Animated short ‘Silent’ chronicles films of the ages

Limbert Fabian and Brandon Oldenburg of Moonbot Studios — who brought you the Academy Award-winning short “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore” (2011) and Chipotle’s ” The Scarecrow” (2013)  — are at it again.

Their 2014 animated short, “Silent,” is to motion pictures as “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore” is to books. It even features the familiar Morris Lessmore from the latter film.

This silent two-and-a-half minute love letter to cinema centers on two street performers who get caught in the rain.

They run into an empty run-down theater for shelter and as if by magic — Mr. Lessmore tumbles into a silent picture.

In order to show the evolution of cinema, Fabian and Oldenburg’s short animates iconic scenes from movies: the black-and-white action sequence of Godzilla on the Golden Gate Bridge; the hand-drawn animation of Disney’s “Zip-a-Pa-Dee-Doo-Dah”; the zombies from the stop-motion picture “ParaNorman”;  the ship from “The Pirates! Band of Misfits!”; and the “Inception-esque” free fall off of a skyscraper and into an “Alice In Wonderland-esque” rabbit hole.

Written by William Joyce, Fabian and Oldenburg and dedicated to the art and science of storytelling, “Silent” shows us how easy it is to escape into another world — if only for a moment.

“Silent” was directed by Limbert Fabian and Brandon Oldenburg; produced by Moonbot Studios; and distributed by Dolby Laboratories.

Academy Award-winning silent film ‘Wings’ stands testament of time

There’s a reason Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” was considered one of the greatest novels ever written. The 14,000-page book was epic in scale, chronicling love and war through the eyes of three noble Russian families.

“Wings,” the first movie to win an Academy Award for best picture, shares qualities with Tolstoy’s novel, spanning years as the Allies troops fought the German and Austrian-Hungarian Central Powers during World War I.

Based on the story by WWI veteran John Monk Saunders, “Wings” features American Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers), a boy who dreams of flying. His dream comes true with war. Powell enters the American Expeditionary Corp., where he trains to be a fighter pilot.

Meanwhile, the girl next door, Mary Preston (Clara Bow), also enlists in the war effort. Fueled by her crush on Jack, Mary follows Powell to Europe; there she drives medical supplies to Allied troops.

But Jack doesn’t love Mary. His sights are set on their hometown beauty, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). And Sylvia’s sympathies are with the wealthy David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), who likes her back.

When Jack and David find themselves training together, they eventually become best friends. They’re both assigned to the 39th Aero Squadron, and are promoted to lieutenants.

So best friends falling for the same girl? Sure, it’s an overused storyline (which we saw in “War and Peace” and still see in later war media including Michael Bay’s 2001 film, “Pearl Harbor”), but “Wings” is a historical remnant. Director William “Wild Bill” Wellman, another former WWI airman, crafted spectacular flight scenes with plane chases and crashes. (The U.S. government donated more than $16 million in planes, pilots, tanks and other military assets to the film.) It’s nothing compared to today’s computer-generated imagery, but back then, this was cutting-edge.

At its core, “Wings” is a propaganda film; you can’t watch it without feeling a surge of American patriotism. In one scene, a German-American soldier (played by El Brendel) flashes his “stars and stripes forever” tattoo on his bicep, flexing his muscles to make our grand old flag wave. Sure, it’s tacky, but you cheer along with Mary as Jack’s plane — whom he nicknamed “the shooting star” — shoots down German Heinies.

“Wings” reflects an era and sentiment lost with Vietnam and Iraq. War was romantic and exciting; now, it’s bloody and terrible. Petya Rostov from “War and Peace” looked forward to the day when he could join his older brother Nicholas in defending Mother Russia and fighting Napoleon’s French invaders.

Now, three years since the Iraq War ended, (unless you or a loved one fought in the war) war seems forgettable, distant and a relic of the past. Compared to the profusion of support pictured in Wellman’s silent film, “Wings,” it’s dull and muted, flickering like reels of scratched film. At one time, it was starkly black and white, but time has discolored the picture. Now it just blinks and flickers.

“Wings” was directed by William A. Wellman and written by Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton, based on John Monk Saunders’ story. “Wings” won the first Academy Award for best picture in 1929. 

‘The Artist’: silent film speaks volumes

Although “The Artist” contains few spoken words, the film speaks volumes about the evolution of the American motion picture industry.

Written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius, “The Artist” stars silent movie actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). When Valentin bumps into fan Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) at one of his film premieres, he introduces her to a career of dancing and acting in Hollywood.

In 1927, Valentin’s at the height of his fame, but as the silent film declines in popularity and a new invention called “talkies” emerge, silent film dinosaurs (such as Valentin) are becoming extinct; talking motion picture newcomers (like Miller) rise in fame.

Although viewers may wonder how the silent film medium would hold up in the 21st century, these worries are soothed after the first five minutes of the film — where audience members are introduced to the extremely talented and charismatic Dujardin.

With his dark hair, good looks, and winsome smile, Dujardin (a French actor) resembles American film icons such as Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Gene Kelly. Dujardin nostalgically reminds us of classics like “Singing’ in the Rain.”

He’s very expressive and his facial features and body language are like a flip book. From one scene to the next, he flits from happiness to fear and melancholy. Although exaggeration is essential to the silent film medium, Dujardin strikes a believable balance between conveying his feelings and over-exaggerating.

While it is ironic to depict the beginning of “talkies” through an old-fashioned, black-and-white silent movie, “The Artist” proves that this medium can still be an engaging format for storytelling. In one jarring sequence, Dujardin is trapped in a nightmare where he can’t talk, but he can hear the laughter, footsteps and barks all around him. This scene highlights Dujardin’s inner turmoil.

Hazanavicius’ picture would not be complete without the narration of French composer Ludovic Bource’s original score — which fills the silence with romantic waltzes, playful jazzy numbers, dramatic introductions and everything in between. The music — just like the movie — mirrors an earlier time — the tail-end of the roaring twenties and the beginning of a new era.

The movie’s format proves that sometimes artifacts from the past never get old.

“The Artist” was written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius.