Is Silence Golden?
The First Talkie “The Jazz Singer”
And the Last Silent “The Artist"
When the “Jazz Singer” debuted in theaters, October 6th 1927 it was not the immediate hit with critics that modern day cinephiles would think that a historic movie of its caliber would generate. Here is an excerpt from Time Magazine
In 1927, TIME was less than impressed by The Jazz Singer. What was important about it, the review in the Oct. 17, 1927, issue stated, was that it was Al Jolson’s first movie, and that it was noteworthy that his singing voice could be preserved. “The Vitaphone permits him to talk and sing his way through the sentimental mazes of the movie adaptation,” the reviewer noted. No mention whatsoever of the real historic value of the movie.But 1920s cinemaphiles could be forgiven for missing the point. As a matter of fact, most of them would have missed the sound entirely. Within just a few years, it was eminently clear that the movie was more important than its star — but there had been a serious technical hindrance to moviegoers realizing as much when it first came out. As TIME’s 1933 review of the Jolson picture Hallelujah, I’m a Bum explained:Jolson and his career will be remembered because The Jazz Singer was the first sound picture ever made. It cost $500,000 and when it was released in Manhattan on Oct. 6, 1927, there were less than 100 theatres in the world equipped to show it. The success of The Jazz Singerdefinitely ended Hollywood’s happiest era, launched the fortunes of Warner Brothers who produced it, established Al Jolson for a short time as the greatest personality in the amusement business.Jolson’s later pictures have been less successful but he still has most of the $2,000,000 which made him a few years ago reputedly the third richest actor in the world.
Even though "The Jazz Singer" was not the first film to use sound, it proved to be the first one to use spoken dialogue as part of the dramatic action. The combination of Jolson, America's most popular singer, and the new medium of sound helped to produce a profit of $3.5 million, causing Warner Bros. to begin its rule as one of Hollywood's top studios.
So it was not well received by critics, but audiences loved it. And now is seen as a historical cinema marker of progress, and it ushered in many copy cats which led to sound pictures to be the norm from then on.
Then there is “The Artist”
Released January 20th 2012 was met with immediate praise from critics, and while the movie goers didn't exactly run away from the theaters, the movie was not quite the commercial hit that a Best Picture winner would normally generate and it has definitely not started a string of copycats, leading to the re-emergence of silent film.
Definitely two groundbreaking films, but on two ends of the spectrum, and are opposite as much as they are the same.
There’s a scene fairly early in “The Artist” where sound is introduced into the movie. A drinking glass landing on a table. The wind in the palms. A dog barking, a phone ringing, women laughing.
By then though, the movie should have you fully in its thrall. And so you will wish, deeply, that it will revert back to silence, that beautiful, evocative silence. Not to worry, it does.
But it goes beyond imitation or gentle spoofing: The Director is all in, for all the romance and glamor and pathos of his story, and so are his extraordinary stars, who are up for the challenge.
The movie is inventive, strangely enough in its un-inventiveness. More than just simple nostalgia, since most all viewers of this movie weren’t alive when silent films were the standard on the big screen. But somehow, using the old tricks of the trade, they have managed to create something new. Sure, it is actually something old, but that is where the beauty in its ability to re-create what captured the imaginations, many generations before lies.
If it is a good story well executed people will love it, whether it has sound or not.