Monday, February 6, 2012

Rip's Review of The Artist

The Silence Of The Hams
a review by Jason Rip

I cannot jump on The Artist bandwagon but perhaps I can respectfully watch it roll by from the sidewalk.

This French billet-doux  to early Hollywood is a real curiousity: it is a mostly silent, black-and-white film featuring a blend of French and Hollywood actors ( in mostly thankless roles, I might add ) and seems to be a reversal of the normal Tinsel-Town dynamic in the sense that critics adore it whereas the general public are either not attending ( there were about ten people in the Cineplex Odeon theatre when I saw it on its opening night ) or actually demanding their money back ( “What the hell!  Nobody’s talking in this movie!” )  The cynical side of me feels that, gorgeous technique aside, this is all an attempt to get the thickly accented and perpetually smiling star Jean Dujardin ( France’s answer to George Clooney ) over in America.  Why he is up for so many acting awards, besides his ability to tap dance and interact with Uggie, his canine co-star, is beyond me.  He can play a cheesy smiley guy, so what?  He only delivered two words in the entire film ( “With pleasure” ) which came out as French as brie.  As for the lead actress, while I acknowledge a certain Betty Boop charm and the ability to step lightly, well, she’s the director’s wife.

The bitter truth is that there are certain works that people who like to feel cultured and above the herd are expected to admire.  Classical music bores the crap out of me, but I can appreciate that it takes talent to play and compose it.  The Artist, the story of a silent film star who fails to adapt to “talkies,” is a beautiful film to look at.  Apparently, director  Michel Hazanavicius used a plethora of antiquated cameras,  lenses, and shutter speeds to get that authentic 1920’s feel.  There are also imbedded tributes to Chaplin, Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and the like.  The scene where Dujardin trashes his home theatre reminded me very much of a similar room-trashing in Citizen Kane.  There is an obvious, self-centered reason why the film industry loves this movie and will likely give it Oscar gold: simple nostalgia for the good old days.

As plot, The Artist is unapologetic melodrama, which we haven’t seen for a while so paradoxically it takes on the aspect of novelty.  The simple story arc of career and girl lost and found suffices.  The old rule about not acting with children or dogs is definitely in effect here with that damned Jack Russell terrier stealing scene after scene – at one point, even saving the protagonist from a fatal house fire.  The only time I genuinely laughed was when Dujardin’s character, in his abortive attempt at directing himself in a film called “The Tears of Love,” sunk to his death in stage quicksand while good old Uggie sat on the circumference of the deadly pit smiling and panting contentedly.

Prole that I am, I may be missing something profund besides The Artist’s rampant sentimentality and gorgeous presentation.  I was neither bored nor engaged, so the film, for me, mostly functioned as a time occupier, but I have no doubt, were I so inclined, I could go down to the nearest espresso spout and speak platitudes about it.  Isn’t it great that Hollywood, prodded on by those ever so artistic French, has gone full circle and given a tender caress to its roots!  Such noble origins must be praised and how about all those hard-working, camera-grinding geniuses of yesteryear?  I guess I am fated to be the philistine that says “I was bored.”          

Smaller grievances I had with The Artist include the vagueness of the title ( why are you making me think in a melodrama? ), the apparently total absence of non-whites in early Hollywood, and the occasional squandering of talent ( was that Malcolm McDowell sitting in one scene doing pretty much nothing? )

Craftsmanship reigns in The Artist where content, although cleverly referencing the silly plotlines of the period, is rudimentary to non-existent.  I guess I’m glad that a film like this was made and it’s getting plenty of love from others.  It is a genuinely admirable undertaking.  Regretfully, I just didn’t like it all that much. 

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