Wednesday, February 29, 2012

'The Artist' and the Big Lie

So I'm channel-surfing last night, and I see a commercial for "The Artist," the 2012 Oscar-winner for best picture. I would love to think the audience watching "Body of Proof" on ABC would embrace an arty, black-and-white movie written and directed by an unknown Frenchman, but I know this is impossible. So do the people promoting "The Artist," so they use only action sequences in which nobody's lips move, in order to conceal the fact that the movie is silent.

What's the point of selling people something they don't want? They'll come away from the picture annoyed, like the Charlotte woman who left a screening midway through because she hadn't realized there was no dialogue. Ads for foreign films use this same marketing trick, cutting together sequences where no one speaks because -- gasp! -- we might hear a bit of Italian or German and be scared away.

I understand the distributors' anxiety. By and large, American audiences are timid and lazy. I can't count the number of times college-educated, presumably open-minded friends have uttered some variation of the phrase "I don't go to the movies to read." They're perfectly happy missing out on film culture from any part of the globe that doesn't speak English.

That always seems odd to me: As the world gets smaller, and the Internet links us Earthlings inextricably, U.S. moviegoers curl up in their own comfy corners and tune out ideas from 90 percent of the planet. And all the misleading ads that network TV can show won't wake them up.