Thursday, February 02, 2012

REVIEW: The Artist

Near the beginning of That's Entertainment, this fabulous number plays, and Frank Sinatra said "You know, you can wait around and hope, but I'll tell you, you'll never see the likes of this again."

The Artist has proven Frank wrong. We have seen the likes of that again, thanks to this enchanting film.

That's not to say The Artist ranks alongside the greatest films of Hollywood's golden age, or the silent era. Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius would be the first to admit that. But what his movie does do is illuminate the past brilliantly,  while at the same time carving out a unique identity for itself.

Some people dismiss The Artist, claiming that it only works because it dares to be silent. Mel Brooks proved that untrue 36 years ago. His Silent Movie had some funny moments, but it was nowhere near what it aspired to be. It ended up as a mildly diverting lark. That was the film where the silence came off as a gimmick.

What elevates The Artist is that it doesn't merely shut up and pay homage to Douglas Fairbanks et al. It pays homage to the power of movies in general. Its plot borrows heavily from Singin' in the Rain (a talkie about the switch from silent to sound) and A Star is Born (grand old star's career fades while the fresh new face the old star found brightens). Now that's pedigree.

But the clearest evidence of how The Artist stands on its own is, interestingly, when it co-opts an existing piece of music. The movie has a delightful score of its own by Ludovic Bource, but one crucial scene plays to Bernard Herrmann's love theme from Vertigo. It shouldn't work - the scene in the Hitchcock movie is one of the most memorable in all of cinema, and that's my favorite score to boot. Yet somehow, Havanvicius takes Herrmann's music and makes it work in The Artist's context.

Deserving of just as much credit is the terrific cast. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are both wonderful, not merely resorting to pantomime, but creating full-bodied characters. John Goodman is perfectly cast as a cigar-puffing studio boss.

Such is my affection for The Artist, that reading some Facebook comments about the Oscar nominations made my blood boil, especially when once person said "Who cares about some silent movie that only 10 people saw?"

I was about to fire back with a sharp-tongued response, but I remained silent. Sadly, I know The Artist isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's never going to have the mass success of another throwback like Chicago. But like Sinatra, I'll tell you  - if more people were into movies like The Aritst, movies as a whole would be a great deal better.


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