Silent today

May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cannes has honored another modern effort to roll back the times to silent film days, with The Artist (dir. : Michel Hazanavicius). I have not seen this one, but will (and will report here), but my first reaction is to wonder why yet again a silent film made today must be about nostalgia and about yesterday. Silent films were about the present or the future too — is there some limit here to what filmmakers today can make of the medium of silent cinema ? Let me hazard one guess for now : filmmakers that want to use are trapped in thinking that because silent those films are first visual, when in fact they are first music. One needs to think musically to compose a silent film. So much of silent cinema depends on music that to make a silent film today one would have to be opera-trained — or a Barry Lyndonesque Kubrick.

And indeed I am not reassured by this video interview of Dujardin (in French) where unoriginal misconceptions abound about silent films : that silent film acting is heavy pantomime and therefore, since a modern-day audience would not accept such acting, not all stories can be filmed without sound if the director wants to remain “natural” (his two examples are rubbing one’s arms vigorously to express cold or rubbing one’s stomach just as vigorously to express hunger, and I can’t remember ever seeing a silent film actor do this seriously); that Russian-German films post 1925 are more graphic and American films more about plot; that one must avoid intertitles like the plague. The whole project starts on the wrong foot, as Dujardin says he was attracted by the silent medium because “more visual”.

To be continued…

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