Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Intentions Don't Matter: The Artist (2011)

It's been a long time since the release of The Artist (2011) and all talk surrounding it has dissipated which means it's the perfect time for me to jump in, right on time, seven months later.  I just have a couple of things to say so this will be quick.

For starters, I liked The Artist.  I found it quite entertaining.  A lovable lark of a movie.  Some of those that disliked it befuddled me, not because I haven't myself often disliked a movie that many others loved but because their dislike felt like concentrated hatred and anger and disgust.  So here's what I have to say.

Director Michel Hazanavicius and actor Jean Dujardin worked on a couple of parody spy thrillers named OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) and OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009).  These were successful efforts and they thought, "Hey, let's try a silent movie parody next."

Then they did The Artist.  Hoping for another success they got more than they bargained for when the world took notice and started touting it as a great film.  Like anyone stumbling into such a situation, they shut their mouths and played the part.  But the fervent backlashing criticisms that began rolling in, entirely out of proportion with such a movie, kept backhanding it for not following all the "rules" of silent cinema (and boy did we all found out just how many people out there fancy themselves experts on silent cinema.  I had no idea there were so many goddamn scholars in my midst).

"Why no, my good man, it wasn't like a silent film at all.  You see, old sport, the proper use of the language of silent cinema precludes the use of a theme of betrayal and despair conveyed as subtext while emerging in a lighthearted context alongside the..."  

Oh, shut the fuck up!

They weren't attempting to make the perfect silent film.   They weren't intending to outdo Chaplin, Gance, Keaton, Griffith or Eisenstein.  They were making a parody of a silent movie and, for the most part, did a pretty good job.  It was a parody, an homage, a silly tribute.  Christ!  But their intentions stopped mattering because in the eyes of, oh hell, everyone they became these two interlopers who actually thought they were great silent artists!  The nerve!  And how about that use of the Vertigo music?  Why I never!  And it's not even clear by the end why the lead character refused to do sound movies.  How dare they not make that plot point airtight in this lighthearted fucking frolic!  How dare they!

Seriously, it's like taking their two spy parody films and going apeshit because they're not Foreign Correspondent.

Look, I wouldn't have given it Best Picture.  I certainly wouldn't have given it all the myriad accolades it received.  But I liked it and all that bullshit semi-importance heaped upon it by festivals and award shows wasn't its fault.  That just happened.  Don't hold that against it.  It's just a parody/tribute trying to have a good time and be a little inventive and loose with the format.  That's all.  So now that's it's out on DVD and streaming and I'm hearing all this again, I just have to ask everyone, please, keep it down... and enjoy the movie.  Or don't.  But please don't criticize for not being Sunrise.  Thank you.


Christopher said...

One of my favorite things about seeing the Artist is about a 3rd of the way in ,that silent cinema hypnotism kicked in and it was a unique experience being under the spell with a fairly mainstream movie audience in a mainstream movie theater.

Marlowe said...

As in "pop culture's smell of mendacity" you nail pomposity and pretension. The ever present know it all-ism. For this you may soon be attacked as a preposterous voice of reason in a vocal overload of irrationality

Greg said...

Christopher, it's got a great feel to it and I, too, got totally caught up in it.

Greg said...

Marlowe, I wish there had been more "I just didn't really like it" with the negative reactions but so many took on an air of "I'm an expert on this kind of thing and I'm here to tell you it's bad." Oh brother.

KC said...

There were things I liked about that movie, but I got bored. It sort of pooped out by the middle. This baffled me, because I love the leads. The OSS movies give me the giggles!

Greg said...

I really like the OSS movies. Dujardin is a very talented comedian.

I never got bored with this one but I didn't think it was either great or wretched, rather a very good take-off on silent cinema.

Adam Zanzie said...

Yeah, I liked The Artist as well, even though it wasn't one of my top favorites of the year. I didn't mind too badly that it won all of those Oscars. We've had worse Best Picture wins. Way worse.

I recall that when the movie first came out you were commenting on the whole Kim Novak thing, when you conceded that the use of the Vertigo music was surprising, but by no means equivalent to "rape". I agree with you. I don't know if the use of the music was particularly necessary, but the amount of hate it got was staggering, not to mention some choice comments made by a handful of critics who were championing what Ms. Novak was saying. That was *really* annoying.

I'm very curious as to what Havanicius is up to with his remake of Fred Zinnemann's The Search in the works. I fear that that one's going to suffer a hateful backlash, too, since critics tend to whine whenever a Holocaust movie comes out that's about survival instead of death. As if you can only tell one side of the story.

Greg said...

Adam, agreed on all counts. Especially the music thing. I mean, using already sourced music is and has always been common in film. I found that particular argument absurd. Now, I totally understood that argument that the music didn't really fit. It did feel too modern and wrong for me for that sequence, but it didn't bother me at all that it came from Vertigo.

Dan O. said...

Interesting review. As a fan of silent film I was also a bit disappointed by The Artist – and at the same time, was delighted by the fact that a new silent movie has been made.

Kevin Deany said...

On my blog recently, I wrote about why "The Artist" may have resonated with Academy voters. It's only a theory. Some friends of mine think I am absolutely out of the park looney tunes for this, and think I am reading far too much into "The Artist." But movies sometimes have a way of affecting us in different ways. I'm not saying I'm right, just putting forth an idea or two.

I have a great deal of respect for Greg, and if he thinks I'm out of the park looney tunes, I will check myself into the nearest asylum ASAP.

"The 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner was the charming “The Artist”, a black and white silent movie about a matinee idol’s fear of the upcoming talking picture revolution. Some might think “The Artist” to be a slight fable, a nice enough movie, but hardly Best Picture material.

I’m wondering how it may have resonated with Academy voters. “The Artist” is set in the late 1920s when silent movies were giving way to talkies. There was much fear in the air in the early years. Stars were afraid how their voices would record, there were sound synchronization problems and the formerly mobile cameras were now still.

Today, the motion picture industry is facing a different kind of revolution, but one that has many in the industry looking similarly askance. 35mm film gives way to digital projection, distribution patterns change from theaters to home viewing, not to mention watching the latest blockbusters on handheld devices. There’s also the fear that someday, CGI figures will replace the performers themselves. Not to mention costume designers, set designers or construction crew people who will see their jobs go away as more and more images are added via greenscreen in the post-production process.

I wonder if many Academy members were subconsciously identifying with George Valentin, the lead character in “The Artist” and wondering what their futures hold. The clothing styles may change, but the trepidation of what new technology means to the motion picture industry is the same whether its 1928 or 2012."

Greg said...

Dan, it was nice to have a silent in the theatres. I don't know that it could become a regular thing again but I do wish that more works by Aki Kaurismaki and Guy Maddin were available.

Greg said...

Kevin, no need to commit yourself, that's surely something that was on a lot of voters' minds. There's a lot of changes going on right now and it's definitely something that gives a lot of people trepidation. Good write-up.