“Old Hollywood” Kicks Off Oscar Challenge

by Kelli Warner
KMTR-TV Morning News anchor
Springfield, OR

It’s another big weekend for Hollywood and on a personal level, quite an accomplished weekend for me.

This Sunday, I will watch the Academy Awards having actually, for the first time, done my homework.

Call it an impulse decision, a crazy whim, or a calculated personal challenge. Whatever it was, my co-anchor, Marc, and I announced on-air to our viewers that we would commit to watching all the movies nominated for a “Best Picture” Oscar.

All nine. (silence)

In hind sight, maybe it was not the best idea I’ve ever had. First, as you might imagine, watching nine movies in a short amount of time, some in theaters, some on DVD, is a huge time commitment.

And secondly, in my opinion, they are not all “Best Picture” worthy. They are all, however, very different. By far, the most different of the bunch in my opinion is “The Artist.”

“The Artist” is a film that portrays what Hollywood used to be before all those “talkies” came along. And that’s what started me on this whole Oscar-movie-watching journey.

For those of you who don’t know, “The Artist” is a silent movie about silent movies. More specifically, it’s the story of an actor who was at the height of his career and then plummets into obscurity after Hollywood begins producing movies with sound.

I got some very good perspective on this film by sitting down for a conversation with Lon Davis of Eugene. He has written several books on the silent film era. In fact, his uncle was a silent film actor many decades ago.

Lon started our conversation by asking the exact question that initially crossed my mind, “What could be worse than going to see a silent film where there’s no dialogue?” In this day and age of digital effects, use of sound and in-your-face action, “The Artist” just doesn’t fit.

And maybe that’s the initial draw.

“You become part of the creative process,” Lon explained. “When you imagine what a person’s voice sounds like or you’re imaging the details of what they’re saying, you become more involved. It’s a fascinating premise.”

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t realize the true value of its silent film era. In the late 1920’s it was on to bigger and better things. And once sound became the focus of films, movie studios actually destroyed entire libraries, burning millions of feet of film. Sometimes films were destroyed for their silver content.

“There were some filmmakers like F.W. Murnau, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin who thought, wait a minute. The silent film medium is an artistic medium. It has something to say,” Lon told me. “You can say some things better with silence than you can with mere words. Chaplin, for example, was at his most eloquent when he never said anything.”

Imagine a time when actors weren’t just actors. They were really seen as gods and goddesses. In the silence, actors could transcend screens around the world. There were no accents to tie one actor to a specific country. Every country saw silent film stars as their stars. It was when actors began talking that they became merely people. And when Hollywood embraced a younger, newer batch of talent, many of the veteran performers found themselves left out in the proverbial cold.

“The Artist” may seem to younger generations to be a new approach to filmmaking, but this is an example of when Hollywood was at its best, in its golden age. And my official opinion is: I really liked it. I’ll admit at first, it was strange to hear my theater snacks make more noise than the movie itself, but I quickly found myself engaged in the storyline and the characters.

This film was a great start to my nine-movie-marathon challenge.

It was followed by “Moneyball”, “The Help”, “Midnight in Paris” and “Tree of Life” (the most bizarre movie of the nine so far).

Needless to say, I’ve still got some serious ground to cover.

Five movies down—four more to watch before Sunday!

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