Michel Hazanavicius had relatively humble aspirations for his silent feature film The Artist. He had hoped for some success on the festival circuit, particularly at Cannes, and perhaps a small share of international recognition. To be sweeping the board at the worlds largest awards ceremonies having grossed over $75million worldwide and seeing his lead actor Jean Dujardin become a household name was probably beyond his wildest dreams. The 26th of February 2012 will no doubt be a date that he shall always remember- the day he beat Hollywood heavyweights Martin Scorcese and Woody Allen to the Best Director Oscar.
The Artist, an affectionately written love letter to the silent era, has become one of this years most talked about films, but it was always going to be a risk. The general cinema-going public had never seen anything like it and critics were right to worry that it wouldn’t find an audience outside the art-house aficionados and hardcore film enthusiasts. The Weinsteins, as ever, went into overdrive with their marketing campaign, playing down the lack of dialogue in a bid to pique the interest of a larger crowd. Uggie the canine show-stealer made TV appearances the world over to tie in with the films release and no doubt only added to the snowballing popularity that the film enjoyed. Despite its academy ratio, inter-titles and performance styles from a bygone era, it ultimately tells a very touching and heartwarming story- and tells it in such a way that you cant help but fall in love. It may not have become a box office smash but it outperformed expectations and had critics gushing with praise.
Only the French could make an artful film about the Hollywood system.
But after the hubbub has died down, once Hazanavicius is back at home polishing his trophies- what then for the legacy of The Artist? Will more film-makers set out to charm us with nostalgia? Or will we have to wait another 82 years to see a silent movie at the Oscars?
In an era when a films commercial success seems to correlate with the level of progressive technologies it employs, when the highest grossing films of the year are either remakes, franchises or sequels, should we not be robustly celebrating the way Hollywood has so enthusiastically embraced The Artist in all its silent monochromatic glory? Absolutely.
The precipitating story of The Artist could go one of two ways. It may mean that more maverick film studios will take risks on quirky European gems, defy the stringent rules of financial success and introduce us to more of the Dujardin and Hazanavicius ilk. At the Oscars after-party Harvey Weinstein; the movie maestro that delivered The Artist onto the screens and into the hearts of millions around the world, urged film-makers to believe in their passion, no matter how unlikely the odds of success may seem. Wise words indeed, and we can only hope that wannabe directors will heed his call and produce something spectacular.
What seems more likely is that The Artist will suffer the same fate as many independent creative ventures that have gone before it, namely an embarrassing string of copycat wannabes or – god help us- an attempt to create a sequel. Hollywood is, after all, a money making industry and after the resounding success of The Artist, cigar smoking moguls everywhere will be trying to churn out the next great silent movie. They might set it in 1920′s Hollywood, feature relatively obscure European actors and some toe-tappingly great dance numbers, they might even throw in a lovable performing canine, but there is no way that they could recreate the magic of this year Oscar-winning Best Picture.
Before any of that we are yet to see how the box office story of The Artist will play out- it ran at some UK cinemas for over 6 weeks after its original release and many will now choose to re-screen it after its Oscar success. As far as Best Picture winners go the figures for The Artist aren’t exactly dazzling, it pales in comparison to last years The King Speech, also distributed by the marketing savvy Weinsteins, that had already exceeded the $100 million mark before receiving its trophy. The aptly named Oscar Boost has been known to almost double the box-office figures for a film after it has been nominated in the best picture category and BoxofficeMojo tells us that The Artist received 61% of its US takings after it was tipped for the top accolade. But of all this years Oscar hopefuls it is only The Artist that is still actively expanding its market, particularly in the US where it opened in an additional 158 cinemas this weekend, so it has a lot to gain from the cinema-going world before this chapter of its story is complete.
And what next for the film’s stars Best Actor Jean Dujardin and supporting actress nominee Berenice Bejo? Well its been said that both are now being courted by Hollywood, needless to say we have not seen the last of them. Dujardin as long been one of the most bankable stars within his home country but how will crossing the pond effect his career? With a few trophies behind him its likely he can command much higher salaries and take his pick of the best scripts that come his way. Similarly Hazanavicius isn’t likely to hit any more brick walls when it comes to funding his pet projects- and I for one cant wait to see what he will bring us next.