“The Artist”

My daughter has just started her own blog, which is cute and disconcerting.  Not disconcerting in an internet-predator-sort-of-way, nor in a she’s-getting-too-old-too-fast-sort-of-way.  More in a she’s-obsessive-in-exactly-the-same-way-I-am way.  She spent three hours last night setting up her site and organizing her various links and widgets (it’s far more sophisticated than mine, actually, which is also troubling…).  Then she worried that no one was going to read it.  Really worried, like talk-her-from-the-ledge worry.

Same genes, same crazy.

I bought a new TV two days ago, our first LCD, High-Def number.  Wow.  Watched Star Wars last night.  Holy shit that movie looks honky-tonk when you peel the fuzz of a VHS transfer off of it.  Thanks, Blue Ray and High Def, for destroying my childhood.

I drove down to Cincinnati two nights ago to visit a friend and see Michel Hazanavicius ‘s “The Artist”.  Of course, it’s garnered all manner of buzz, and since there was no way I was going to get my wife to shell out ten bucks to sit through a black-and-white, silent film, I figured this was a good gambit to get out of the house for a bit.

I did get my wife to watch the Broncos-Patriots game the night before, so she’s coming around, though she only watched it for Tim Tebow and her repeated screams of “Take it off, take it all off!” started to frighten the cat and annoy the children.

I have some reservations about “The Artist”.  My friend, who is far more knowledgeable and critical than I, surprised me by enjoying the film far more than I did.  Let’s start by saying the film is far from dull, charming as hell, and as beautifully and wittily photographed as any film this year.  Jean Dujardin, despite a troubling and distracting resemblance to a former student, is wonderful, and Berenice Bejo is a friggin’ knockout. I was especially pleased that the casting, which could have been annoyingly nudging and “in-joke-ish” was played straight, with fine character actors who managed to preserve the suspension of disbelief and look as if they were, in fact, from and of the 1920’s silent era of film.

My main problem is that the film defers so much to the era, plays it so straight as an exercise in silent filmmaking, and wears its cinephilia so prominently, that there’s very little depth.  The conceits are all homage.  Nothing that happens in the film hasn’t happened before in film, aside from the novelty of a silent, black and white movie in a world of multiplexes and 3D.  Perhaps that’s the point, but it’s academic and intellectual rather than emotional: when you set out to explore and celebrate a genre and its aspects, you run the risk of shooting past homage and into parody, or worse, predictability.  A good portion of the concepts the film explores have been done so often that they’ve hardened into cliché.  I understand that as a comment on filmmaking, this is a joy, and watching Hazanavicius spin a narrative out of time-worn material, all-the-while allowing himself a wink at the audience is a kick, but the bottom line is that the story does not, on its own, hold the viewer’s interest.

There is a point in the film when Dujardin has a nightmare in which his world, save for himself, makes noise.  Of course, in the world of the film they are talking throughout, we just can’t hear it; but in this sequence we are led to believe that film technology has overtaken our hero and passed him by.  He is, literally, voiceless.  It’s clever and has real fizz and is probably the best part of the movie.  Of course, if the film tried for that level of gimmickry it would be a Woody Allen picture, but for a minute, the film seemed like it was saying something, in a new way.

Otherwise, it’s Singin’ in the Rain, basically.  Only quieter.  Much quieter.


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