Friday, January 27, 2012

The Artist

The Artist is an exquisite love letter to cinema, a tribute in perhaps the highest form possible as it is couched within the framework of a silent film, where all the power of the story comes from the slightest expression, the cast of light and shadow, and a gloriously emotive score.

The film opens in 1927 at the premiere of A Russian Affair, the latest silent film from handsome and charismatic leading man George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). Valentin is a real charmer. :) As played by Dujardin (I confess to being completely in love with this man now), Valentin is a heady mixture of Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Charles Boyer. I am not kidding people, he's that good.

After the premiere, while posing for photographers, Valentin meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), following the most adorable meet cute ever, and the two make a splash with the press. The chemistry between them is immediate and electric, and explodes on film when Peppy gets her big break and is cast as a dancer in Valentin's newest film. With some insightful guidance, veteran George gives Peppy the advice that sets her on the path to stardom, just as everything is about to change in Hollywood with the advent of sound.

If you've lived, breathed, and memorized large portions of Singin' In the Rain (just speaking for myself here), the basic plot threads will be familiar to you. While The Artist hearkens back to Singin' In the Rain, since it is a silent film it is a more powerful and heart-rending portrait of what an industry in flux, during the transition from silence to sound, what that meant for the artists whose whole lives were wrapped up in the world of silent films. There's also a moment in the film, when George's possessions are auctioned, that recalled another musical favorite -- The Band Wagon, where Fred Astaire faces the indignity of all of his trademarks and famous props being auctioned as supposedly his style of acting, his identity if you will, has fallen out of favor in Hollywood.

And, in a touch somewhat reminiscent of A Star is Born, as Peppy's star rises George finds his own dimming, as his brand of filmmaking -- and in many ways his identity itself -- falls out of favor and sets him adrift. I couldn't help but remember filmmaker Georges Melies and his story as told in Hugo -- how when he's forced into bankruptcy and his style of filmmaking falls out of favor, he has much of his work destroyed. In both of these films both Melies and Valentin are faced with extraordinarily painful circumstances that force them to question their chosen art and their very identities. And in both cases, each man is surrounded by those who would love them and remind them that the only limitations they place on themselves are self-imposed, and the choice is theirs to stagnate in heartbreak or embrace a new chapter in their lives.

I want to give a brief nod to some of the stellar supporting players that make up the cast of The Artist, starting with Missi Pyle as Constance, Valentin's temperamental costar in A Russian Affair. Pyle's performance is a spot-on imitiation of Jean Hagen's gloriously shrill Lina Lamont in Singin' In the Rain, right down to the posture and hairstyle. I also loved seeing Penelope Ann Miller as George's troubled wife Doris -- her clothes were to die for! And James Cromwell turns in a fantastic performance as George's ever-loyal chauffer/manservant.

Perhaps the best supporting performance, though, goes to Uggie the terrier as George's loyal dog. Uggie also appeared in Water for Elephants, and is apparently now retiring at the ripe old age of ten. Uggie is an absolute charmer, and his scenes with George -- oh my goodness I loved them. LOVED them!

There is apparently some controversy over the use of portions of Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo in this film -- you can read about that here. That aside, Ludovic Bource's work on this film is absoutely amazing, a must-have for film score fans.  

It is no stretch to say that I loved absolutely everything about this film. The Artist begs to be seen on the big screen, and if you get the opportunity please, please go. From its presentation in the old aspect ratio of 1:33:1 ("full screen") to the costumes, lights, and sets, the film has an inimitible style and presence that fully immerses you in its world. It is a rare chance today to be given the opportunity to see a story unfold on-screen as our grandparents and great-grandparents did. Listen to the audience's reactions, pay attention to your own response to the film -- this is old school storytelling brilliantly realized on-screen. It's an experience this film junkie postively revelled in.

It is a rare film where I leave the theater feeling so thoroughly satisfied. As the credits began to roll my first thought was how on earth did this film get in my head and get me, because it is so completely tailored to everything I love about films and storytelling and the life-affirming power of such art. My heartfelt thanks to director Michel Hazanavicius and the entire team and cast who brought this film to life. The Artist is a perfect little gem of a film that is -- trust me on this -- not to be missed. I can't wait to revisit it!

Look at that smile!


Heidenkind said...

I am SO JEALOUS you had a chance to see this!

Ella said...

I am so intrigued to see this....really!!

Sadly, some people have been demanding their money back though. They go into the theatre and get furious that it is a silent, black and white film.....didn't they do their homework?!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I do not get Kim Novak's problem with the music. SHE didn't write it and they paid for the rights to use it. Although I've see Vertigo, I didn't even recognize the music (although I have an idea).

Tales of Whimsy said...

I was just telling Mr. Whimsy we must see this.

I'm so glad to hear it gets your stamp of approval.

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - Oh my gosh, I think you're gonna LOVE it! :)

@Ella - That is just ridiculous and really really sad! Hope you enjoy this one when you get the chance to see it.

@Bookworm1858 - Yeah I don't really get it either. I mean this is something that seems pretty common -- and it isn't like the whole score for The Artist was lifted from Vertigo. I need to watch both films again to try to pick out the moment(s)/scene(s).

@Juju - I think you'll love it too! :)

Kristin said...

I want to see this so badly, especially now that you've drawn lines between it and Singin' in the Rain (the best musical *ever*, in my opinion, not to mention my favorite classic film). :) But I can pretty much guarantee it will not come to my local theater. We don't get too many good, classy films.

It is on my Netflix queue for whenever it comes out on DVD, though I'm sure I'll buy it.

P.S. I don't get the Kim Novak thing, either! I would think it would be seen as a compliment, and it wasn't illegal. I never was too fond of Vertigo, anyway. :) Though I'm sure the music is great.


Karrie said...

I just saw it, and loved it. It was nice to see a modern silent film made and made well. You can tell the filmmaker has a love for old black and white films. It is the kind of movie that needs multiple viewings to catch everything. I'm looking forward to seeing again.

Unknown said...

@Kristin - Oh I think you'll LOVE this movie! I can't wait until the DVD release so I can watch it again. And Vertigo is not my favorite Hitchcock picture either...but the score is amazing! :)

@Karrie - So glad you loved this movie too! And you are so right! I can't wait to watch this on DVD where I can pause and rewatch scenes at my leisure to catch all the nuances in each performance!