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For “The Artist,” Silence is Golden

February 6, 2012

By John C.

When you look at the box office numbers for the nine Best Picture nominees, The Help made the most money by a large margin, and The Artist is second only to The Tree of Life as the least profitable of the films.  Compare this to last year when Best Picture winner The King’s Speech turned quite a nice profit with mainstream audiences, and the numbers for The Artist look even lower in comparison.

Yet the loving tribute to black and white silent films is set to dominate the Oscars in just under three weeks, despite the fact that many audiences still haven’t seen the film.  French star Jean Dujardin might even beat out popular movie stars like George Clooney (The Descendants) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) for Best Actor.  But something occurred to me the other day.  Perhaps what is keeping audiences out of theatres is not the fact that what is on screen is virtually silent, but that it will be glaringly obvious if those in the audience aren’t keeping quiet.

In this day and age, the movie theatre manners of certain audiences leave a lot to be desired.  Texting and chatting with friends has become the appropriate norm, rather than what is considered worthy of a glare from those sitting in front of you.  It’s gotten to the point where some theatres want to implement a specific row that is reserved for those texting, but this is a behaviour that shouldn’t be encouraged, no matter what.  Perhaps it wouldn’t bother other people quite as much during a bombastic blockbuster, but during a movie that is driven by music instead of dialogue, any noise from the audience is going to be heard around the theatre.  When I saw the film, the woman sitting behind me audibly proclaimed “this is weird” as soon as the characters on screen opened their mouths without the dialogue being heard.

There have been reports of audiences wanting their money back after The Artist, simply because they were disappointed by the fact that it was silent.  I would want my money back if I saw the film with an audience that thought they could add their own dialogue track.  Although some audiences have taken to the film in a big way.  So far, it has made just over $20.5 million at the box office, which is good for a small film like The Artist.  But it is still low for a film set to sweep the Oscars, especially when compared to the $169.6 million made by fellow nominee The Help.  Before taking home the gold at last year’s ceremony, The King’s Speech already had over $100 million in the bank, and went on to make even more money at the box office after the Oscars.

This year’s Oscar race has gotten to the point where there isn’t even much commentary to add, aside from the fact that The Artist will likely be only the second silent film to win Best Picture since Wings was crowned at the first ceremony way back in 1927.  Does it deserve all this attention?  Yes.  The Artist is a moving, entertaining and ultimately inspirational film that plays as a loving tribute to Hollywood’s era of silent filmmaking.  Many people will and should see the movie, especially if it does take home Best Picture.  But what’s sad is that the illegal download numbers could potentially end up very high, with people wanting to see the film before February 26th, without having to pay for it in theatres.

You know those ads that play before all movies at AMC Theatres?  The message proclaims that “silence is golden.”  I’m not saying that audiences no longer know how to act in a movie theatre, because a lot of people still do.  All I’m wondering is if some audiences aren’t knowing how to react when faced with something so different from what we’ve come to expect.  My advice to those who have yet to see The Artist, is to just take a chance on the film.  The experience of sitting in a theatre and seeing a black and white silent film in this day and age is nothing short of mesmerizing, and hopefully it will remind people that they aren’t supposed to be talking in the audience, regardless of what is playing on the screen.

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