I’ve not had time to see all the films nominated for “Best Picture” for this year’s Academy Awards, and will, in fact, be flying up to Toronto next Sunday as this year’s Oscars are set to be awarded.
Why is it that I’m always on a plane during these big events? Three weeks ago it was the Super Bowl. Reminds me of the time that Spain was playing Germany in the UEFA Euro soccer finals in 2008. I was flying back from Madrid to the States, and there were all these poor Spaniards stuck on the plane as Germany played Spain for that once every-four-year title.
The good news was, Spain won (for them…I don’t want to start any internecine football blogging wars here).
I did get out to see one of the nominated films this weekend, Michael Hazanaviciu’s “The Artist,” a mostly silent film focused on the late 1920s and early 1930s which explores the transition from silent to “talky” pictures.
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie and plan on doing so, stop reading now!
I mean it…I’m about to spill the beans!
Actually, there aren’t a lot of beans to spill. The movie plot could just as easily haven been taken out of the radio-to-TV transition, or the broadcast-to-cable transition, or even the search-to-social network transition.
Meaning, that change is universal and inevitable. And those who choose to protect the business models of the past and to ignore the potential of those of the future are doomed to history’s sidelines.
In “The Artist,” George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the silent movie star of his time, but as he meets up-and-coming but still fledgling actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) his movie studio, Kinograph Studios, led by Al Zimmer (John Goodman), Valentin fights the rising tide of “talkies,” and soon finds himself going bankrupt during the Great Depression as silent films go the way of the dinosaur and his own last-ditch attempt at self-financing one last talkie is a failure.
It’s not without some irony that this film is, largely, silent. Yet in its own unique way, it demonstrates the power of visual storytelling, seeming to explain why silent films had their day — that a good story is, in fact, universal, no matter the manner in which is related.
As its viewers experience, it’s not until the very last scene of the film that we finally hear George Valentin speak at all, as he explains with a heavy French accent that he will do yet another take of a scene with his new co-star, Ms. Miller, “with pleasure.”
He’s had his epiphany, his denouement is complete, and Valentin seems set to become a part of the future he once denied, only this time more as dancer than actor.
He has, in short, evolved.
The object lesson in all this?
In some ways, it’s akin to Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, in which the author outlined the opportunity and challenges of disruptive technologies and innovations.
Clayton’s basic thesis suggests that a disruptive technology is “an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network.”
If the introduction of “talking” motion pictures’ and subsequent disruption of the silent film market doesn’t fit this definition, I’m not sure what does.
This transition, of course, didn’t come without some pain, experienced both by the motion picture industry at large, and a variety of its “players.” Actors such as the fictional George Valentin (but also scores of silent motion picture actors ranging from Theda Bara to Mary Pickford to Charlie Chaplin) were impacted by the transition, often when their voices didn’t match their silent film image.
But technical challenges also abounded: New mikes and cameras had to be developed to prevent pick-up of the grinding noise that silent film cameras made as the film moved through the sprockets, and the industry had to find a way to synchronize voices properly, considering the sound head on a projector is about 10 frames away from the projected image. Even new sound-proof sound stages had to be built, as did squeak-proof dollies.
But, ultimately, the industry and many of its players did adapt, and in the process generated a variety of new opportunities for newly required vocations (sound editors, boom operators, voice actors, and on and on). But, many also fell by the wayside.
As for “The Artist” and whether or not a silent movie in the year 2012 can win an Oscar for “Best Picture,” keep an eye out on the evolving social sentiment leading up to Sunday’s awards ceremony, for which IBM has partnered with the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab to bring you the Oscar Senti-Meter where we follow the Twittersphere action day-by-day.