Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Artist. A

Watching the black and white, silent, gloriously 35 mm The Artist in a darkened theater is to be taken back to the days before talkies when cinema was, in a way, in its purest state. A movie in its most literal sense is a moving picture, the process of taking hundreds of stills on a screen and putting them in motion. The sound is a gimmick, or at least it was. Now sound, the shrill wind, the crunch of a leaf, the biting dialogue of Tarantino, is crucial. At the time of George Valentin, the hero Michel Hazanavicius's film, it was a way to sell more tickets, forcing actors and directors to change their idea of art. For Valentin, played by frequent Hazanavicius collaborator Jean Dujardin, the rise of sound meant the fall of a movie star. No drugs, alcohol, or corruption. Just pride, and jealousy of a new rising actress, Peppy Miller, whose fame was attributed to a chance run in with Valentin. You may be thinking Anne Baxter in All About Eve, but Hazanavicius wisely steers clear of that territory and portrays the beautiful Miller as a sympathetic girl who only wants to boost her career and be liked by Valentin. I was surprised at the originality of this. The story is familiar, but Hazanavicius's method of going about it is quite original and unexpected. And visually the movie is a marvel, teeming with comic gags and inventive tricks, as when Valentin faces a shadow on a wall, a miniature scene from an old adventure movie, or a haunting dream in which sound enters as a force as frightening as a plague. I suppose in the end I was genuinely surprised at how Hazanavicius looked beyond the novelty of making a silent picture and ambitiously sought to make a really good movie-perhaps better than most silent films from 80 years ago. I think it's wonderful that audiences have the opportunity to take in Hugo and then The Artist on the same day. A kid watching Hugo might not have previously known what a silent film was and been curious to see one. Young man, The Artist is here, waiting. And who knows, maybe there are a few lucky kids who might actually propose just that.

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