There is a lot of buzz about The Artist, an upcoming movie depicting the life of a silent film star who worries about the advent of sound.
The movie, starring John Goodman and Malcolm McDowell, could help bring indies back to the Academy Awards in a big way– with a little help from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and other smaller films.
The big twist with the film is that it’s actually a silent movie. The film is also apparently shot in black and white, which is also fairly daring in this day and age, because many moviegoers of this generation have never seen a black and white movie. (Studios have long had problems with directors wanting to make modern films in black and white, which is why Tim Burton took Ed Wood away from Disney and made it at Sony instead.)
There were many who worked in the silent era that had a hard time adjusting to the sound era, with some, like Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau, believing camerawork and editing should tell the story, rather than dialog.
At the same time, modern films have experimented with going silent, just not for lengthy periods of time. Take the first fifteen minutes of There Will Be Blood, which had almost no dialog, and may have been inspired by the beginning of 2001, which went on for some time before anyone actually spoke.
In the original screenplay for Greystoke, much of it was from the point of view of the apes, and there was going to be an hour of no dialog, which would be a bold idea today for a movie. At one point, the Coen Brothers were going to make a movie called To the White Sea with Brad Pitt that was largely without dialog, and even Ed Wood wrote a silent movie, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, which was finally shot years ago, although the film was never released because it was so bad.
Of course, the best modern example is the Mel Brooks comedy, which along with The Omen, managed to turn the fortunes of 20th Century Fox around.
Naturally, the studio was nervous about making a silent film in modern day, and as Mel Brooks said in the book, It’s Good to Be the King, “The studio bosses at 20th Century were thinking about some kind of light noise, a buzz maybe [on the movie’s soundtrack]. Because they were afraid there would be just deadly silence, and it can get very uncomfortable sitting in a silent theater… But I said, ‘No! There won’t be any silence! The people will be laughing. The soundtrack will be the audience itself! Laughter! We don’t have to worry about silence.’ But I put in 90 minutes of music, like rug from beginning to end, just to be on the safe side.”
Funny enough, the other film that really turned Fox’s fortunes around, Star Wars, was a huge innovator in modern movie sound with Dolby Stereo and THX, but as George Lucas said in the book Blockbuster, Star Wars is almost a silent film because it’s heavily visual, and it’s not difficult for kids to follow if they can’t understand what the characters are saying.
It would be interesting to see if silent movies would become a hot new trend in the wake of The Artist, and it would definitely make filmmakers up their game trying to tell a story utilizing the language of cinema, which many feel has become a lost art today.
The Artist is slated to hit theaters on November 23, 2011.