I hadn’t intended to watch the Oscars last night but I got swept up in the glamour of the red carpet, the glitz of the show and all the love for The Artist. I cheered on as I saw The Artist win for Best Picture, Best Score (take that Kim Novak!), Best Actor (Jean DuJardin, YAY!), Best Costume Design and Best Director. I had hoped that God is the Bigger Elvis would have won for best Documentary Short just so I could see Dolores Hart on stage. Actress Elizabeth Banks tweeted her confusion as to why there was a nun on the red carpet. Reading that tweet (which was RTd, I don’t follow her on Twitter), caused me to smack my forehead. Of course Elizabeth Banks doesn’t know who Dolores Hart is! Because a lot of new actors don’t care about film history. Not even the Academy cares very much about early film. Did you notice that in one of the montages showing “classics” they didn’t go further back then Midnight Cowboy (1969) (or at least that’s the earliest film I spotted)? And the Oscars are notorious for skipping over people in their memorial montage, although this year they did a lot better. Now I understand perhaps skipping over Barbara Kent this year because she had only played minor roles in a few films, her last one being released in 1935. But when Penny Singleton (aka Dorothy McNulty) passed away in 2003, they skipped her over in the 2004 montage. Singleton had a very long career in Movie and Television, much longer than Barbara Kent and she also had the Blondie series in which she was the title character! But no one knows who Penny Singleton is so let’s just skip her. If TCM can pay homage to everyone in a few minutes and do a great job at it, a 3-1/2 hour award show can do the same.
The Academy Awards usually throws in some mentions of a few favorites like Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, some Hitchcock, but for the most part it’s all about new new new. We are lucky if we even see Mickey Rooney on the red carpet or in the audience. I’m sure they shove him in the way back even though he’s been attending the Oscars longer than most of those people have been alive. When Kirk Douglas presented the Best Supporting Actress Oscar last year I near fell out of my chair. Seeing him on stage made my heart fill with joy. But idiots on Twitter and elsewhere had different reactions: 1) Kirk Douglas is still alive? and 2) Oh wow, that’s awkward, take the old dude off the stage. Let’s just forget about the fact that the man survived a stroke and has a legendary career in film. Naw, just get him off the stage. And the honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement isn’t even televised anymore. Sad!
This year I was happy for two things. For The Artist and for Hugo (2011). I haven’t seen Hugo but I own and have read the book it’s based on: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The author/illustrator is Brian Selznick (and yes he is of the famous Hollywood Selznick family) and I got to meet him at Book Expo one year. For me the book celebrated the magic of early film and knowing Martin Scorsese’ appreciation for film history I’m sure the movie did the book justice. As most of you know, The Artist is a silent film (well mostly silent, there is some sound beyond just music and there is a bit of dialogue but not very much). It’s also black and white. How many of us classic film fans have encountered push back because a film is either silent or black and white? “Ew! I only watch films in color and with dialogue.” Well, congratulations! You are king/queen of the world. Silent films and black and white films are so beneath your excellence. What The Artist demonstrated is that a contemporary film doesn’t have to be American, doesn’t have to be color and doesn’t have to be a talkie. A French black-and-white silent film can be just as entertaining and even more so than the interminable dross that’s out there now.
Now it’s not to say that The Artist is a perfect film but it is really good. So before you buy into the Novak controversy, try watching it first. The only issue I had with it was the lack of 1920s/1930s lingo. “Oh my god” was used twice in the film that I noticed. That’s very much a contemporary phrase. They could have had fun with old slang like “on the level”, “and how!”, “Sheik”, “bee’s knees” and “cat’s pajamas”. But they didn’t which is a shame. However, I could tell that they put a lot of attention to the finer details of the era and stayed as true as they could to the period as possible. I definitely appreciated that.
Someone online stated that people who will watch The Artist will not decide to then watch earlier silent films. I don’t agree with that. It's not that I think people will be lining up to see the most complete version of Metropolis but I think saying no one will be interested in silent films is too general a statement. Whenever I watch a film I like, I try to find other films like it. And whenever I discover an actor or actress I enjoy, I try to watch other films they’ve done. It’s just how I watch films. It’s a chain reaction. One experience leads to other experiences. While The Artist is a silent film that is more palatable to modern audiences, I think that there will be some people who will be willing to take the challenge of exploring the silents of a bygone era.
Sometimes I write these posts and then ask myself, what’s my point? My point is that films like The Artist and Hugo demonstrate to all those haters out there that classic films matter! These films are our champions and we should be their champions too. They are love letters to the past from the present. They express the same love we have for classic films. So hurray for The Artist for celebrating early film, for entertaining us and for winning those awards. Congratulations!