their credit. There are a few actors and actresses in the film who are well known. Penelope Ann MillerJohn Goodman, James Cromwell, and Malcolm McDowell come to mind. But in this film, I would have to call them Bit Actors. Malcolm McDowell has one short scene early in the film with Bejo as she auditions for her first movie.

It seems that everyone wanted to be part of this new...or rather old idea. Cromwell said that he jumped at the chance to make a film like this. He knew it would be special.

In the LA Times blog, 24 Frames, on January 24, 2012, this explanation caught my eye -

As costar John Goodman has pointed out, silent films by their nature are best experienced in a crowd, where the emotions produced by the music and the emotive nature of the acting get naturally amplified as they bounce from person to person. In an age when watching movies alone at home is a given and watching them regularly on your cellphone is being touted as one of the glories of the future, academy voters likely found it exhilarating to be reminded of the special nature of the theater-going experience.
Finally, for more than one reason, “The Artist” is that almost unheard of film that makes voters feel good about what they do for a living, that makes them take pleasure in working in the industry when so little else does.

For the record, I will NEVER watch a movie on my cell phone, but the article hits the nail on the head. And it was so nice to go to a theater and not have to push through a crowd of teenagers! I do suggest that teenagers interested in movies should see this film, with an open mind, and after watching The Artist check out City Lights. They will be impressed.

As an added plus, the locations used to make the film are historic. The mansion used toward the end of the film was the home of silent movie star Mary Pickford (1892 - 1979), and the studio used as a set was actually a 1920s movie studio...perhaps it was Chaplin's, I am not sure. Don't even get me started on the cars. (Two beautiful Cadillacs.)

As an added plus, the film was shot in the correct aspect ratio for most silent films of the old days, the titles and inter-titles were period correct, and most of all, the dog, played by Uggie, was perfect!

The parallels with Charlie Chaplin cannot be missed. The star of The Artist also has a problem with the advent of talkies, and he is able to (eventually) make the switch. I won't say how, but see this film!

This is the first silent film since the end of the silent era to be nominated for an Oscar. I wish I could vote! I wish I could buy the poster, too.


  1. I've heard such great things about this film, but I refuse to go to the theater to see it. I saw two films at the theater last year: The Help and The Hangover 2, and while I enjoyed both films I did not enjoy the annoying people who were sitting near me. I can imagine what would happen at a silent film! I look forward to seeing this on DVD, though. BTW, I wouldn't watch an entire movie on my cell phone either, but I have watched clips.

  2. Thanks, Kim. It is a great film.

    The reason you want to go to a non-profit/historical theater, like the Ambler, is not only to experience the film in a suitable atmosphere, but also to enjoy it with like-minded folk. We went late on Saturday night, and in the theater that seats 280, there were less than 20 people.

    If you don't have the opportunity to go to that sort of place, I suggest you go to a later show on a Sunday night, when Monday is a school day. The theater will be practically empty, and the teens won't want to see a B&W silent film anyway.

    I do think that the audience reaction is important and adds to the experience, if you are with the right crowd.


Please add your thoughts, but they will be monitored so keep it on topic.