So you couldn’t expect me to rebrand my film blog and NOT talk about the BAFTAs. I didn’t watch the whole ceremony as I find awards shows to be exceptionally tedious, especially when the losers paste on their gracious faces, and the winners ramble on for what feels like hours, but I caught the last half, which let’s face it, always features the ‘big’ awards.
I can honestly say I was genuinely shocked to see The Artist bag SEVEN awards, scooping Best Picture, Best Actor (for Jean Dujardin), Best Director (for Michel Hazanavicius), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. I had hoped Bérénice Bejo might also scoop Best Actress but it was fairly obvious Meryl Streep was going to bag that for The Iron Lady. If there was an award for Best Acceptance Speech, then surely Michel Hazanavicius should have won that, with his quick wit.
Now, I wasn’t shocked because I didn’t want The Artist to win. I did – I absolutely loved the film, and I was so pleased to see a black-and-white silent film do so well in an era almost wholly dominated by either ‘tear-jerking’ Oscar fodder, or messy CGI catastrophes. Director Michel Hazanavicius described the film as being a love letter to wife (and star) Bérénice Bejo, but I feel the film was also a love letter to cinema itself, made with the same care and attention lavished on films made in cinema’s silent era. True, Hazanavicius exploited some techniques not available to filmmakers in the 1920s, but The Artist was a beautiful example of ‘proper’ filmmaking, even down to the way he framed his shots.
It’s also an incredibly important pseudo-historical document, highlighting the huge impact that the coming of sound had on cinema. Not only were theatres forced to invest in the expensive new technology, sound also affected the way films were made. Cameras had to be static to allow for microphone placement, while actors famous for frenetic action sequenced, like Douglas Fairbanks, found themselves slowed down and hemmed in by the new frames. Legendary director, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, has to turn his 1929 silent film Blackmail into a talkie at the last minute (although he also filmed a silent version, which still exists at the BFI). Lead actress Anny Ondra had a thick Czech accent, which is no problem in silent cinema, but proves to be an issue when faced with voice acting. Hitchcock worked around it by having English actress Joan Barry standing off-camera to speak the dialogue while Ondra lip-synced. Ondra retired from acting in 1933. Somehow makes the coming of 3D seem fairly pitiful, doesn’t it?
I’d love to see The Artist go on to Oscar success, especially since it picked up three Golden Globes, including Best Actor, but I have a horrible feeling it won’t. Aside from those years when they’ve felt compelled to honour projects like Avatar (proof that a beautiful film can be entirely devoid of soul or originality) or Lord of the Rings, the Academy tend to favour those types of films which feature at least one tear-jerking scene, some kind of underdog triumphing in the face of adversity, a stirring score to accompany ‘heavy’ scenes of drama, or various emotional epiphanies attributed to an ensemble cast. Besides, The Artist was financed by French and Belgian money – over the last twenty years, only two films have won that were not financed by Hollywood (The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire). The fact they’re both recent films makes me hope the Academy are a little more open-minded these days.
One final point I would want to make relates to screenplay. Some quarters have criticised the choice of The Artist as a deserving recipient of Best Screenplay. Erm, you do realise that a screenplay is not simply a compilation of the lines to be delivered by an actor? Just because a film has no spoken dialogue does not mean that it has no screenplay – after all, the actors need some kind of ‘instructions’ as to what to do and when. In many ways, it’s more difficult to write a dialogue-less screenplay, where the actors will need to work to communicate everything they would normally communicate through speech, than it is to write a list of lines.
In short, well done to The Artist…and good luck at the Oscars!