In cinemas today it’s as if we wear blinkers. We’re oblivious to those either side of us and we normally want it to stay that way. Watching The Artist last night I noticed how the audience for silent movies turned to the people next to them at special moments to smile or nod. The absence of any sound other than music left open the option of shared communication.
At the end in the movie they broke out into applause. That’s what I wanted to do last night. I wanted to turn and share the best bits with neighbours, and I wanted to applaud at the end, but the credits came up so quickly there was no time. Maybe they should change that now: audience participation at that moment would round off what is a near-perfect movie experience.
Think of the other extreme, cocooned, watching some noisy blockbuster, in front of the TV, playing a game on your computer, completely immersed in your own private world. The contrast couldn’t be more stark. Silent movies were only one step removed from theatre, as The Artist demonstrates. I was reminded too of Cinema Paradiso where the combustible qualities of film stock were also very evident. George in The Artist loses his memories, the Sicilian village loses its cinema. But the village could also have lost a way of life, which it did when the cinema finally closed. Cinema then was a social occasion, a smaller screen, much more audience interaction, a sense of palpable social excitement.
All now gone.