Thursday, July 12, 2012

A review of the Artist and some bloggerly navel-gazing

The Artist: A Review

I saw The Artist last night. Yes, I know everyone in the entire world has already seen this film but the thing is I study film. I spend hours every day reading film theory and watching and analysing film texts. I can tell you more about Hollywood, feminism, ideology and narrative than you would ever ever ever want to know. I love it but honestly, after a long day of struggling to understand the myth-making role of popular movies the only thing I want to watch is something involving Bethenney, a Real Housewife or 36 men running around a football field chasing an oval ball. A silent film about the troubles of a silent film star who is left behind when Hollywood adopts sound seemed like it would involve a lot of work, so it fell behind other more easy to watch less challenging films.

However, I needn’t have worried – The Artist is a delightful light, frothy, fun film. Intended by its director as ‘a love story to cinema’, The Artist is an homage to Hollywood past and draws heavily from other Hollywood classics such as A Star is Born and Sunset Boulevard. One of the majors successes of this film is, like Toy Story, the film is constructed on a number of different levels of enjoyment. It can be watched as a straight love story, as an experiment in film technique and style or, for those of us who have spent far too many hours watching Hollywood movies, an exercise in identifying cinematic references, which has the added bonus of making me feel clever and knowledgeable (I get it – Douglas Fairbanks! A Star is Born! Biograph! An Eisenstein montage! The staircase from Bladerunner!). It’s a very accessible text – there’s a bit of light surrealism but nothing too confronting and, most importantly, nothing that gets in the way of the story being told.

Like The Sixth Sense, The Artist is a novelty film and I don’t expect to see an influx of silent movies being released over the next few years (FYI, actual silent films from the ‘20s and ‘30s don’t look at all like The Artist does and are often quite inaccessible to modern audiences because film conventions – the language of film – has changed considerably over the last 75 years. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is great – he was a genius - and probably the only silent movie I’d watch for fun rather than for study purposes, although I recently discovered that Hitchcock directed some silent films and I’d love to see them*). If there is anyone out there who hasn’t seen it I would wholeheartedly recommend this film. There is a flat patch in the middle of the movie but the first half-hour and the last 15 minutes of the film are exquisite and truly lovely cinema. I say Hollywood should dump a few explosions and instead bring back Rogers-and-Astaire style dancing – I know I would enjoy it much more!

An interesting side point

Because it is a silent movie, a huge element of the film is its score. I think it’s done really well except for a section near the end where the story is reaching its climax and the love theme from Vertigo kicks in. I love Vertigo but I watched it quite recently and the very recognisable music disrupted my engagement with the film text. I don’t understand why the filmmakers chose such a distinctive piece of music from a movie made in the ‘50s and why they used it at that particular moment in the narrative, so as soon as I finished watching the film I googled it and found this post, which as well as being informative summed up exactly what I think and feel about the use of that music (as an interesting side note, silent films were remarkable un-silent when they were actually being filmed. Mood music was usually played in the studios and the directors were standing just outside of the frame literally directing - giving the actors direction and cues while the camera was rolling. Recording in sound didn't just make things different for the actors by making them talk, it meant drastically different methods of performing and directing needed to be developed). 

Because I liked what the post said and I like the writing style, I clicked through to the front page of the blog to see if it was worth adding to my Google Reader feed, only to discover the blogger's death announcement. It made me think about how knowledge is disseminated through the Internet. Will I find out that bloggers whose blogs I have been reading for years have died through an announcement on my Reader feed? Blogs are weird in that they let you feel like you have been sharing quite an intimate experience (a life journey? Is that too lame a concept?) with another person who you've never even met and probably haven't interacted with beyond a few comments left on your favourite posts. My online identity is largely separate from my real-life one. My friends buy me wool when they go on holiday (friends, thanks so much! I love holiday wool!) but really have no idea how much time I devote to taking photos of, writing about, reading about and thinking about my knitting. If I died tomorrow, who online would ever know...?

Finally *drum roll* ... the rating

I give this movie 4 stars out of 5. The story is simple but the aesthetics are great and the dog is really cute. See this movie!

* Holy run-on sentence, Batman! Apologies for the poor grammar.


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