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The Artist: An Historical Homage Speaks to Modern Day
January 14, 2012

The Artist poster

I finally got a chance to see The Artist this afternoon, after waiting weeks for it to come to town, and I quite enjoyed it.

The plot is fundamentally A Star Is Born (established star declines while discovery’s career takes off) meets Singin’ in the Rain (talking movies cause radical changes in Hollywood), with a side of Benji. (There’s a really talented trained dog who is a joy to watch.) I don’t want to say too much about it, other than that it’s a black-and-white silent movie that serves as an enjoyable love letter to the history of film and the dreams of Hollywood and the struggles of artistic creators to stay relevant in the face of changing technology.

That’s why this film is so timely. Some might think that it’s only looking backwards, but I think its story of how to cope with new-fangled audience tastes is perfectly suited to today, with studios over-reacting to the much-discussed (and debatably not that harmful) threat of piracy. Silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) may find himself risking the loss of his career when sound films come in, but it’s in large part due to his refusal to change the way he’s been working. (We find out why at the very end. Dujardin, who does a marvelous job, is reminiscent, in various ways, of Gene Kelly, Douglas Fairbanks, and John Gilbert.) Those who face the future with optimism and good humor, like Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), do just fine.

But beyond the politics, which I’m probably reading into the film, there’s the fun of seeing universal moments with an audience, as we all laughed and gasped and sniffled together. At one point, the woman behind me said, when a dialogue card appeared, “but she didn’t say that!” She’d been lip-reading the character and discovered that what actors said didn’t always match the captions. That’s also faithful to the format. Although mostly silent, The Artist does play some creative tricks with noise during a dream sequence.

Here’s the trailer, in case you’d like to know more. I recommend seeing it in a theater, the way it’s designed.

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