Wednesday, January 4

REVIEW: The Artist

(out of 4 stars)

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
From The Weinstein Company
1 hour 40 minutes

Jean Dujardin
Berenice Bejo
John Goodman
James Cromwell
Penelope Ann Miller
Missi Pyle
Beth Grant
Malcolm McDowall

This is the best silent movie I have seen all year.

Ok, now, I need Cher to walk into the room, slap me across the face and tell me to get over it.

I had been drawn to it when I saw the previews, thinking “Oh, how clever,” and if you’ll pardon the pun, “how original.”  A silent movie in this day and age, I said to myself.  It’s going to be great because no one would do such a thing these days if it weren’t great.  The Weinstein brothers wouldn’t touch it if it weren’t a hot property.  The dance number in the previews got my pistons fired. 

Between the previews and the actual viewing, I couldn’t help but notice that this was on many critics’ 10 best list and for many it is considered to be numero uno.    I was salivating.  I had already seen most of the others, some of which I loved, and this, they say, the best?

I couldn’t help but notice that when it opened at one of our art houses, it was playing in all three theaters.  For this I should note the date and time because I’m not likely to see that again.

Well those critics notwithstanding, I am not sure who will like this film and I am speaking of groups, not individuals (of whom I know many who will like it).  The teens won’t go.   The jocks won’t like it if they do go.   Couch potatoes and infrequent moviegoers are not going to be happy campers.  I suspect DVD sales will not be brisk.  Nope, The Artist may be a darling for the critics and some special interest groups and perhaps some elitists, but I suspect weak box office sales. 

I think the biggest fault of the film is this:  if we’re not going to have language, then we must have some action.  Do something!  Maybe we’re over watching a hapless soul hang from the hands of a clock high on a building or a dewy-eyed darlin’ tied to the railroad tracks, but man, give us something to chew on here.  A large chunk of this was like silently watching an accountant work.

One thing I responded to was how silent film actors tell their truths only with body language and facial business.  What they wanted to say, what they wanted us to know, was so clear, so precise… and without a single syllable uttered.  I was then reminded what I was once told, that pure truth can be told in very, very few words and all the rest is just dressing we add to be right. 

The film certainly does have things to recommend.  The two leads were quite engaging; she particularly was animated and festive.  There were some laughs.  There’s a doggone cute pooch.  Thanks to the 1920s period, there were some great costumes, cars, architecture. 

There was some fun for me in that it was a Hollywood story.   Some of the behind-the-scenes stuff was fun.   Some truths about the transition to talkies and musicals were done well.  I was mostly reminded of A Star Is Born without Garland or even Streisand.  He is a silent actor whose career dies as the talkies are born.  She is a vivacious newcomer who gets in at just the right time.   But the problem here for me is that the good stuff just isn’t good enough.

And then there is that dancing number I so loved in the previews.  I was hoodwinked.  It occupied about a minute of time at the very end of the film.

Let’s wrap this up with music and other noises.  Silent films usually require a modicum of a musical score.  This one had its moments but in the long run not memorable.   At times it reminded me of a music box… and I wanted to shut the lid from the monotony.  And then there were times (gasp!) when there was no music.  Think about it.  And then what do you get… the clear sounds of the audience munching and slurping and other things I don’t care to mention.

When a film is a financial boon, Hollywood takes notice and produces more and more and more and more and more of them.  Here’s hoping this one is the exception.  It is just a little fad film.  I hope.

NEXT POST:  Capucine

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