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For “The Artist,” will silence be golden?

“The Artist” may be a silent film, but it has quickly become a popular topic of conversation in both Hollywood and film circles around the country. The movie, which pays homage to silent films of the 1920s, recently won a Golden Globe Award for Best Picture (musical or comedy), and was nominated earlier this week for an Academy Award in the same category. We asked Inez Hedges, director of Northeastern’s Cinema Studies program in the College of Arts, Media and Design, to examine the film’s impact on the movie industry, and what students could learn from it.

What struck you most while watching “The Artist”?

I saw the film at the Paris Theater in New York. What’s interesting is that “The Artist” is shot in the style of 1927, which was the year the silent-film era ended. It’s very professionally done and represents the best the silent-film era achieved. One thing the best silent films focused on was great image quality. Many films today just focus on the story, rather than the way it’s captured. The level of cinematography in “The Artist” is equal to the best of the silent-film era.

What impact will “The Artist” have on filmgoers if it wins the Oscar for Best Picture?

I think it should win. One of things it could do is make people more interested in early cinema and film as an art form. Like the technological changes of that era, we’re now going through another period of technological transformation in film. Maybe in a way it’s a farewell to cinema as it was, because people watch films on YouTube and iPhones and this is harkening back to films seen in a cinema and not on the fly.

“The Artist” is a little like another recently-released film — “Hugo” — in that it celebrates the early days of cinema, and I think it could inspire filmmakers and fans of film to rediscover this era.

What can students learn by watching films like “The Artist”? What other kinds of films are helpful for young filmmakers to explore? 

I think it would be interesting to show “The Artist” side-by-side with films from the mid-1920s, so students could see how well the filmmaker translated that form of acting and filmmaking. Apparently the actors in “The Artist” were asked to copy the style of acting in silent films by Friedrich Wilhelm “F. W.” Murnau, including  “Sunrise” and “City Girl.”

Students tend to want to make horror films first, because they may be easier to market. But I would prefer if students learned about filmmaking by watching foreign, neorealist films because they don’t have a whole lot of money, and you can tell a great story with very little money if you focus on a character or a family dynamic. It’s amazing what you can do with few resources.