With the film world still buzzing about The Artist’s big night at the Oscars, we’re starting to learn some new details about Michel Hazanavicius’ ode to the silent era. The most recent? That the film was actually shot in color.
Wenn reports that costume designer Mark Bridges (himself an Oscar winner for his work on the film) revealed that the black-and-white release was originally shot in full color – just in case studio executives didn’t want to go completely retro with the black and gray tones. It was later converted to black and white for release.
Bridges told reporters back stage at the Oscars that "it was filmed in color. It was filmed in color because there was a chance in some markets it would be shown in color."
Producer Thomas Langmann quashed the hopes of fans wanting to see the color version, saying “No. Sorry, but no,” when asked if he had any plans to release that version.
This got us to wondering – would the film have received the same reception from Academy voters if it hadn’t been released in black and white?
While no one can say for sure, we suspect Academy voters might have felt at least a little differently about The Artist had it been shown in splashy, vibrant hues. A big part of the film’s allure is tied to the fact that it feels like a throwback to an era of filmmaking most of us never experienced firsthand. To mix color film with a silent movie seems likely to strike most viewers as anachronistic.
The reality is that it’s not as anachronistic as many assume. While most consider 1939’s Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz as the first color films (coming more than a decade after the birth of the “talkies” with Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer), there were feature-length silent films shot in color. Some of those included 1918’s Cupid Angling and the 1912 documentary With Our King and Queen Through India.
That doesn’t change the perception of most film fans, though – who tend to immediately equate silent cinema with black-and-white film. Going with color might have been jarring and ruined the “classic Hollywood” feel that The Artist captures so perfectly.
Of course, shooting in color or black-and-white is just one minor facet of the film, and we suspect that ultimately Oscar voters would have been swayed by The Artist’s performances, direction, costume design, screenplay, and other elements when it came time to cast their ballot – and given how the production excels in those areas, it seems unlikely that releasing the film in color would have lessened the film’s impact in all of those other areas. Whether shown in stark black and white or full-blown high-def color, The Artist would have likely dominated this year’s awards.
The best part of all this? We’ll never have to endure someone like Ted Turner offering up his own colorized take on the film at some point in the future since Hazanavicius’ colorized vision already exists. We’ll chalk that up as a win no matter how you look at it.