Mary and I hope to see "The Artist" tomorrow if the weather cooperates. It's interesting to see how people react to the idea of a silent film in 2012 – not just silent, but black and white as well.
I realize there is considerable apprehension for many people to see a film that is so radically different than those they normally see. I ran into those feelings each and every film class I taught at Western New England University when I was an adjunct instructor there.
The more brazen – or stupid – students would whine,"Please Mr. Dobbs, when are we going to see something with sound and color?"
It's now easy to see many of the films people call classics thanks to the video revolution, but what was the point of a college class if it did not expose students to things new to them and challenge their own ideas?
Many of them also had a prejudice against foreign films because it meant having to read subtitles.
"We can't watch the movie and read at the same time, Mr. Dobbs!"
(As an aside, I must note my feelings of actually wanting to torture the student with something obscure when he or she – can't remember which – asked if the class could see "Gone With the Wind." I responded it was easy to see that film, but more difficult to see the material I was going to show them.)
I'm sure the attitudes of many of the students reflected the general public: give us something that doesn't really makes us work.
That's why sub-titled foreign films get scant theatrical distribution in this country and are far less available on DVD than they should. No Red Box is going to stock films such as those.
Perhaps "The Artist's" critical reception will be enough to push people into going to it. Perhaps it could spur a revival of interest in silent film.
Now for you who haven't seen a silent film, let me just say the experience is far different than what you are used to with today's films. Silent films force you to pay attention – the information of the narrative is carried by the image and the musical accompaniment. The lack of dialogue requires keener involvement.
With IMAX and 3-D, people think the movie experience today is all enveloping. Sorry, but silent films create that same kind of involvement, but it wasn't about mechanics, it's about the suspension of disbelief. No annoying glasses are necessary.
I realize that those people who think they don't like silent films are those who have never watched a silent film or they've seen some blurry clip from something that was projected at the wrong speed.
In an effort, probably vain, I've posted some clips to show the depth of the silent film.
In my experience you're either a Buster Keaton fan or a Charlie Chaplin fans. I'm Keaton all the way and this is the film I would show my class that almost always worked. "Sherlock Junior" is fast-moving, funny and inventive.
Want high drama? "The Last Laugh" is a fascinating film.
For years, Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" was only available in a mutilated form. Now the complete film is available and it's one of my favorites – a combination of science fiction and social commentary.
Tearjerker? F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise," which was released with a soundtrack but no dialogue, is a beautiful film.
Silent cinema created iconic moments that have inspired contemporary filmmakers. Here is one of them from "Phantom of the Opera."
You want gritty social observation? Erich Von Stroheim's castrated masterpiece packs a punch even though the film was cut from nine hours to less than two.