Silents are golden
By Dante on January 17th, 2012
The big winner at the Golden Globes this past Sunday was The Artist. The film won three Globes, including Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Jean Dujardin) and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization that awards the Globes, isn’t the only one to recognize The Artist this awards season. The film was recently names one of the year’s top films by the National Board of Review and won the Best Director and Best Film award from the New York Film Critics Circle, among many other honors.
What might be more impressive, though, is that the movie garnering all this acclaim was made by a French director with French stars, is black and white, and is silent. The Artist is a silent film homage to silent films, and it has been the surprise hit of 2011. But if you step back and survey the rest of pop culture — especially books outside the field of picture books — you’ll see a turn towards storytelling silence.
Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck both feature long passages inspired by silent movie conventions: no dialogue, images telling the story, the reader expected to do the bulk of emotional heavy lifting. Unlike movies, though, we can luxuriate over the images and in the silence to appreciate their beauty and power. Hugo Cabret is influenced directly by silent movies, telling a version of Georges Méliès biography. Director Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the book, Hugo, has been another critical and audience favorite this awards season. (Scorsese won the Best Director award at this year’s Globes.) And while it’s decidedly not a silent movie (it’s in 3D and relies heavily on dialogue and sound), it does draw inspiration from Melies, Selznick’s interpretation of 1930s France, and silent film.
Silent storytelling is hardly new, and it never really went away. But there’s something about it that finds resonance with audiences, readers, and viewers right now. Perhaps it’s the cacophony a lot of us live in. We’re constantly connected through smartphones and barraged by social networks, and movies and TV have become overloaded on neuron-frying sensory stimulation (think the Transformers movies). Silent movies and books allow for a respite, a moment to catch our breath and engage in a story with its storyteller rather than being dragged through it as if caught in a whirlwind of overcaffeinated creativity.
Personally, I love silent movies, and reading Hugo Cabret was one of my favorite recent literary experiences. Living in New York affords so few moments of quiet that I take it any way I can get it. So this resurgence of silence is great, I think. But I realize it’s not for everyone — some people don’t have the patience for it, and that’s OK. What about you? Do you like silent movies and books? If so, what are your favorites? If not, why? Let us know in the comments section!
Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company.