Friday, March 23, 2012

The Artist

photo: Poster, from the movie's Wikipedia page

I wanted to see the Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, and I knew I had to see it fast before it left the theatre, as this is in the theatre now only because of its Oscar wins.  I can't comment too much on its Oscar qualifications, as I have not seen too many of this past year's nominated films, except for Hugo.  So all I can really do is comment on the film itself.

It's obviously an allegory (as was Hugo), or perhaps a fable, as the awesome dog plays a big part.  The direction was superb, and as I only have Scorsese to compare it to, I have to give the nod to this movie's director.  He had a lot more to do, with the black and white (though I didn't miss the 3D credits at the end), the silence, the actors (as this is more of an actors' movie than was Hugo) and the pressure of making a (mostly) silent film zing.  Which it does.

The Oscar has gone to worse performances than the one given here.  From what I understand, this actor is huge in his native France, and for good reason.  Without his voice to help him, he's still an obviously gifted actor.  He looks a bit like Clark Gable, too, and is a born-again 20s and 30s look-alike actor, so he certainly fit the bill.  I'm not sure this film could've been made without the biggest name in the country of its origin, though it shouldn't go unsaid that this is essentially a French production, using mostly American actors, filmed entirely in L.A., about the Hollywood of the 20s and early 30s.  This movie really should have been made by an American company, but sometimes the best mirror can be shown by someone holding it, not the one peering into it.  And American films aren't artistic allegories these days, either, in case you haven't noticed.  They don't simply tell stories, as this one does.  It's a creatively complex way to tell an essentially simple story.

Now, the story.  I have to say first that it's really like the pre-Shakespearean morality plays, this one a warning against Pride (yes, with a capital-P).  And maybe a little bit of Vanity.  I know this not just because I'm an astute guy, but because two different characters (and maybe a third, a cop near the end [played by a guy who's in Mad Men, the one who peed himself]) tell him to beware of his own pride.  But here's where it gets dicey for me: no fewer than three awesome beings (a man, a woman, and a dog) cling to this self-pitying, stubborn man.  The dog, who steals the movie from its Oscar-winning cast and director, walks with him, sleeps with him, acts with him, mugs with him, and is very clearly the love of his life, even surpassing Peppy Miller (an awesome name that unfortunately brings to my mind Pepe LePue; but, again, that's me, not the movie's fault) and certainly superseding the woman he was living with.  You can say that he loves the dog even more than himself, and that's saying a lot.

James Cromwell (very cool seeing him again, looking the same, really, decades now from Babe and L.A. Confidential) is his chauffeur, and father-figure, and Arthur-like caretaker, and best and only human friend, and ever-suffering angel and confidant, and...and what's he supposed to represent in this allegory?  An angel by his side?  (Because that's also what the dog is.)  I don't know.  And Peppy Miller.  Beautiful, though too aware of it, but, whatever, again that's just me.  Lively, very flapper and, apparently, philosopher, and all-too 20s and 30s, and a great dancer, and what a smile, and a nobody until she bumps into him (literally) and he makes her a star.  But they don't have any friendly or romantic interaction between then and the end (in fact, there's a briefly curt scene), and yet she very clearly pines for him, and buys all of his stuff so he doesn't have to lose it (which only reminds him of his pride and vanity), and cares for him, and loves him, and finally resurrects him and his career (though it's a sad commentary that his self is forever entwined with his career)--and all because he gave her a start?  I guess, but for how long can you hold someone in such awe when he's in awe of nobody but himself?  For how long can you love a selfish, self-pitying, stubborn, vain fool?

Is that harsh?  But the movie makes it all work, of course, as it's all very clearly allegorical anyway, and never meant to be taken as literally as I am perhaps taking it.

The Artist is also an obvious homage to, first and foremost, Citizen Kane.  The shots over the breakfast table between the star and his jealous co-star (who doesn't like playing second fiddle to the dog, or to the guy's superior stardom), the freak-out scene when he trashes the film and his room, the closet in Peppy's mansion that holds all his vainglory belongings (like the pan shots of Kane's statues), the ponderous painting of himself, and even the shots of him standing up in the film-light splashed black-and-white backdrop, a la the newsmen in the beginning of Citizen Kane--sometimes, it bordered on a re-showing of that movie, the homage was so obvious.  But that was okay, as it never crossed the line, and I love Kane anyway.  There's also a lot of Singin' in the Rain in The Artist, as the star looks a bit like Gene Kelly as well, and the dancing scenes are a dead giveaway, as is the rain-soaked scene when she visits him.  He also passes on an older, less-talented woman to fall in love with the pretty, younger starlet, who also dances with him, and the silent/talkies thing, and...yeah, if Citizen Kane and Singin' in the Rain could have a child, here it is.

And it was wonderful.


  1. Sadly I waited too long and missed this gem in the theater. I am hoping it is just as equally moving on dvd/blu-ray. It sounds like a highly creative piece of artistry. I still feel the Academy over looked some other incredible films this year, but I commend them for not giving Best Picture to The Descendants (which I found highly over rated)..but I digress. For you to compare this to Citizen Kane is high praise!

  2. High praise, indeed. It won't go down as cinematically significant, of course, but it is very brave to make a mostly-silent picture about 1920s-1930s America--and in an allegorical way, no less. The filmmakers had to know that few would see it; yet they shrugged their shoulders and made a great film anyway. You gotta respect that!