As most of you probably know, the black and white silent film The Artist won the Academy Award for best picture last night. In case you haven’t seen it (I haven’t, and have been itching to for weeks), The Artist is a mostly silent, black and white film about silent black and white film. With its win last night, this delightfully anachronistic movie has reset the clock on some remarkable Oscar records.
Though black and white film fell out of common usage decades ago, its use as an artistic choice continues to this day. Geeks will perhaps remember the remarkable directoral debut of Darren Aronofsky with Pi in 1998, which was shot in high-contrast black and white reversal film. The last time a black and white film won for best picture was in 1993, for Steven Spielberg’s holocaust drama Schindler’s List. That film came a full 33 years after the last black and white best picture winner in 1960 with The Apartment.
Likewise, the advent of synchronized sound has all but relegated silent films an anachronism. Given that the Oscars began in 1929, a full two years after the debut of the first feature length “talkie” The Jazz Singer, it shouldn’t be too surprising that few silent films took home a best picture. In fact, only two have: Wings in 1929 and last night’s winner The Artist.
On a more technical point, The Artist was also presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio. This was the older standard for film making for movies of the silent era, in keeping with The Artist’s subject and anachronistic production. Most films these days are in the larger 16:9 widescreen format. While this is a minor technical point, The Artist is the first 4:3 film to win a best picture award since Marty in 1955.
Perhaps the old adage is right: Everything old is new again.
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