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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Gliding On A Magic Carpet Through Hollywood's Classic Yesteryear
Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller in Michel
Hazanavicius' silent film "The Artist".
The Weinstein Company
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
December 22, 2011
Gliding effortlessly on its own nostalgic magic carpet, "The Artist", a stellar,
effervescent tribute to classic Hollywood film and the silent era, shines,
sparkles and sweetens the heart.
Michel Hazanavicius directs the story of fallen silent film star George Valentin
(Jean Dujardin), cast aside by the changing winds of Hollywood's film industry.
The talkies are now the talk of the town in 1927 as the silent era wanes, and
dancer-actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) rises from budding star to
top-liner, while George, a narcissistic, preening Douglas Fairbanks type, the
kind of star institution also seen and parodied in such silent films as John
Ford's "Upstream" (1927), quickly becomes a relic.
A pushy film producer (John Goodman, sublime here) acquiesces to the changes in
scenery, technology and stardom. Soon Peppy Miller is the top A-list star
in Tinseltown. Peppy is just that; full of life and energy, eager to
please, with a heart of gold. Peppy isn't just a star. Like Mr.
Hazanavicius she's a romanticist of film history and has compassion and love for
cinema's past the way Martin Scorsese does ("Hugo".)
Peppy loves the ascendancy of her career but loves illusion and love itself that
Meanwhile, the despondent George can't see past his nose, and "The Artist" mires
him in the torment that "Citizen Kane" did its title figure. His
beleaguered wife (Penelope Ann Miller) is second fiddle to George's iconic
status. George's dutiful butler (James Cromwell) is indeed that, but you
wonder if he's sneering deep within as his self-absorbed boss saunters around
looking at double-life sized portraits of his likeness. There are funny
moments sprinkled throughout "The Artist", and I enjoyed each and every moment
of this bright, witty film.
"The Artist" floats majestically into your heart with the spirit and gaiety of
films like "Singin' In The Rain". Light, melodic and graceful like a
ballet, Mr. Hazanavicius' comedy plays like a musical, and it is pure
performance. "The Artist" is a charming adventure through movie history
and it winks at many films along the way. The joy and wonder of "The
Artist" is seen in every frame, neatly choreographed, packaged and designed.
One needn't be an avid student of film history to appreciate or understand the
points and heights "The Artist" reaches for. It's a timeless, universal
film that celebrates the medium passionately and is the year's biggest valentine
to cinema. The film will be sure to be a sentimental favorite for Oscar
Filmed in numerous Hollywood locales including Paramount's studio lot, "The
Artist" flaunts the excitement and triumph of movies and moviemaking. The
director lauds Hollywood, an institution enduring many changes over the decades
while maintaining its allure as the world's headquarters for image-making and
shaping. Cosmetically and otherwise, Hollywood's stable of stars are
reinvented in a quest to keep up with shifting winds of change, but poor George
is stuck in second gear. Today, George would presumably be left behind,
and likely wouldn't be paid the salaries established actors enjoy today.
Would George be a footnote of film history like Méliés was in "Hugo"? A
waiter or doorman in one of Mr. Spielberg's films? Would he be ignored?
With its wonderful black and white smoothness and fond nostalgic splendor, "The
Artist" is directly relatable to today's Hollywood, where the definition of
"celebrity", "star" and "actor" are in some ways interchangeable, influenced
more by instant video, Internet, and "reality television". More
significantly, 3D technology is the rapidly-reemerging order of the day after
its brief debut in the 1950s. The much-debated 3D technology, and
proliferation of various forms of animation, particularly motion-capture
animation, constitutes a much higher percentage of Hollywood film releases today
than just ten years ago.
While Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep,
Tilda Swinton and a host of other top actors needn't worry about job security,
the 3D format and varied animated forms are Hollywood's bread and butter today
and are changing the look of movies as much as the ways of accessing and viewing
films is multiplying. Sure, actors on the big screen won't be completely
replaced by computers anytime soon, but this year at the movies has seen the two
merge in at least one instance with Andy Serkis inhabiting the skin of a
computer-generated ape to great effect in a fine performance in
"Rise Of The
Planet Of The Apes". (Mr. Serkis also did well as the
CGI-Gollum in "The Lord Of The Rings" film trilogy.) On a subconscious
level "The Artist" foretells all of these transitions of a future time, and a
scene with George surrounded by film reels is a telling one.
Mr. Hazanavicius has the obvious benefit of today to inform the past and the
future. He doesn't have to make predictions or visions of that future to
authenticate or anticipate what it may hold. Hollywood cinema and its ways
of counting success are narrowing in some degree box-office marketwise, and to
show how relevant "The Artist" and its allusion to change is, two highly
successful 1990s films will be re-released on 3D next year: "The Phantom Menace"
Mr. Dujardin, one of France's comedy legends, shows more range in his acting
palette to sustain a comedic and dramatic turn as George Valentin. The
actor brings Chaplin-like economy and appeal to George, suffusing his outmoded
onscreen self with grace. You see Mr. Dujardin tinkering and adjusting his
facial expressions like a ticking clock. Ms. Bejo is a winning performer,
and her charm and enthusiasm are infectious, matching her like-titled character
pep for pep. Across the board, the ensemble of actors are pitch-perfect.
Ludovic Bource's, and particularly the great Bernard Herrmann's music is
goose-bump inducing, especially near the end, as strains of "Vertigo" score can
Undeniably "The Artist" is a confection made of yesterday and floats on air, but
its surface qualities are hardly a liability. Its sugar-coated trips down
memory lane aren't in vain, and though a film is sometimes shallow it isn't
always deficient or inconsequential, just as deeper movies aren't always lasting
or impactful. "The Artist" entertains, period, and without apology.
It dances with illusion and trumpets artistry, inviting its audience along for a
"The Artist", its title a kind of mockery in its own right, is rich in beauty,
parody and purpose. Its spirit harkens back to an industry that had an
intimacy in its working relationships before advanced, more efficient
communication truncated the sense of closeness between the community of actors,
writers and directors. True, Mr. Hazanavicius' film dissolves quickly
after it's over but its magic spell has been cast.
With: Malcolm McDowell, Ken Davitian.
"The Artist" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association
Of America for a disturbing image and a crude gesture. The film's running time
is one hour and 38 minutes.
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