Monday, March 19, 2012

Just watched...

The multi-Oscar-winning "The Artist," released in 2011.

Totally charming, with a light spirit and a good heart, “The Artist” is a lovely throwback to early Hollywood. I have a hard time with films that dwell on Hollywood and the film industry… Hollywood can be obsessed with itself, and when it is, it can be very ugly. It can also provide some great biting sarcasm about itself as in the case of Robert Altman’s brilliant film “The Player”—but even that gets on my nerves if I think too deeply on it. It strikes me as unimaginative for Hollywood to dwell on itself. No better ideas? Nothing more interesting to film? No other compelling story to tell?

But somehow “The Artist” manages to escape this pitfall. The story concerns itself with a silent film star, having trouble making the transition to “talkies,” or motion pictures with synced sound and dialogue (ironic that I just saw “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” right before this, as “Sunrise” was one of the last silent films to go up against the talkies). But instead of being a realistic portrayal, or trying to do some kind of heavy statement about the industry, the makers of "The Artist" chose to tell their story in the style of a silent film! It is a love story, and a love letter to classic films, and it completely works. The sensibility is captured beautifully, supported by fantastic sets, costumes, and a perfect musical score (although there is a little bit of controversy about the—completely legal— inclusion of Bernard Hermann’s love theme from Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”). The film was shot at 22 fps (frames per second) while modern films are shot at 24 fps. This gives the film a slightly sped-up, jerky look that is so characteristic of silent films from that era.

There is an innocence about it all that saves it from being simply a mirror held up to Hollywood. I think this is entirely due to the fact that the creative team are French and the film, despite the fact that it was filmed in Los Angeles, is ostensibly a French production. (And let’s face it: when left to their own devices, major Hollywood productions usually eff it up.) Writer and director Michel Hazanavicius, lead actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, and the producing studios are all French.

“The Artist” won Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards. Star Jean Dujardin won a Best Actor Oscar. And Bérénice Bejo won a César award (the French national film award) for Best Actress.

Recommend? Absolutely. (If for nothing else than to ogle the gorgeous Jean Dujardin!)

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