Silence in the name of progress

silent cinema

Someone recently asked me why I am so dead against 3D, when surely the new dimension is just an example of progress, just as the introduction of colour was before it and the advent of sound before that. It got me thinking as to what early cinema lovers thought when money obsessed producers brought in new technology to bastardize their art. And I concede that I am very pleased that cinema has advanced so far to give us the amazing special effects I knew growing up. But as each form becomes the norm, so the brilliance of the technology diminishes and in a way this makes progress pointless.
Progress in cinema technology always seems to come at the expense of previous cinema. Like watching old films and realising that the special effects were not as good as you believed at the time. But the truth is these films were more impressive because the technology wasn’t available. And sometimes the fact that technology forces you to show the monster, just because you can, means that the film loses the artistic merit of leaving things to the imagination. More worryingly progress in technology undermines the need for progress in film.
Whilst the new 3D revolution is impressive, what happens when comedies and serious drama starts to turn to 3D? Will we forget how to enjoy 2D films? No longer impressed by 3D but simply accustomed to it, will the next generation refuse to watch grandad’s old 2D collection on the basis that its for dinosaurs. I have to admit I had such a prejudice for black and white films when I was younger, and I certainly never thought I’d enjoy Buster Keaton in The General (1926) when I watched it for my university course.
There are many people who love the films of the silent era. Some say that these films are timeless and some even want the silent era to come back. And so, finally, I come to talk about the film I wanted to talk about. The Artist (2011) is a homage to the classic silent era. It’s fantastically experimental in form. Although mostly silent (except for the brilliantly used music) the films use of sound and silence is genius. The acting is oscar worthy without dialogue. The film was very interesting.
However, it wasn’t very enjoyable. Not for me. I appreciated the art but I craved dialogue. After a while the music was too much for me. I was bored of being in the past. It certainly didn’t have the timeless edge of buster. Here is a modern silent film that isn’t modern or silent. The film pays tribute to the era but doesn’t really capture it, if that’s what it tries to do. Nor does it reinvent silent film. If anything it proves that silent film belongs to the past, such is the sense of nostalgia and the message of defeat in the face of progress.
I’m being overly harsh of course. Because I think I did enjoy it, if not for its entertainment value, then its impressive artistic accomplishment. And it was mildly entertaining. It was even funny but here’s the kicker not ‘laugh-out-loud’ funny. I didn’t feel like laughing and neither did anyone else. Except whenever the dog did something. That dog could act.

still from the artist featuring dog Uggy


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