Point of View: Silence is golden? I don't think so...

Richard Stevenson takes aim at The Artist and thinks his AV lifestyle could be in jeopardy

Great. I have spent the last 20 years building and writing about state-of-the-art home cinema and we get a renaissance in black-and-white silent movies!

The Artist has scooped a handful of Oscars in the Academy’s biggest travesty of justice since The Hurt Locker beat Star Trek for best sound in 2010. And just to add insult to injury The Artist is a rom-com; that less than erudite category of celluloid entertainment that makes my skin crawl. I can’t even think of Hugh Grant without shuddering at the thought of Two Weddings and an Unbelievable Love Story Actually.

What worries me is that every Oscar-winning movie since the Academy first started slapping itself on the back in public has sired a flood of concept clones. The Artist could hail the beginning of a new era in silent movies, with everything from tense dramas to all-action blockbusters getting a 1920s-style makeover. How ironic, then, that the plot of The Artist centres on an actor worrying that his career is over due to impending ‘talkie’ movies. I am a reviewer worrying that my career maybe over due to the impending rebirth of ‘silent’ movies.

Considering the public at large have near forgotten that movies even have surround sound audio, is it any wonder that a silent movie has won an Oscar? Many new flatscreen TVs don’t even offer basic virtual Dolby processing and have a handful of cheap speaker drivers for rudimentary audio. And, because we all want ultra-slim frames and microscopic bezels, these drivers are actually on the back of the TV facing the wrong way. Then people install flatscreens tight up against a wall and wonder why they spend half their evening turning to their family asking ‘What did he say?’

Punters don’t seem to care about sound in the same way they do the pursuit of the latest HD-3D-infinite-contrast-ratio picture quality, none of which is much use for a film that is in black-and-white and is artificially grainy anyway. At the same time, sales of surround sound speaker packages continue to wobble, so maybe it is we, the home cinema-lovin’ minority, that are in the wrong when it comes to worrying about how movies sound? After all, whole chunks of Pixar’s WALL.E worked just fine without dialogue. In fact, there are a number of films I can think of that would have been improved immeasurably if only the actors would have shut the hell up: Avatar, Captain America, Limitless and pretty much anything starring Chris Tucker to start with.

The pen is mightier than the sword

On the other hand, where would we be if we didn’t have movie phrases like ‘I’ll be back’, ‘I am your father’ and ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’? Movies were never meant to be silent! Even from advent of film as we know it, in the 1890s at Edison’s labs, it was only technical issues that stopped the movie featuring a synchronised sound track. By 1927 The Jazz Singer was one of the first movies to offer dialogue and music, albeit only in parts, and by the 1930s the silent movie was dead – and should have stayed that way.

Clearly The Artist has been honoured for its ‘silent’ concept and audacity alone, because the film itself is a twee romp that would not get most critics out of bed. To call it ‘Best Picture’ is a travesty of the term, particularly when other nominees included the thought-provoking The Help, Woody Allen’s intellectual comedy Midnight in Paris, and Martin Scorsese’s effects-fuelled action adventure Hugo. And as far as the Blu-ray release of The Artist is concerned, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Are you hoping silent movies make a comeback?

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This column first appeared in the Awards 2012 issue of Home Cinema Choice