Sunday, January 29, 2012
I have friends who weren't as crazy about this film as some critics and audiences are, and obviously the Oscar voters too, since it's nominated for best picture. Even French friends (one of the silent movie era aspects of the making of THE ARTIST is that it stars a French movie star, Jean Dujardinm unknown here, and is made by the French filmmaker, Michel Hazanavicius, who wrote and directed it, but it transcends the limitations of foreign films because it's silent, reflecting the universality of all films in the silent era).
I chose to see it with friends in a movie theater even though I received a disc for awards consideration. It seemed that to give it a fair shot it needed to be seen in a setting similar to the only way a movie could be seen back in the day when the movie is set, the end of the 1920s and early 1930s when the transition from silent movies to sound ones occurred.
Some critics have noted that there's a lot of nostalgia in several of the nominees this year, ala Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (my favorite movie so far I think), especially nostalgia for the old days of movie making, ala THE ARTIST and HUGO.
But it isn't just nostalgia. Not to my mind anyway. Sure, during troubled times, a lot of us look back to a perhaps idealized vision of the past for consolation, I certainly do. That's one of the reasons I watch TCM, Turner Classic Movies, so much. But there are plenty of other reasons as well, like the artistry of black and white filmmaking back when, as well as different styles of acting and behaving and costuming and speaking and much more.
THE ARTIST pays homage to all of that in ways I found actually equally original and contemporary as nostalgic and classic. There are references to many genres of film from the past and from iconic films themselves, such as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, A STAR IS BORN, CITIZEN CANE, LOST WEEKEND, and tons more. In fact, I found almost every scene had a reference oblique or direct to a great and sometimes not great film from the past.
But there are also elements of filmmaking and film acting and film editing and directing that seemed original and/or reflective of more contemporary techniques and styles, including the use of sound in a dream sequence and the emotional veracity and non-exploitative aspects of some of the love scenes.
At any rate, I left the theater as elated and delighted and satisfied by the movie experience as I've been by any film this year, including MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, though I left that film in love with love and THE ARTIST in love with Berenice Bejo, the female star and main revelation of this film, along with her leading man and the one who carries the film and makes its conceit succeed, Jean Dujardin.
There are better known American movie actors in smaller parts who shine as well—John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell—but the movie depends on the two stars' performances working as both an homage to old style silent film acting as well as to contemporary taste in film acting and they pull it off perfectly for my taste.
But I recommend seeing it in a theater while that's still possible to get the full impact of THE ARTIST's artistry.