In the wake of this year’s Academy Awards surprising win for a silent movie ‘The Artist’, I’ve been discussing the Oscars with many students at Smith’s School of English Kyobashi (スミス 英会話 京橋). All of them had been as surprised as I was, with the success this movie had at the ceremony. It won five major awards including the most prestigious one, the ‘Best Movie’.
As you probably know ‘The Artist’ is a silent movie in black & white format. It’s also shot in an old style 4:3 aspect ratio. These days we are used to watch all movies in widescreen format. To watch a 4:3 format on a wide screen in the cinema means that the left and right sides of the screen are matted (black bars) vertically, so the final image is closer to a square rather than rectangular shape.
I’ve red many positive reviews for this movie from film critics but I’ve also been assured by my friends living in countries where the movie was already screened that it really is something special.
Well it must be, because in the 21st century for a silent, black & white movie to be such a hit is very surprising to say the least. At this point I should point out that the movie is a hit more in critical reception than in terms of box office results. It might however change after the Oscars. When the movie is widely recognized as the best one of the year, new wave of audiences might show up. And it’s still waiting to be released in Japan and Asia in general. It will be shown in cinemas across Japan from 7th of April.
When students talk about this movie, they seem to agree on couple of things. If a film has a great story to tell it doesn’t need big Hollywood multi-million dollar production, with mind-boggling CG special effects. Good film like this can also be without A-list stars and still be a great cinema experience. Do you recognise these two main actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo? I sure don’t, but I have a funny feeling that this will soon change. It does however, need a good director, in this case Michel Hazanavicius and simple but involving story told in an entertaining way. Don’t get me wrong, I do like spectacular CG cinema, and can enjoy it as much as any other type of movies. But I find it somewhat satisfying, that a film with almost no budget in Hollywood standards can pull off such a feat at the Academy Awards.
So with all this hype around a silent movie, I found it fitting to teach an English conversation (英会話) item from Smith’s curriculum ‘News Events – Charlie Chaplin’. I’ve been using this item for almost two weeks now. It seems like a perfect topic for a lesson after having a conversation about the similar subject. What I like about this particular lesson is the fact that Chaplin is universally recognised artist throughout different generations, and yet many students know very little about his life. Many of them have never seen any of his films, but when I show them his picture they can all tell me his name. There aren’t many movie stars who’s face is so iconic. And so big is this man’s legacy that even though his main body of work is now about 80 years old, students regardless of their age, are all interested in having an English lesson during which they can find out more about his life.
Some students were also able to add some interesting facts to the topic. One student told me about a visit Chaplin made to Japan before the Second World War. He said that he saw photos from the trip in a special program dedicated to Chaplin on a Japanese TV. I’ve promised him, that I’ll look on the internet and try to find some of them. And surely enough, Google didn’t disappoint me. Chaplin looks very different in private in comparison to his on screen persona ‘Little Tramp’. I wouldn’t recognize him as the actor who created such a funny character.