(Academy Award Winner) The Artist
Since it has swept the Oscars in every field bar screenplay – which, let’s be honest, would have been a complete joke – it seems strange that I don’t have a single post on or review of this film up on my blog. There was one once, though where it went nobody knows, so here goes again.
Hollywood has lost its leading men, these days even the hunks are more metrosexual than heterosexual: they’re constantly all caring and crying and doing this thing that they call feeling? Sounds feminine to me. That’s not how I remember cinema. The Artist though is a step back in the right direction, it has an old fashioned, manly actor at its core – and by that I don’t mean that they cast an Australian-; George Valentin, the protagonist of The Artist, is the strong, silent type, quite literally on the latter front. (Yes, that was the longest windup to the lamest punch line ever. They should give awards for that.) only of course that’s not all true, for while George never spews his feelings out the Screen through a series of soliloquies he is, unfortunately, still a very sensitive man and it is his emotions that ultimately tear this film apart.
So yes, The Artist is a silent movie about silent movies, which is certainly very clever as far as gimmicks go, but once you look beyond the novelty what is there that is really of merit? The film opens smartly, re-familiarizing us with the style and structure of the silent film by simply having us watch one. This mise-en-abyme must have felt very familiar to Michel Hazanavicius as it is a spy spoof very similar to those he first cut his teeth on with Jean Dujardin, films that are themselves tied closely to this one though you would not have seen them. Though it may put people off outside the cinema the silent style is actually very easy to accept once you are in the seat; so much so that when sound is returned, in a dream sequence that stands as one of the films strongest scenes, it comes as such a massive shock to the system that it actually becomes uncomfortable.
Metaphorically this perfectly mirrors just how it must have felt for someone like Valentin back at the advent of sound; the addition of a new sense, like that of a new dimension, is a massive change and when acting is your life it is understandably overwhelming. The final message that the film delivers on this topic though is that to succeed one needs to be able to adapt to such changes, no matter how chaotic, and this makes me wonder if the Academy understood the film at all; is there anyone else whose actions make them less likely to endorse such a statement? How can one embrace an evolution like sound and then swipe away another like motion capture, it’s inconsistent, but then this is the Academy.
Strangely enough the OSS 117 films didn’t seem to win any Oscars, in fact I doubt that they even received a decent enough release in the US to qualify had their been interest: all this though they are to my mind exactly as good as The Artist in terms of acting, direction and general entertainment value. The only difference (besides language) lies in what they are spoofing: there it was a genre that defined the term “pulp”, whereas here it is a seemingly more prestigious and definitely more industry friendly topic, though the approach is much the same. On a recent episode of “Doug Loves Movies” one of the guests is trying to think of the name of this movie and shouts out “Silent Movie!” as his closest guess, though whereas he probably meant it as a venal statement I took it as a specific one; The Artist is effectively akin to that series of spoofs in style, only it tackles a classier subject and so, in a sign of their self-love, the Academy awards it.
I know that I’ve gotten serious and off topic here and I so hate to do so because The Artist was at its worst when it did the same; there is an initial stretch where the movie is focused only on charming its audience and this is admittedly quite magical: the music, the dancing and the sheer inventiveness of some of the visuals is to be applauded, but then it sinks into a stupor and takes far too long to surface, souring the joy that came before. So if I have similarly spoiled myself I apologize.
The Academy issue raises a larger point and it is one of objectivity in observation; how well are we able to look past ourselves in the movies and how much do we let one single element effect us. Best Pictures should be strong no matter which direction you approach them from and so I think that we always need to ask ourselves hypothetical questions about them: would it work without X? Looking at The Artist, if you were to remove the connection to cinema or the gimmick of silence would the content beneath be anything that special? I personally don’t think so. Imagine even something as simple as the film’s famous dog – who I feel is far second to the one in “Beginners” -; sure he looks charming but pay attention next time you see a scene with him and imagine if you could actually hear each and every yap he gives, it would be atrocious.
So I don’t want to be mean and I’m not writing this as an “I’m too cool for the Academy” style response; I loved a lot of movies this year, often defend awards shows and did undoubtedly like this one, but for such an average movie to sweep anything is both amusing and aggravating to me, so I said so.