I’ve just been to see The Artist. You know, the black and white one with no talking.
This silent movie is taking the film world by storm. It’s easy to see why: it’s taking cinema back to its roots, its emotional core. Why watch inane Michael Baysplosions when you can gaze upon a human face, naked in front of the camera, portraying a billion different facets of personality and feeling? Of course, the subject the film tackles mirrors the divide that’s present now in the modern market: real art versus blockbuster shite. But my biggest revelation happened whilst in the cinema itself.
The people around me, watching The Artist, were a varied bunch. In front of me were a group of teenage friends; to my right, an elderly couple. This isn’t the surprise – what shocked me was that they were laughing at every thing that was genuinely funny onscreen, and completely silent (like the film itself) during the more tender moments. They responded. These were the same people who go and watch Transformers, or a conveyor belt Rom Com – the perfectly average audience demographic. There was not a snob amongst them. And no one in this busy screen was put off by the seeming commercial suicide of having almost zero spoken dialogue – a fact not hidden in any way from the audience in the marketing, trailer included.
And they loved it. Which brought me to the conclusion that not every one that walks into the cinema to see the latest lukewarm hollywood fodder is completely dumb, or devoid of cinematic taste. Which fills me with hope – that the movie-going public actually like to be enthralled, moved and awestruck by well-crafted films like The Artist. The fact that it’s monochrome, nearly completely silent and filmed in an original Academy 1.37 : 1 aspect ratio and everybody loved the damn thing to pieces simply goes to show we don’t need to see massive robots fighting each other for no apparent reason. People like good scripts. Good acting. Good cinematography. We may not know the exact terms, but we all know what makes for a good film experience.
So, Los Angeles. Film people. Dial down the senseless action and rubbish scriptwriting, because – shock! horror! – people actually want to see good films. Unfortunately, no movie exec in their right mind would change the way they do things. No bad blockbuster does poorly at the box office. This causes an industry-wide surge of lethargy, complacency – if there’s no financial reason to make something of quality when something awful will make the same amount of money, they why bother? Mark Kermode, one of the UK’s leading film critics, certainly agrees with this. But that’s the thing with The Artist – it’s actually being tipped to winning big at the Oscars this year. Even whispers of a ‘Best Picture’ statuette can be heard in quiet corners of the film community.
So that’s why I pray it wins. Despite every single award ceremony on the planet being artistically futile and essentially a corporate circle jerk (the Oscars the biggest offender), it could potentially do wonders for the way films are made. Imagine the directors meeting after The Artist hypothetically sweeps the little gold men up: ‘Shit, guys. Our quadrillion-dollar blockbuster with giant robots fighting each other just lost to a picture with actors who don’t speak, has a palette of exactly two colours, and looks like it was filmed on a post stamp. This is making us look bad. I guess we’ll have to dust off Screenwriting 101.’ And there really is a strong chance for a win: the Academy is largely ‘persuaded’ by massive filmic giant, The Weinstein Company. The big awards generally go to Weinsteinian product, and they’ll sure as hell push their two-tone gem all the way.
The success of The Artist is a chance, a small window, for change. Desperately needed change. For anyone who has sat in rapture before a film screen, you’ll know what I mean.