Silence Is Golden: Can the Awards Season Success of The Artist and Hugo Really Stimulate Interest in Silent Film?

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When the Oscar nominations were announced this morning, it came to no one’s surprise that The Artist and Hugo were among the Best Picture nominees.  Both have had stellar runs with the critics and with the guilds, and both fared well at the Golden Globes, winning, respectively, Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Best Director.  What is remarkable is that, with ten nominations for The Artist and eleven for Hugo, these two films stand apart from all the other nominees.  The movies with the next highest number of nominations – Moneyball and War Horse – landed (just) six nominations.

The Artist and Hugo, thus, have distinguished themselves as the Academy’s absolute favorite films this year.  It’s highly probable that one of them will walk away with Best Picture in February.  But what is also fascinating about them is that, in their own way, they are tributes to the early days of cinema, the days of the silent film.

In concept, The Artist more clearly fits this bill.  Presented as a black-and-white, mostly silent film, it echoes the films of the 1920s.  Its subject matter deals directly with the transition from silent films to talkies.  On the other hand, Hugo, at the outset, is not as obviously a tribute to early cinema.  As the story progresses, however, Hugo becomes a love letter to early silent films, especially those of French pioneer Georges Méliès.

It is an odd coincidence that these two markedly different films, united by a love for film, came out around the same time and now are poised to battle head-to-head for Best Picture.  With the considerable attention they are receiving, is it possible, then, that they will lead to increased interest in silent films?

Before seeing The Artist and Hugo, I had seen a few silent features and a handful of silent shorts, including Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon, featured prominently in Hugo.  I enjoyed them, but there was so much else to watch that I didn’t spend too much time looking to watch silent movies.  I admit that after seeing The Artist and Hugo, I’ve watched a few more silent features, and I now have a more pressing desire to see others.

However, I like to consider myself somewhat of a cinephile, though my cinephilia has only developed over the past couple of years.  Perhaps it’s because I am already somewhat of a cinephile that I had this reaction to The Artist and Hugo.  Is it likely that others will have the same desire to discover more about silent film due to these films?

Although both films are almost unanimously praised, neither has achieved blockbuster status.  With them now holding the status of the two most nominated films of the year, it is possible that more people will seek them out.  The question remains whether The Artist and Hugo can influence these average moviegoers to learn more about the silent era of cinema.

If you’ve seen The Artist and/or Hugo, did it/they inspire you to watch more silent films?  If you’re already a silent film fan, did you appreciate the tributes to them in these films?

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