25/11/2011

Back to the Future

This article by A.O. Scott on nostalgia and the future of film misses the point entirely, in my view.

The parallel with the sound revolution, which proponents of new technologies often use, actually cuts both ways. Films indeed survived the arrival of sound. But it came at a double price, which was accurately forecasted by the doomsayers of the day. The barrier of language - not much of a problem in the silent era; all it took was to translate the intertitles - meant that films were no longer universal.

Also and perhaps even worse, sound made visual flair optional. Silence meant directors had to find visual ways to get their point across - avalanches of intertitles would quickly tire viewers. So well did they come to master their craft that the best later silents eschewed intertitles almost completely. With dialogue taking over as films's driving force, it became possible for films to be made that relied mostly or only on speech and offered little or nothing in the way of visuals. Like it or not, films looking like stage plays or movies of the week with greater budgets are a direct side-effect of the sound revolution. 

This is not to say that new technologies will bring the end of the medium or turn it into garbage - they won't, and neither did sound - but we must remember that progress in one way almost invariably means regress in another. We'll certainly learn to live with that (just like we learnt to live with sound and colour) but whether the benefits will compensate for the costs is anyone's guess. The doomsayers may turn to be wrong on the big picture but they have points and one would like for Mr. Scott and people of his persuasion to admit it rather than just sneering or painting rosy pictures of an idyllic future. 

2 commentaires:

Margot Kinberg a dit…

Xavier - Interesting point about sound. Certainly it ended the careers of more than one actor (I am thinking of Clara Bow, for instance). And yes, I think it did become easier for directors and filmmakers to pay less attention to the subtleties of the visual...

John a dit…

I didn't read too much sneering in Scott's article, but I did take exception to this sarcastic comment:

"Among the recent arrivals in bookstores — speaking of obsolescence!"

I don't think they're buried yet.