I saw The Artist in The Paris Theater. For New Yorkers, The Paris Theater is iconic. It’s across the street from the Plaza Hotel and right next to Bergdorf Goodman, and it gets all the great and unusual movies, and sometimes even the premieres. It’s not a big theater, nor especially fancy. But it’s a tiny jewel of escapism, and there are lines down the sidewalk at all times of the day.
For me, it was between Christmas and New Year’s and I was getting my hair cut across the street at the Warren Tricomi Salon, with Pancho, who has been cutting my hair for 20 years. I asked him if he’d seen it and he said yes, and I made him tell me whether it had a happy ending or not because I didn’t want to ruin my day off by getting depressed. He squirmed a bit trying to find an answer that wouldn’t ruin it for me and then said, “If you imagine that the man is the woman and the woman is the man then yes, it is a happy ending.” Hmmmm, I thought. I’m going. (And luxury of all luxuries, I went in the afternoon!)
But what struck me about it wasn’t the role reversal—the woman saves the man, well, and the little dog, too. But how it illuminated in such simple elegance the shift of technology we are all facing today, the trauma of change and then the return to a new normal. For the Artist, sound is the new technology that threatens to destroy his livelihood and career. The audiences don’t really blink twice. They shift from silent movies to talkies with a shrug of their shoulders and the world moves on. Movies don’t go away, they just change.
In these modern times, we face the same sort of shifts—whether it’s from big screens to tablets and phones or books and magazines to tablets and phones. Audiences shift easily. But those of us who are in the business of creating those products have more of a struggle in the transition. Our ease and comfort are pulled from us like a blanket on the bed on a cold winter night. A-list publishing celebrities of yesterday have been shifted down to B-list by young tech titans who thrill in their disruption. And we all struggle to reinvent ourselves and our businesses, and to remember that we are in the business of creating, not of printing words and ink images on paper.
What new thing will come next? It will be something, most definitely. That is the only certainty. But certain things don’t change. They remain comfortingly familiar no matter what age we look back to or ahead to: the power of storytelling, from true stories and fantasy to news and gossip. The need to escape and entertain and express ourselves and watch others express themselves. The power of dance, of music, of laughter, of imagining both the worst outcome and the happiest ending, over and over again—each time slightly different and varied, but each time a reflection of who we are and what we fear and love most.
So The Artist didn’t win all those awards, including the Oscar, because it was a silent movie made 80-some years after silent movies were “over.” It won because it showed us—with a delicious and simple story—that through the turbulent changes of technology, the basic human needs are the same. And as long as we remember what those needs are and serve them, we will all have a happy ending, no matter what our gender or who saves whom.