How a little French movie with no speaking relates to YOU.
By Eric Day (Composer, Bassist, Etc.)
My wife and I saw The Artist yesterday at the (adoreable) Paris Theatre in anticipation of it cleaning house at the Oscars. While I found it a bit exhausting, I was generally swept-up in the experience and definitely think it deserved the accolades it got last night. And not just because that (Best Actor-winning) French dude looks like Hank Azaria in Dodgeball.
I particularly loved the (Oscar-winning) music, and it got me thinking...how cool would it be to see this movie screened with a live orchestra!? Well it turns out I'm not the first person to think of that, so hopefully the tour will come through NYC! One google led to another, and I eventually came upon this awesome piece over at Smithsonian Magazine about the fight the American Federation of Musicians (of which I am a proud member) put up at the very turn in cinematic history depicted by this year's Best Picture, when live orchestras at movie theaters were made obsolete virtually overnight.
After the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, all bets were off for live musicians who played in movie theaters. Thanks to synchronized sound, the use of live musicians was unnecessary — and perhaps a larger sin, old-fashioned. In 1930 the American Federation of Musicians formed a new organization called the Music Defense League and launched a scathing ad campaign to fight the advance of this terrible menace known as recorded sound.
Check out these sweet ads from the 1930 Syracuse Herald, using an evil robot to represent this new scourge of the arts, canned music.
Sound familiar? Sorry, 1930s versions of ourselves, we're not out of the weeds yet. Did anyone see Dave Grohl's awesome Grammy speech this year? Or even closer to our (crazy) town, have you visited Save Live Music On Broadway (with eerily similar rhetoric to the above) and signed Local 802's petition yet!? Could this happen on Broadway? Considering where I've been doing most of my bass playing over the last couple years, I certainly hope not.
It seems so clear that the real and the heartfelt and the live are what we need more of, but it's also silly to cling blindly to our traditions and not accept the insanely contemporary world in which we live. For me, that's the conflict captured beautifully by The Artist. George Valentin's threat may not have been menacing robots (though a masochistic screenwriter and director who insist on incessantly punishing their affable main character aren't too far off), but he had to figure out how to move into the great unknown while staying true to himself, something we can all hope to figure out, especially if we are lucky enough to have love on our side. George only got a couple of words in the movie...I would have gone with "ZUT ALORS!", but I suppose that's why I'm a composer.