Hello g33ks, m33ks, and everyone else out in Hollywoodland. I have the distinct pleasure to review one of the finest films to grace the screen in 2011 and the undisputed front runner for Best Picture, The Artist. This film is a love letter to the the silent film era, movie making, Hollywood, the past, the future and a whole lot more. It is a beautifully written, acted and directed piece of filmmaking and it deserves probably every wonderful thing you’ve heard critics say about it. Its rare that a flick can manage to win over even the staunchest of critics and internet curmudgeons but it seems like The Artist is that flick.
Taking place in the era of Hollywood when the supremacy of the silent film was coming to an end and the beginning of the era of the “talkies” (1927-1932) this film is full of the same kind of magic we tend to think of when we watch movies of that era. It is funny, dramatic, melo-dramatic and classic in a way that Buster Keaton’s films or Charlie Chaplin’s films were. This is due mostly to the charming leading man Jean Dujardin; who plays George Valentin, Kinograph studios number one actor (and his own biggest fan) and Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller, who so embodies the 1920’s ingenue that you might swear the filmmakers had a time machine. These two alone are worth the price of admission as they are the modern day epitomy of a CLASSIC Hollywood tandem. They’re funny, they’re deep and they can dance with the best of them. They have all the style and grace of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and just as much chemistry. Adding to this incredible cinematic event is a cast of great Hollywood character actors like James Cromwell, John Goodman and Missy Pyle. Based on John Goodman’s over the top delivery alone this piece should be considered a success.
The glue that holds together something this high concept is the directing. Michel Hazanavicius (also the writer of the screenplay) has a gift for knowing how to stick with the silent film concept but also when to break down the wall and use the tools we have in 2012 to craft a truly intriguing and captivating narrative. I liken the moments when real sound breaks out into the film to those when you first see something change into color in Pleasantville or when Neo ‘wakes up’ for the first time in the Real World. They impact the character and the audience in such a profound way you find yourself awed by the power of cinema. Michel knew it would be one thing to make a silent film but quite another to turn that convention on its ear just as the main character’s world is spun out of control by the addition of sound into films. As George is thrown off so is the audience and we experience the sheer impact sound had on the entire film industry in 1927.
This film is quite an interesting one to be celebrated by Hollywood. Yes, it’s a throwback to the golden age of film. It features glamorous sets, dance numbers and great period costumes. These are all the things that tend to be awarded year in and year out by the Academy Awards. The interesting aspect is that this film is about change … expanding your horizons and embracing the future, youth and what’s new. Something that Hollywood always claims to be but for the last few years cannot even remotely claim to be doing. This is an industry predicated on tentpoles, reboots, sequels and audience number projections. The idea that they will be celebrating a film telling them that if they don’t adjust and adapt they’ll die as an industry is pretty incredible. Almost as incredible as being able to use a totally outdated filmmaking concept to make that argument and make it well.
The Artist is a lot of things. Its film student kryptonite, its Oscar bait, and its a fantastic film. It does for adults who want to make films what Super 8 or Hugo did for kids who want to make them. It makes you want to go out and grab a camera and film something. It reminds you why you love filmmaking in the first place and you hope that you’ll find someone else you know that you can talk to about how genius it is without boring them to tears.
Is there any interest for you in a film that doesn’t contain traditional dialogue? That literally transports you back to a different era? That celebrates and challenges the industry it depicts? I for one am glad this film exists because I know some weird ‘artsy’ kid in high school is going to see this film and get into filmmaking. That in 2042 someone’s going to take the stage at the Academy Awards and tell everyone how 30 years ago they were blown away by this film that celebrated the glamour of old Hollywood and it made them who they are today. It really is that good of a film … you’ve just got to be on board for it.
– Mr. Khon
This film makes me wish there would be an old fashioned Hollywood musical revival. I’d love to see Kristen Bell/James Marsden or Anne Hathaway/Hugh Jackman in one of those. Hollywood make it happen.