“The Jazz Singer” is known to be the very first talking picture ever to be made in Hollywood, it revolutionized the industry, changed the way movie entertainment was perceived and of course, opened the door the fresh new talents, musical numbers and cinematic techniques. However, silent cinema did not end in 1927. Yes, cinema is an audiovisual art-form but there is no evidence to proof that it is a “speaking” art-form. Nobody knew this better than Hollywood’s first genius: Charlie Chaplin. Although he resisted silent movie-making, he finally embraced it in 1940 with “The Great Dictator”, a satiric film about Hitler or as I like to believe, a film about the dangerous power of the voice. Chaplin plays two roles in the film; the role of a totalitarian dictator and his double who happens to be a poor Jewish barber. Both characters look exactly the same, walk exactly the same and most importantly talk exactly the same. The famous scene in the end where, due to a series of events, the Jewish barber ends up in front of a crowd to start a rally. He’s been mistaken with the dictator and the crowd wait for his speech. Then, the barber gives a speech about equality, peace, tolerance…etc, then something very curious happens: the crowd cheers enthusiastically but the crowd’s cheer is the exactly the same to when they cheered the dictator in his rallies and even the music is the same music that is played during the famous scene with the dictator and the inflatable world globe. So, voice is such a powerful phenomenon that even today we are still witnessing the slow evolution of how to deal with different voices.
As we’ve all heard, this year’s critic’s favorite is the French dramatic comedy by director Michel Hazanavicius “The Artist”. The film tells the story of a Hollywood silent film actor who is incapable of adapting to the talking world. It is a film about finding one’s own voice. Of course, the film is such a tribute to classic Hollywood cinema, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has honored it with ten Academy Award nominations. This is not as surprising as some people might think. The Academy has always loved films with a nostalgic and glamorous view about the past. Doesn’t Tom Hooper’s “The King Speech” fall into the exact same category? I could even go as far to say that The Artist and The King Speech are basically two versions of the same film: a physically and emotionally flawed protagonist must struggle with his own ego to find his voice and become beloved by the public. The idea of “voice” obviously plays very important roles in both films. A voice is something you must earn and fight for. It must never be confused with the idea of propaganda. Propaganda is design to sell an idea but a voice embodies the idea, it is the essence of it. Obviously, voice in film plays an essential role. Of course, a character doesn’t have to speak to own a voice. That is what I think is most important, and that is also why I think that films like “The Artist” are crucial in today’s world of cinema. And although I found the plot to be a bit simple-minded and I didn’t think it had much of a climax, I also believe however, that it is a film that reminds us all about what cinema is all about, and not just Hollywood but cinema in the broadest sense. The voice has no language. It is an international phenomenon. It is the silent struggle to be heard.