Can Silent Film Survive? The Weinsteins say Yes
In a world of acronym moviemaking — 3D, HD, IMAX, CGI — a silent film is a bit like a Playboy fold-out of Betty White: sexy in her time, not anymore. But this past May at Cannes when the Weinsteins saw “The Artist,” a new silent film from French director, Michel Hazanavicius, they decided to make the hard sell and pick it up for stateside release. Watch the trailer above and you’ll understand why.
With a score that captures the kinetic energy of the roaring 20s, and celluloid that shimmers like the top of the Chrysler Building, this trailer’s eye-candy is just as sweet as any James Cameron 3D affair. But it also uncovers timeless themes and a relatable premise that indicate a movie with more than just a shiny exterior.
“The Artist” harks back to an era of mink coats, pencil mustaches and movie magic. Set in Hollywood at the dawn of the Great Depression, it follows two different stars, and how the innovation of sound in movies drastically affects both of their respective careers. While George Valentin’s star diminishes as a result of the new technology, Peppy Miller’s is on the rise. The symbolism is rich: a shot of Valentin covering his ears in agony is followed by the three wise monkey’s (“see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”).
It provokes the question of survival, which is pertinent not only to the movie’s plot, but also to the silent film genre as a whole. How can the old actor or the old genre stay alive amidst the constant flux of vogue and technology? What “The Artist” has proven at Cannes, and what the Weinsteins are betting on stateside, is that even in a market saturated with 3D, a silent film as good as this will find a place.