Last night I was generously invited to an NYU film class hosted by the brilliant Professor Richard Brown. He first briefed us on the history of silent film, taking us through to the transition into talkies and tappy dancies (not its technical term) up until the sound revolution that we know today. And all using the backdrop of a new flick by visionary French director Michel Hazanavicius : ‘The Artist”. M. Hazanavicius also wrote the piece, as an homage to the old Hollywood Golden Age and succeeded magnificently in recreating this mystical era of cinema. Set in the late 1920s, film making was tough. As silent movies, this beautiful art, began to vanish due to the introduction of sound, thanks to the Bell Laboratories and other technology advances, the world of film was changing rapidly. First, sound accompanied the piece, whereas before the theatres would play live music as the film rolled. Then soon after the audience first heard words uttered. Words from their icons. Their Hollywood legends. They could not resist it. And “talkies” appeared on the screen. However, this was a sad time for the old school silent troupe. Actors with awkward voices lost favour as the audience had grown to imagine and expect a certain tone and if they didn’t match it in reality? Well then they were out. The sets changed to accommodate the new wave of sound recording. People lost their jobs as this form of art evolved hurriedly forward to the next generation of cinema.
Hazanavicius wanted to retell that era. He wanted to shoot an authentic film. With his finely chosen cast, each offering a spot-on period look, the expressive face that is so necessary to silent film and the subtle references to a long dead past, he has nailed it perfectly. The first 10 minutes are rough. I had to really concentrate since my only tool was vision. However, soon enough I became lost, along with the audience, in this magnificent and triumphant work. What can I say about the music? Breathtaking. The cinematography? Stunning. The cast? Astounding. This is a cast who shoot film in sound. They talk to make themselves understood. And yet their actions, their pitch-perfect facial expressions are amazing. Hazanavicius, we are told, always kept to the theme and throughout shooting, the soundtrack is played to maintain an atmosphere. Hold them in character and help these modern actors adapt to the silent world.
Honestly I urge everyone to see it. It is absolutely a work of art and a gripping love story. The two leads Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo steal the stage. Their faces are mesmerising and I believed every look. I will see this again and maybe again after that. And what perfect timing, I thought to myself, that this tribute to classic Hollywood has come one week before a very delightful Thanksgiving trip to Los Angeles. I think I use fate too much? But come on it seems likely right!?