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Innovation/Global Risk 

How to Combine ‘Reduction’ and ‘Nostalgia’: The case of “The Artist”

By Shlomo Maital  


 Michel Hazanavicius

 Feature films have generated a massive amount of junk, and perhaps a less massive amount of astonishing creativity.  According to,  some 210,841 feature films were made, between 1906-99, in 51 countries, from Algeria to Yugoslavia;  tied for the lead are the U.S. and India, with 31,000 each.  From 2000-2010,  approximately 50,000 feature films were made,  with India (Bollywood) now leading  the U.S. (Hollywood) by a wide margin.  With so many feature films existing, one wonders how it is possible to come up with truly new ideas for films.

   According to columnist Maureen Dowd, writing in The New York Times, a new feature film “hit the Cannes Festival like a thunderclap”.   The film was written and directed by a French writer, Michel Hazanavicius and is called “The Artist”.  It is about a silent movie star who can’t accept talkie films and crashes and burns.  And yes, the film itself is silent.  No sound.  Silence. 

   “The Artist” merges two key principles of innovation. One is “reduction” or “subtraction” – innovate by eliminating rather than by adding.  Hazanavicius eliminates sound, but rather, adds silence, perhaps the rarest of all luxuries in modern life. (When did you last enjoy true silence? Where can you actually find true silence?).   Indeed, reducing, or subtracting, features from existing products or services actually adds to them – adding simplicity, which is also an increasingly rare attribute of modern life. 

     The second is ‘nostalgia’ – evoking something we once loved but which became obsolete.  Silent movies were made obsolete by sound tracks – just as TV replaced radio, cell phones replaced payphones, laptops replaced desktops, wireless replaced modems.  Why not think about ways to restore legacy technologies in unique creative ways? One of my early blogs was about a retro-cycle: A bicycle without brakes or gears. 

    Hazanavicius began directing in 1988.  He directed commercial advertisements, then created a feature-length film made up entirely of clips from old Warner Bros. studio films.   Making a silent film was a huge gamble, which paid off.   

    Dowd quotes Hazanavicius on silence: “I compare [silence] to the zero in mathematics. People think it’s nothing, but actually it’s not.  Silence can be very powerful”. 


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
December 2011
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