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Posts Tagged ‘The Artist’

“Remember the old days, when movies were glorious, magical and mute? Neither do I. But the passing of the silent era from memory into myth is what ‘The Artist,’ Michel Hazanavicius’s dazzling cinematic objet d’art, is all about.”
A.O. Scott
New York Times article The Artist (2011) 

Yesterday I went to see The Artist for the third time in a movie theater. There have only been a few films in my life that have resonated with me enough to see the film three times in the theater. The last film I saw three times in a theater was Seabiscuit back in the summer of ’03.

I love everything about The Artist— Michael Hazanavicus’s writing and direction, the acting, the cinematography, the editing, the music, the sets, the dog, the costumes, etc., etc. All things which I appreciated more and more on repeated viewings. Heck, I just love the era of the 20s & 30s. And I was pleased when The Artist was awarded five Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year.

But as they touch on in The Artist— it’s out with the old in with the new.

When I left the theater yesterday I saw a line forming for the midnight showing of The Hunger Games. No, it wasn’t just a line, it looked more like some kind of protest mixed with a Justin Bieber concert. There was a line of teenage girls and tents. Tents—as in camping. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen tents outside a movie theater before. Granted it looked like it might rain little, and who wants to wait six hours in the rain? And my guess is that scene was repeated in theaters across the United States last night.

It will be showing this weekend in a staggering 10,000 theaters. According to The Washington Post, The Hunger Games set the record for advanced ticket sales of a non-sequel film. The midnight showing sold out 1,400 theaters and made $20 million just last night/this morning. I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that it’s going to be the box-office champ this weekend and pull in more than $100 million.

I don’t know the cultural phenomenon behind The Hunger Games other than the books have a diehard following. But I look forward to seeing the film because it  stars Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and was directed by Gary Ross. (Ross, if you recall, directed Seabiscuit.) He also credited as screenwriter along with Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins (who wrote the book that the movie is based on). Ross has been quoted as saying of his work on The Hunger Games, “I’m as proud of this as anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

So by the end of the weekend it’ll probably be The Artist 3—The Hunger Games 1.

P.S. Just realized that both The Artist and Seabiscuit both deal with the same time period in and around The Great Depression and address issues of loss, obsolescence and redemption. The past was rough, but judging from the previews of The Hunger Games, the future looks worse. (Are there any movies where the future looks positive?)

Related posts:

Writing “The Artist” (Part 1)

Writing “The Artist” (Part 2)

Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)

Seabiscuit Revisted in 2008

It Takes Guts to Be a Screenwriter (Gary Ross)

Writing “Seabiscuit”

Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Related Links: Interesting article by Anne Thompson comparing why The Hunger Games killed it at the box office and why John Carter didn’t.

Scott W. Smith

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Marcus Coral Ridge Cinema—Coralville, Iowa

Oops, I did it again. This weekend I watched both Hugo & The Artist in the theaters—just like I did last month to start the new year. (Saw Hugo at the Coral Ridge Cinema which has a nice movie tribute in their lobby—pictured above. Directly off Interstate 80 in the Iowa City area. )

I love those movies. Apparently others do as well. Yesterday, The Artist picked up seven BAFTA awards including Best Picture and for Michel Hazanavicus’s script, and Hugo picked up four awards and its director, Martin Scorsese, received the Academy Fellowship—”The highest accolades bestowed upon an individual in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film.” (Hugo leads the Oscar pack with 11 nominations, followed by The Artist with 10.)

In my January 4th post Hugo & The Artist  I wrote, “I can’t remember when I’ve been as impressed seeing two films back to back.” Seeing them a second time allowed me to see more how they overlap and contrast each other.  They are similar in that parts of both of the stories occur in 1931 and represent a tribute of sorts to the history of cinema—and both represent broken characters. But they are also quite different in that The Artist is a black and white silent film in 4X3 format and Hugo is a colorful widescreen 3-D visual feast full of seamless special effects. Both have gotten great reviews, but unfortunately neither blazed any trails at the box office.

Those films (and their love of movies) have also set the tone for this blog this year, to weave in the history of film with more specific and contemporary issues related to screenwriting and filmmaking.

And since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow—a day to celebrate love— I thought I’d give you a few options other than roses & chocolate to give your loved one (or yourself).

1) Hugo: The Shooting Script published by Newmarket Press/Harper Collins will be made available tomorrow. I was fortunate to get an early copy and read it this weekend. The book features the John Logan screenplay, an introduction by Logan, a forward by the author Brian Selzick who wrote the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (from which the film is based), various production notes and 23 photos from the production. Over the years I’ve purchased about 10 of The Shooting Scripts and find them wonderful additions for those who love movies in general and screenwriting in particular. I’ll write more about the Hugo: The Shooting Script tomorrow, but you can order it at Amazon or perhaps find it at a bookstore tomorrow.

The other two Valentine specials are L.A.-centric, but I’m sure with a little creativity you can find something similar in your area.

2) Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp is currently playing (February 3-16,2012) at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. This theater was built in 1926 and restored in 1991. It’s where Citizen Kane had its world premiere in 1941. Across the street, and later this month is where the Academy Awards will be held at The Kodak Theatre. And for a total Hollywood evening (if you can get a reservation) eat at The Musso & Frank Grill which has been serving meals in Hollywood since 1919. According to its website, its literary guests over the years have included; F.Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, T.S. Elliot, John Steinbeck and many others, and Raymond Chandler is said to have written part of the The Big Sleep in the Back Room bar.

3) F.W. Murnau‘s classic 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans will be playing at  The Cinefamily theater in LA on Valentine’s Day (2/14/12).

