When Mack Sennett was asked who killed the silent comedy film, he inferred Mickey Mouse and the animation industry.
If Mickey Mouse killed it, Michel Hazanavicius, director of “The Artist” has resurrected it.
As someone who adores silent film, and has tried to make silent comedies, I find the success of The Artist intriguing. It is a staggering achievement to make such a huge hit in such a “niche” format. But should we be so surprised?
Much has been written about the reaction of audiences to the wordlessness of The Artist. The impression is given that film actors never stopped talking for more than a few seconds apart. But in almost all Hollywood films, there are huge swathes of action sequences, sweeping panoramic views and, of course, the direct descendant of silent movies, the montage. Animation has been the most prolific user of “visual-not-verbal” content. In Pixar’s Wall-E, almost all of the first half is silent. So what exactly do we mean by a “silent film” as opposed to what we are used to?
One difference is that the Artist tells an entire narrative without dialogue. But the most important difference between previous non-verbal sequences and The Artist is that the latter would be better described as “a 1920’s film”.
Not only is it silent, but it’s black and white. It is set in the time of silent movies and the performances are in a 1920’s style. It is deliberately restricted by the same limitations as the films of its subject matter.
For me, The Artist is such a stunning success because Hazanavicius has used a certain format to tell a certain story. This is much more than just a wordless film.
I had always dreamt of making a wordless block buster film. But despite temporarily taking the wind out of my sails, I hope Michel Hazanavicius wins The Oscar for such brilliant boldness.
We want New Slapstick is a resource for everyone involved in visual comedy of any kind.
We’re putting our money where our mouths are and creating films of our own. To have a look at the attempts so far, click here: