First of our nominations for best writer (and their best article) this year. First up, Abigail Jones Walters.
From Issue III
We live in a society where ‘Vintage’ style is the height of cool, where ‘Blitz Parties’ are the hottest night out in London and where constant new, 20 something singers with husky voices and massive beehives (such as Amy Winehouse and Imelda May) emulate early jazz and rockabilly. All things considered, you might say it’s hardly surprising that the film on everyone’s lips and that has been fully booked for all of the two weeks it has been in the cinema is a silent movie.
The idea of releasing a silent film in 2012 is a little strange. You might ask why a musician, when allowed the full range, would compose a piece of music using only three notes, or why an author would write a novel using only 500 of the 1,013,913 words in the English Language. With all the recent advancements in High Definition and sound technology it seems strange not to use them. However, it seems to be precisely why this film has received such a huge reaction: people are going to see it out of nothing more than intrigue and, as ironic as it may sound when speaking about silent films, novelty. How poignant that is: that the multi-trillion dollar business that is Cinema is so short of new ideas the only way a film can truly make a splash is by being paradoxically archaic.
Michel Hazanavicius has absolutely hit the nail on the head with The Artist. There is something exhilarating about it, something fun and light-hearted that you don’t seem to get in modern cinema, not even with the most outrageous comedy you can name. The clever juxtaposition of the world of the silent movies and the silent film actor George Valentin with the rise of the booming ‘talkies’ explores his fear of being left behind by modern technology, a feeling even we are familiar with. We realise, watching this beautifully crafted, nostalgic piece of art, just how crass 3D alien space adventure films are. In a way almost impossible in modern cinema this film relates the mood of a whole generation through only music and facial expressions – it truly says a lot by saying very little.
Initially, I thought a two hour film with no dialogue may get slightly tedious – I’ve seen the old classics and loved them but there’s something slightly tired about silent films, dare I say even boring. I was proved wrong; I’ve never had so much fun watching a film before. The audience not only get to watch this stunning reconstruction of 20s cinema, complete with beautiful costumes and set design, but with the lack of dialogue we are allowed, to a certain extent, to interpret and fill it in ourselves, an experience that is much more engaging and creative that your usual blockbuster. After ten minutes the audience were laughing aloud and gasping as you imagine they would if it were one of the first movies they had seen – they marvel at the novelty, at the over-dramatic humour, at the endearing clown-like dog. The breathtakingly dynamic final scene even got a round of applause.
I don’t feel the need, after such gushing praise, to specify the particular merits of the film: but it needs to be said that the acting was impeccable. Bérénice Bejo is hypnotising as the dazzling Peppy Miller, and the rest of the cast have an equal aptitude for the style of cinema. In fact, it was surprising to see them in contemporary photos, having been so swept away with the film I believed them to have been at their prime in the ’20s. Even John Goodman’s familiar face seemed bizarre in a modern setting after watching this, despite my having seen him in countless current films. Though it’s early days, I would confidently bet my entire student loan that this is the best film of 2012.