Friday, January 13, 2012

“The Artist”: A Beauty Mark of a Movie

      I was skeptical.  About 20 minutes into the film I was thinking it was going to be a long hour and 40 minutes.  It was fluff.  A cutesy story that was reminiscent of the silent era.  Eric was yawning.  I had seen an interview with Harvey Weinstein, the producer, on CBS This Morning (BTW…it’s the most intelligent of the morning news shows) where he was asked
about how his mark on a mediocre movie could turn it into gold.  He denied the fact, but I was ready to think it was so.  Then, there was a dream sequence and everything changed.  It was like The Wizard of Oz going from black and white into color…a metaphoric strategy that would be repeated throughout the movie.

      Jean Dujardin as the silent film star George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller, his admirer, both shine on the silent screen.  Valentin was the golden boy of silent movies and Peppy the rising star of the talkies.  Their performances shift as the plot evolves with the transformation subtle but integral to the storytelling.  James Cromwell as Clifton, Valentin’s valet, and John Goodman as Al Zimmer, the studio boss, both translate their acting skills well to the silent genre.  
Uggie with Dujardin
But it’s Uggie, Valentin’s Jack Russell dog that keeps The Artist most in character with the silent movies of the past.  (It’s probably no coincidence that he looks similar to Nipper, the RCA Victor dog.)  His loyalty to his master was necessary for the story to work.  

      French director Michel Hazanavicius comes from a background of spy parodies in which his wife Bérénice Bejo starred and he also did the writing.  The same is true for The Artist leaving the risk of such a venture in his hands.  It was uncharted territory of returning to that period while utilizing new technology.  It was a task that appeared flawless on screen.

      For such a small movie (it was filmed in 4:3 ratio), the cinematography provides some memorable framing devices and images.  The black and white film is used to reflect the mood by changing hues from scene to scene.  Again, it’s subtle but a great cinematic choice.  The Artist borrows from the past in many ways by giving several nods to classics.  There’s a mimicked scene from Citizen Kane and familiar theme music from Vertigo.  Eric felt the movie as a whole was telling the same story as A Star is Born and Singin’ in the Rain.  With all that borrowing from the past, it still felt freshly voiced.

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo
      Revisiting history can be risky and dangerous.  Equally so is reluctance to change and the question of how we reinvent ourselves.  The Artist is very much a sign of our financial times and refers to our technological advancements.  Amidst that, we all need a Peppy Miller in our lives.  Valentin gave her a beauty mark and all she wanted was to give him something in return.

In memory of Angela, my Peppy Miller.

I photograph pretty well in black & white if anyone is interested.

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