Last night at the 84th Academy Awards, the mostly silent film The Artist took the big prize winning Best Picture and four other awards including Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin. Hugo (also a film about the silent film era) took home just as many statues, but in the art/technical categories of Cinematography, Art Direction, Visual Effects and both sound awards.
As each winner receives their gold statuette that will be forever attributed to their careers, they are ushered back stage for a small press tour. First, the winners and their presenters are brought into the photography room and they have a multitude of photographs taken with their new friend Oscar®. Once this is done, only the winner gets to enter the press room – which contains a group of press from around the world.
The Best Picture Oscar® went to Producer Thomas Langmann for the French silent film The Artist. Langmann. Director Hazanavicius brought Langmann the idea of making a silent, black and white film and Langmann decided if the film was filmed in Hollywood, with mostly an American cast, that the risk just my pay off. As production of the film completed, Langmann kept hearing that the film could be an award winner, but he was superstitious. Not until the film was first screen in front of audience at The Cannes Film Festival in the South of France did Langmann realize its possibilities.
One month before screening at the Cannes, Langmann invited Harvey Weinstein of The Weistein Company to a screening of the film and to see if Weinstein would be interested in distributing the film overseas. Langmann said he listened intently to the screening room and was happy to hear laughing come from the room. Weinstein did agree to distribute The Artist, and due to the success the film has had in the U.S., Langmann indicated that ticket sales in Europe are now increasing.
At the Oscars® last night, Langmann brought a good-luck coin given to him by his daughter and Langmann gave it to the star of the film and fellow nominee Jean Dujardin a few minutes before his category was read. And boy did it work! Langmann went back stage and asked for his coin back before the Best Picture category was read.
It could be the coin that brought Dujardin his Oscar® for Best Achievement by an Actor in a Leading Role, but most likely the Academy members deemed Dujardin the best choice for his amazing portrait of film star approaching an incredible and life altering change in his career and his performance was done without dialogue. All his emotions, thoughts and ideas had to be presented with the use of his expression.
But Dujardin, who’s English has improved during award season, is first to admit that he is still a French actor and that his only chance of making another film in the U.S., would depend on it also being a silent film. Dujardin studied Douglas Fairbanks for his silent persona and Gene Kelly for his dance moves, and it proves he is studies paid off well.
Michel Hazanavicius was also presented with an Oscar®, for Best Director of The Artist. This silent, black and white film was all his idea. Hazanavicius is an ardent film fan and spoke of silent film classics such as the film Sunrise, The City Girl, The Crowd, Underworld and every Chaplin film as his favorites of the silent period (and then he offered to spend a week with me to talk more about silent films, very tempting an offer it is.) It was apparent that his idea from The Artist was derived from his love for this art form. And he stated that if his out-of-the-box thinking brought more creativity to Hollywood “If I inspire others, I will be very proud of it.”
Hazanavicius thanked famed Hollywood Director Billy Wilder three times on stage when he accepted his award. And the reason for this he stated “Billy Wilder is the perfect director. He is the soul of Hollywood.”
I wonder: Someday, in Oscar’s® future will someone be thanking Hazanavicius?
One very big surprise to the press pool was the third Oscar® win for actress Meryl Streep. Her film The Iron Lady has not been received as well as some of her other nominees, but her performance was excellent – as always. She is our greatest woman actor today, our generation’s Katherine Hepburn. It has been twenty-nine years since her last Oscar® for Sophie’s Choice. Meryl was dressed beautifully in a gold gown and matched her third Oscar® beautifully. She said that winning was like “being a kid again. Two of the acting nominees weren’t even conceived when I won the last time.”
Streep stated that Thatcher does not have a public life any longer and was unable to meet her. She continued to say “this can give you more freedom, but with that freedom comes responsibility.”
Streep is very modest for her position in film, as she stated that “show business is like a golf game compared to how most children grow up.”
Streep is contributing towards a museum and educational center for women’s history and she said her best advice to young women everywhere is “to never give up.”
It’s doubtful that Streep will be giving up her career as an actor anytime soon and she seems very content in her place in the world. “I have everything I ever wanted.”
The other actress to be honored last night was Octavia Spencer for her role in The Help. Octavia was presented the Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress to a standing ovation in the very large theater. When asked about the mostly white/men demographics in the Academy and whether she would like them to change she stated “Honey, they just gave me an Oscar®. I am not going to tell them to change anything.”
She later returned to the reported and apologized “I am sorry for cutting you off, but I knew where you were going with that, and I am not riding that bus. No pun intended.”
Rounding off the acting categories was long-time thespian Christopher Plummer – only Oscar® himself was older than Plummer. He was presented with an Oscar® for his role in Beginners. And don’t expect Plummer to retire anytime soon either “you don’t retire at this profession. I hope to make it until I am ninety.”
Plummer thanked his wife in his acceptance speech, like many stars but his thankfulness seems more ardent. “She is extraordinary. She has rescued me every day of my life.”
With my press pass expired and the red carpet already removed from Hollywood Boulevard, so is award season. Please return to my work as I bring you reviews of this year’s films and buzz about next year.
Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones & no texting, please don’t talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don’t forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged. And please don’t come to the movies ill, and please return when you are well!
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-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work on SilentHollywood.com