Pop Culture Princess

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Artist is the latest conversation starter about silent films

A movie that's been getting a lot of serious buzz these days is The Artist,a French film about the glory days of Hollywood back in the late 1920s and the early 30s. Not only is the movie in black and white,it's also a silent picture which suits the A Star is Born storyline.

The leading man here is George Valentin(Jean Dujardin),a popular star who has trouble transferring his onscreen talents to the new format of talking pictures.

What makes this drastic shift in his life that much more painful is how his new girlfriend Poppy(Berenice Bejo)takes to this new style of movie making like a duck to water and becomes a major star in her own right. The reception from film festivals and critics has been incredibly positive and it'll be a shocker if The Artist doesn't scoop up a sweet number of nominations come award show time:

While that's great,it should be noted that this is not the first time that the legacy of the silent movie era has been featured in pop culture.

For example,back in 1976 Director Peter Bogdanovich made a humorous salute to that time with Nickelodeon, a romantic slapstick film starring Ryan O'Neal as a guileless lawyer/director trying to break into movies who is hopelessly in love with his main actress who only has eyes for her male lead(Burt Reynolds.

The plot is allegedly based on true tales about two legendary film directors of that era,Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan,but I suspect that it's not necessary to know that in order to appreciate the film:

During that same year,Mel Brooks did an even broader take on that genre with his Silent Movie,which was actually silent for the most part. Burt Reynolds makes an appearance in that one as well,but it's just a brief cameo in more ways than one.

Brooks himself stars in the picture,as a director who is eager to make his comeback and has his two good buddies(Don Deluise and Marty Feldman) join him in recruiting cast and crew for his new production.

Other famous faces that show up here include Paul Newman,Bernadette Peters,future Brooks bride Anne Bancroft and renowned mime Marcel Marceau,who is put to good witty use for his big scene:

Of course,even the small screen has to have it's share of the silent movie conversation. While the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had it's ups and downs,all agree that the episode "Hush" was a major horror highpoint for the entire series.

A major section of the show had the whole cast resort to other means of communication as a band of demons called The Gentlemen stole all of the voices in town to make their gruesome organ harvesting hunt easier for them. Not only did the story reveal just much people rely on their speech to keep society going,it showcased the effectiveness of silence in this genre:

Granted,Rowan Atkinson's popular TV series Mr. Bean is not entirely speechless but the antics of his character are mainly expressed through body language. Many of his best scenes involved non verbal put downs and looks of sheer cluelessness on his face.

"Merry Christmas,Mr. Bean" offers a plethora of silly silence moments,particularly as Bean corners a pickpocket in the crowd around a charitable music band and then is allowed to conduct the musicians as a reward. The simple set-up between Bean's goofy movements and the pace of the music is a classic silent movie standard and just as funny now as it was then:

I suspect that some of this renewed interest in the silent movie days is due to actors once again in jeopardy of being shut out of their comfortable cinematic arena due to the rise of new technology. After all,with the advances in CGI and the clamor for more F/X eye candy,the possibility of them being replaced by computer images is no longer a fantastical notion.

However,I also suspect that flesh and blood actors have one advantage that their potential pixalated stand-ins don't have and maybe never will is talent and charisma. That combination is a rare quality that even the most advanced programming can't recreate and if any thing,true star power will win out in the end.

It's good to take a look at the past,so that you don't take it for granted yet you must remember to live in the present as well. The Artist is a good reminder of those bygone times and the stars that shined and faded out before their time. Hopefully, it will encourage more fans to keep in mind that the art of cinema is truly about the players rather than the setting or the stage:

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