Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The Artist"

Here's what I wrote about The Artist after I saw it for the first time on Dec. 11.


Amid the passel of highbrow kudos for The Artist, somewhere in the breathless recitations of silent-film history and cinematic analysis of its technique – the kinds of laborious salon talk reserved for movies that are good for you but aren’t actually very entertaining – this gets lost: The Artist is delightful, charming, funny and altogether wonderful.

Yes, it’s a silent film, as much as a film filled with evocative, memorable music can be considered “silent.”  It’s a dazzling recollection of the Hollywood that lives in the minds of anyone who loves the movies, impossibly glamorous, always giddy fun, and even when the story turns dark, never for a moment a downer.

Yes, it’s in black and white, but isn’t that the way you imagine Hollywood was when it was at its best?  You know the time, when men wore hats and women wore dresses and everyone looked ready to head to the nearest cocktail party, even in the middle of the afternoon.

The Artist swoons for a time gone by, never once being too clever for its own good. There are only two ways you could effectively tell a story about this period of Hollywood legend, when silent movies gave way to talkies, and the musical version has already been done flawlessly in Singin’ in the Rain.  That’s the movie The Artist most resembles: exuberantly optimistic, joyously simple – and words aren’t necessary for a plot that had already been worn thin by 1927, when The Artist begins.  Hollywood star meets ambitious actress, they fall in love, the actor’s popularity wanes while hers rises, and in spite of it all they never quite fall out of love.

No, words would just get in the way, and without them, every moment of The Artist is a surprise. It’s splendidly acted by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, actors you may never heard of or seen on film, but who are so appealing and attractive that they make the most ideal movie stars you’ve ever seen.

To see The Artist is to fall in love with movies again.  Anything else you see for a while may pale in comparison to a movie shot in gorgeous black and white, whose emotions are so big they rarely even need title cards.  Toward the end, when the music swells (it’s Bernard Herrmann’s score from Vertigo) and the action intensifies, you’ll be – as they used to say – on the edge of your seat.

It may not be perfect; the stubbornness of the title character is indeed a little wearying after a while. But the flaws are minor and the accomplishment is grand, indeed.  You may walk into The Artist a cynic, disgusted by the state of modern cinema, fed up with the greedy insistence on Hollywood to pander to the masses, but give it half a chance and you’ll succumb to its infectious charms and its great, big heart.

Viewed Dec. 11, 2011 -- Arclight Sherman Oaks

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