4) In Chicago at the Music Box Theatre they are showing The Princes Bride on Valentine’s Day. Inconceivable!

5) Or you can always stay home and watch The Bodyguard. The Lawrence Kasden written and Mick Jackson directed film starring Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston.

“I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of.
And I wish to you, joy and happiness.
But above all this, I wish you love.”

I Will Always Love You
performed by Whitney Houston in My Bodyguard
written by Dolly Parton

What interesting film related things are going on in your neck of the woods this Valentine’s Day?

P.S. If anyone in LA goes to Lady and the Tramp, Sunrise, or The Princess Bride shoot me a note about the experience.

Related posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)–Insights from Hugo screenwriter John Logan
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 2)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

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Inspired by seeing the silent film The Artist (2011) I’ve spent most of the past week or so reflecting on the early days of motion pictures, and since the Academy Award nominations are today it seems fitting to look back on the first Academy Awards on May 18, 1929.

One of the most significant things about that date is it was just five months before the Stock Market Crash in October of 1929, which began the Great Depression. Another interesting fact is the award ceremony only last 15 minutes—a far cry from the marathon 3 hour plus modern ceremonies. It also reflected not on one year of films as done today, but on a two-year period of 1927 & 1928.

So the first Academy Awards really represent a shift from the early silent era into what is known as “The Golden Age of Hollywood.” The beginning of syncretized sound pictures in 1927 through sometime around 1930 when detailed attendance records began being kept, film going attendance in the USA was at an all time high of 90 million moviegoers per week (which was around 60% of the population). Just as a comparison, these days in the United States the weekly movie going attendance is less that 30 million people (or 10% of the population).

Back in 1929, the First Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story went to Underworld by Ben Hecht, beating out The Last Command by Lajos Biro. (Ironically, a movie titled Underword happened to be the box office winner this past weekend).  And Best Writing, Adapted Story went to Benjamin Glaser for Seventh Heaven (beating out Glorious Betsy by Anthony Coldway and The Jazz Singer by Alfred A. Cohn.). The best picture was the silent film Wings. 

And you know those title cards that sometimes popped up on silent movies? They had an Oscar for that in 1929. (The only year it was given.) Best Writing, Title Writing went to George Marion Jr. (for No Specific Film) beating out The Private Life of Helen of Troy by Gerald Duffy.

What’s interesting about the Best Writing, Original Story for Underworld and Ben Hecht is look at the other people who are listed on credits who did not partake in Oscar victory; Adaptation by Charles Furhmann, Screen play by Rober N. Lee and Titles by George Marion, Jr.

Related Post: The Shakespeare of Hollywood (Ben Hecht)

Hugo & The Artist (Both of these films lead the 2012 Oscar nominations with a combined total of 21.)

Scott W. Smith


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“I am big— it’s the pictures that got small.”
The faded from glory silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Blvd. 

“We didn’t need dialogue—we had faces.”
Norma Desmond (Sunset Blvd.

Yesterday it was announced that (mostly) silent film The Artist lead the race for the British Academy Film Awards with a total of 12 nominations. 

So in it seems fitting to continue to glance back at the silent film era. In real life around the time that the fictional story The Artist takes place, the highest paid actress was Gloria Swanson. In a 1957 interview Mike Wallace called her, “One of Hollywood’s most spectacular links with its glamorous heyday.” My introduction to her in film school was not her silent films, but her Oscar-nominated performance in Sunset Blvd. (1950) where she played a faded and forgotten film star.

The Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett/D.M Marshman Jr. written film is one of my all-time favorites. (It’s also #12 on AFI’s list of America’s Greatest Movies.) It’s also one of those film that gets richer over time as I appreciate another layer of the film. Even that line “I am big—it’s the pictures that got small” has a new meaning today as people watch movies on computers, iPads and cell phones. 

A silent movie clip in Sunset Blvd. that is supposed to be a Norma Desmond in her big screen glory days directed by her now butler is actually the 1929 film Queen Kelly staring Swanson and directed by Erich von Stroheim (who plays the butler in Sunset Blvd). If Norma Desmond was a real person and alive today she may at least appreciate that though pictures haven gotten even smaller Queen Kelly has its own Facebook page. Another memorable line in Sunset Blvd. is when von Stroheim tells Norma, “Madame is the greatest star of them all.” A line that newspapers headlines play off of when Swanson died in 1983.

It was wondered if Swanson would make the transition from the silent era to the talkies. Her first speaking role was The Trespasser (1929) for which she earned an Oscar nomination. (And a film the was reportedly written in three weeks by Edmund Goulding who also directed the movie.) 

The backlash for The Artist has already started. I’m glad I saw the film in an art house theater with little expectations. Despite whatever awards it wins, perhaps the greatest value of The Artist is reintroducing people to silent movies. To giving a nod to the creative people of the past whose work is often not simply forgotten, but not even known about in the first place. 

Here is a scene from Sunset Blvd. that featured several silent movie stars that hadn’t been seen on screen in years. It’s been said that this scene made audience gaps when first seen. (Imagine a movie scene in 20 years featuring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Angelina Jolie—a few years past their prime— sitting around passing time playing cards.)

And as nod to show you how dangerous they kicked it back in the ole’ days here is a Gloria Swanson interview recounting a scene from the 1919 film Male and Female.

Oh, and for what it’s worth—Gloria Swanson was born in Chicago.

Related post: Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd. (Show what happens sometimes to screenwriters from Ohio who struggle in Hollywood.)

Scott W. Smith

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