Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Best and Worst of 2011 Double Feature: The Artist
It took me approximately three hours to finally finish "Jack and Jill", even though that movie was only an hour and a half long. That's because I would typically watch five minutes of that movie, then spend another five minutes cringing in pain, trying to comprehend whatever the Hell I had just witnessed. It was a medieval ordeal. So when I finally got around to "The Artist", I had lost nearly all of my film viewing energy. Then I remember that "The Artist" was a silent movie, and I had to sit down in pain. All of the special comfort food I had brought: chicken wings, nachos, root beer, it was all gone. All I had left was half a bottle of Captain Morgan and one hundred minutes of movie to watch.
First of all, I hate silent movies. This is not something I am particularly proud of, since they represent a vast and vibrant period in the early history of cinema, including many important landmark classics that all cinephiles need to see at some point. For example, "Metropolis". But god help me, they are so BOOOOORING.... Maybe twenty-one years of living in a fast-faced society with rapid fire commercials, no attention span, ignoring the people you're with to check Facebook on your smartphone, and Final Fantasy had completely destroyed my ability to have the patience to sit down and enjoy a movie without spoken dialog. Its something of a major thing for me, I need to be able to hear the voices of characters in order to really enjoy them. Voices are important for me to emote with people, I might be a superficial asshole for that reason, whatever. I'm not going to go self-righteous and hate on "The Artist" for attempting a style of cinema I am psychologically wired to despise, but I will admit this was a hard sit. Then again, compared to "Jack and Jill" this was nothing.
In a more positive note, "The Artist" is easily the best silent movie I've ever seen. Then again, I've only seen four, so take of that what you will. If you have the tolerance for this kind of thing, its a decent enough movie. The Best Movie of 2011? Nope. But still fairly okay.
So the basic gimmick of "The Artist" is to be a throw-back to movies our grandparent's grandparents used to make. Fun little 20s movies. So that means no color, almost no spoken dialog, no sound beyond the ambient sound track, a 4:3 aspect ratio, and its the first film in decades to be filmed entirely in Hollywood. Of course, they used a modern frame rate to avoid that jittery effect you get in really old movies. Also, since I've taken film art classes, I can point out a few modern camera techniques that nobody ever could attempted in the 20s, mostly due to lack of technology. These are complex pans that nobody tried until "Citizen Kane". Mostly due to abandoning the limitations of the 20s, "The Artist" is really well shot.
However, in key points during the movie, "The Artist" abandons its central conceit to throw in some sound effects in order to play off the main character's psychological state. The conclusion is a spoken scene as well.
The basic plot fits in with the main concept, its a story of Hollywood during the transition from silent films to sound. George Valentin is a silent movie star at the top of the world. Unfortunately, Hollywood is moving toward sound, because even back then, everybody liked "Talkies" better. So George Valentin is left behind, standing with silent movies because he - like many people back then - felt that Talkies were ruining the artistic integrity of the art of films. He's also got a loyal dog, a loyal servant, and a disloyal wife. The other major character of the movie is Peppy Miller, whose natural charisma is doing a barrel roll all over the silver screen. She has no problem with Talkies, and moves on with the times. George Valentin loses everything. Then they fall in love and I guess they all live happily ever after.
First of all, the acting is really good. In fact, the actress who plays Peppy has such a great smile and such a great persona that she manages to dominate every scene even with only one line of spoken dialog. This woman, Bérénice Bejo deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She is amazing here, and beautiful to boot. Unfortunately, Bérénice is the only person in this movie who I think really managed to overcome the sound barrier. George Valentin's Jean Dujardin comes close, and so does the dog. Everybody else doesn't really have a big enough role to really make it, though James Cromwell does a really good job. So with the incredible exception to Bejo, every performance in this movie would have been better without the gimmick of a silent movie. And that's really unfortunate.
Then there's my real problem with "The Artist": it isn't actually about an artist. George Valentin makes a valiant stand for his artistic medium, he goes out, spends his entire fortune, and makes the best damn movie he can imagine. Unfortunately, audiences back in the 20s don't care about it, because a Peppy Miller movie opened the same day. So George Valentin basically has to suffer a Heroes Journey until finally he gives in, with the help of Peppy, and tries a somersault right into the Talkies. He surrenders his artistic integrity, essentially. I'm not sure why "The Artist", the movie that's supposed to be a great homage to the Silent Era, has a central message of "Talkies are better, let's move on past the Silent Era". I mean, really, even if I can't appreciate Silent Movies on a visceral level, I can see they're a style of film with their own merits and effects that you simply do not see in movies any more. "The Artist" should be celebrating Silence! If George Valentin and Peppy Miller's next great movie at the end was a silent movie, one that audiences love anyway despite its passé format, then "The Artist" would have been a better success. Otherwise its being dishonest with us.
And honestly, this is coming from an action movie fan's point of view, I though that George Valentin's pet project looked like a better movie than this one.
Now, since this is a Double Feature of the so-called "Best" to the so-called "Worst", I guess I should compare "The Artist" to "Jack and Jill". Unfortunately, no two movies could be more different. "The Artist" might be a bit confused as to its core message, but at least its trying something special that very few movies attempt. It has a story to tell, it has characters who are likable and whom you want to succeed, its made by people who cared. "Jack and Jill" is lazy bullshit. Worse, "Jack and Jill" is every lazy retarded stupid comedy, its not special in any way. Its special in how bad it is, but honestly, on an intellectual scale its no more malicious than "The Zookeeper" or "Bucky Larson" or "The Love Guru". "The Artist" is trying to expose audiences to an entire era of filmmaking that they otherwise would never experience - its actually trying much of the same thing as "Hugo". Its not quite as groundbreaking as the Oscars though, I'll admit, but it is a unique movie for our times. "Jack and Jill" is nothing, nothing but fodder for film commentators like me to entertain our own audiences by pointing how shitty movies like it are. "The Artist" is actually worthy beyond my commentary, its a movie people can actually love.
So in no surprise of any kind, "The Artist" was a better movie than "Jack and Jill". Ultimately, its probably more worth your time to watch the Best Picture than the Worst.
But we already knew that, didn't we?
What the heck was all this for? Why did I do this to myself again?