I’m just back from seeing The Artist. I was keen it see it just because the idea of someone making a modern silent movie was a fascinating one. In the end, though, it’s not modern, it’s just new.
Because it’s a generally light-hearted film about the early days of Hollywood, in a lovingly recreated pastiche of the style of those films,* there’s an obvious logic to it being a silent movie which means there’s no challenge for the audience to overcome. It’s still impressive how successful it is — there’s a real pleasure in it just as a technical exercise, but it’s also a genuinely entertaining film — even so, in the end it feels like a brilliant jeu d’esprit rather than anything more profoundly boundary-pushing.
I don’t want to sound too churlish about it. The film is what it is, and on its own terms it’s very successful. But it would have been even more interesting if it was a silent film that was full colour, widescreen and in a contemporary setting. That would be a genuine exploration of the artistic possibilities of silent cinema in an age of sound.
*Although to be strictly accurate, a lot of the time it evokes black-and-white talkies rather than silent films. But it’s all part of the same nostalgia for old movies.