Film: Using Old Techniques In New Ways

July 17, 2013

Using Old Techniques In FilmThere may still be a lot of innovation in old filming techniques.

This has been exemplified by directors such as Michel Hazanavicius, Joel Coen, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriquez. These men have directed three important films that have utilized old techniques to captivate and inspire new audiences.

Interested in using classic methods in innovative ways as a Film student? Read how these three films succeeded in doing just that:

The Artist uses silent film to convey the story of a Hollywood film star, George Valentin, whose career begins to fade with the rise of talkies in the 1930s. Valentin refuses to change with the times, so desperate to keep silent films that he finances his own production – which falls victim to the crash of 1929 as well as advancing technology.

The story is framed by his romance with one of his fans, Peppy Miller, a struggling actress who is propelled into fame when she is photographed kissing Valentin on the cheek after bumping into him in a crowd.

The film succeeds because “Hazanavicius turns what could be no more than an elaborate parlor trick into a full-blooded love story” and because Dujardin’s and Bejo’s performances are “just high enough to avoid the need for too much dialogue, while never tipping into camp or overacting,” said Chris Knight of National Post.


The film uses sound effects exactly three times, with dramatic implications and breathtaking impact. After the film’s successful release, video companies saw an increase in downloads and rentals of silent films.

Reporter Sarah B. Hood of National Post interviewed co-founder and programmer of the Toronto Silent Film Festival Shirley Hughes, who believes that “younger people are very intrigued with silent film because it is so far out of the realm of their cultural understanding, and I think they get pulled in by this incredibly intense imagery, which is just so beautiful.”

One of the lesser-known Coen Brothers’ films, The Man Who Wasn’t There tells the story of Ed Crane, a man trying to escape a boring life. When he gets wind of an opportunity to make more money – and becomes involved in blackmail – Crane’s life begins to change.

The film uses black and white to give it more authenticity to its setting, reports Jamie Frater of The film is set in 1950 and considered a clever tribute to film noir. The lack of color is elegant, and “the look, feel and ingenuity of this film are so lovingly modulated you wonder if anyone else could have done it better” notes Roger Ebert.

The film was originally shot in color, but was drained of color before it was released.

Shot in a similar fashion as The Man Who Wasn’t There, Sin City was originally shot in color and then converted back to high-quality black and white. Colorization was added later to each scene and the contrast was heightened – separating the black and whites for a more vivid picture. It is a fully digital, live-action motion picture. It also falls into the film noir genre.

Sin City was adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel. It follows the tales of four crimes, focusing around a central figure looking for the person responsible for the death of his beloved. Other characters include a vigilante, a cop and a hit man.

Ebert said of this film, “This isn’t an adaptation of a comic cook, it’s like a comic book brought to life and pumped with steroids. It contains characters who occupy stories, but to describe the characters and summarize the stories would be like replacing the weather with a weather map.”

The deliberate use of color in particular situations throughout the film emphasizes details that the audience may have overlooked if the film was completely in color or black and white. Like The Artist‘s purposeful use of sound, Sin City‘s moments of color are dramatic and highly effective.

These three films succeed in bringing old methods of film into contemporary movies. Have you been inspired by a lost technique or method in your History of Film class? Talk to you Film degree program advisor about incorporating techniques in innovative ways into your film projects.