Movie Time: The Artist

She Said : The Artist

From the moment that I first heard about The Artist, I wanted to see it. I thought the idea was so genius. I couldn’t imagine how a black and white silent picture couldn’t be successful in a world where cinema is so inundated with explosions and scantily clad women. The commercial I saw about The Artist was so fresh it just had to be a hit. I knew it would win Best Picture at the Oscars, too. I just thought it had to happen. We wanted to go see it in the theater but that didn’t pan out finance wise so I waited (until just a couple of weeks ago) for Netflix to get it. I was really excited to see it, although not quite as happy as I had been before the Oscars. You see when they ran the montage (you know, the little sets of clips the run of the nominated movie) they gave away so much that I felt I already knew the story. I’ll endeavor to not the same to our readers (although we at least warn you when we will spoil something.)

I was right. Watching The Artist was entirely without surprise or joy for me. In fact, I agonized during it’s almost two hour running time. It’s one of those movies that make me angry because I should be able to love it, but I just can’t.

The story (which is a huge rip off of Singin’ in the Rain in many ways) is just predictable and boring. George Valentin is a big silent film star. But, when talkies start to come into fashion he’s pushed aside. While he was still famous he met and helped young actress Peppy Miller (I hate that name, it sounds like a dog’s name). Peppy goes on to become a big star leaving George to wonder what kind of life is left for him without acting.

There’s more to it than that of course, but frankly nothing that is surprising, endearing, or good. There’s just more creepy, lame and predictable circumstances.

The acting in this movie wasn’t very great. Singin’ in the Rain is a period piece and a musical that is actually very well acted throughout. The Artist is a comedy (I think) and never manages to really have that much range. I realize that movies in the silent era were based more on pantomime and suggestion than character development through traditional acting methods. But, The Artist seemed to be trying to straddle the fence on being a mix of old and new. Sometimes when I looked at a character’s face I wanted to know what they were really thinking. Jean Dujardin had one almost infuriating, humongous grin that he broke into at the slightest prompting. He drove me crazy! I don’t know why he was so irritating (I’ve seen worse performances) except for the fact that he was out performed by Berenice Bejo! She was wonderful! She had the physicality of the era completely down. When watching her dance it was always shocking to me how good she was. It wasn’t just that she was a good dancer. She also really moved like a woman of that time.  I was completely upset when she danced with Jean Dujardin. He was such a heavy, flat -footed dancer and he lacked any period carriage. I can’t believe he won an Oscar and she didn’t. She was interesting and engaging. Her performance truly managed to make this movie a new work because she was able to blend what any silent screen actress had to do along with whatever a modern actress would need to do today. Missi Pyle has a very well done but very short part as George Valtentin’s difficult leading lady at the beginning of the film (again shades of Singin’ in the Rain).

What drove me craziest about the movie was the lack of appropriately spaced intertitles. I’ve seen silent movies before and haven’t had a problem keeping up with dialogue or action.  I felt there was so much talking without enough intertitles, that I didn’t have a clue what was being said. I can’t lip read for over a minute and then have a screen pop up that says, “ hi, how are you doing” without feeling a little crazy. I kept feeling behind and like I had to work to follow it. We watch a lot of documentaries and serious films and I was angry to have to work so hard to keep up with such a frivolous bit of cinema. I appreciate that it’s really a pretty clean movie, but it’s just not interesting! There’s not much cursing or sensuality at all and that’s so awesome in a mainstream movie. I just wish it was more fun to watch!

I can’t imagine ever wanting to watch this movie again. I fell asleep 3 times when we watched it. The really sad part of that fact is that we watched it stretched over 3 different nights and I fell asleep each time.  If you want to watch an interesting look at the demise of silent movies and the birth of the musical film then do yourselves a favor and watch Singin’ in the Rain. There may not be a dog in it, but you’ll actually be able to keep up with what’s happening.

Rating- 1

The Artist poster

image from wikipedia

He Said: The Artist

I was rooting for The Artist all through award season this year.  It sounded fun.  I like old movies, but must confess I’ve never really connected much with the old silent movies.  I thought this movie would be a modern update to that old form.  After watching the whole thing, I can say that it’s a movie that I wanted to like, but never actually could.

There are some neat little cinematic tricks.  The title cards they use were pretty authentic.  You could say they don’t use enough, but I think that about the old silent movies too, so it adds to the authenticity here.  One of the first scenes sees George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, acting out a scene in a silent movie (yes, a movie within a movie) where he is being tortured into giving up some secret information (are you already starting to see problems with the clarity of plot points in this movie?).  The villain wants him to “talk” and he keeps saying, “I’ll never talk.”  That’s pretty cute, huh?  With a wink and a nod, we’re introduced to the premise of the movie.  As “talkies” move in, one silent movie actor refuses to give in to the new trend.  Without so much as a screen test with sound, his studio executive boss Al Zimmer, played by John Goodman, fires him telling him that the public wants new faces.

Except for one thing, that’s not how it happened.  Studios then had a very strong incentive to make things work with their stars from the silent age.  With the way the contracts were set up, it was much easier to keep the older stars working than try and find a whole new crop of superstars quickly.  Some actors may have thought it was just a fad, but I’m not familiar with any actors that refused a paycheck over it.  They did what the studios told them to do.  In some cases, they would even dub in someone who had a better voice so that the established face could still sell tickets.  It took them several decades to get out of the habit when it came to singing.  That sounds like a plot for a movie right there!  A studio trying to convert to talkies, and use dubbed voices to protect a big silent movie star.  Throw in some authentic period music and you’ve got a sure fire hit!  What’s that you say?  It’s already been made a movie?  Oh, right, I forgot about Singin’ in the Rain!  Actually, I didn’t and that’s the big problem with this movie.  It makes me want to stop watching it and go watch a truer, better movie that was made 50 years ago.

And that’s before you even get into the acting.  Almost everyone in this movie is not broad enough for a movie with no dialogue.  I hate to knock most of them too hard though, because a lot of that is in the writing.  Berenice Bejo did deserve her Oscar nomination, and John Goodman and James Cromwell were entertaining as well.

When we picked the Oscar winners, I picked this to win big, and I’ve never been so sad I was right.  At this point we’ve seen most of the other prominent nominees.  We’ve even reviewed Midnight in Paris, Moneyball and Hugo.  George Clooney was robbed of best actor.  There were several other better choices for Best Picture, including my sentimental favorite The Help.  I don’t understand how Michel Hazanavicius won Best Director of both Woody Allen and Alexander Payne.  I am glad that such a clean movie won sommany awards, but it just could have been such a better story.