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January 23, 2023

The Artist: Movie Review

By Bernie Pilarski

Bernie said:

Well, having reached the boiling point over the unfair treatment of the 99% of the movie goers living here in the outback, Sand and I dressed in black and white and were prepared to stage our own OccupyMoviehouse protest. We wanted, among other things, no taxes, fried calamari, tires for the Pontiac, all our 2102 Walmart Christmas Layaway paid off in advance, a large popcorn and large Coke, one pair of argyle socks, a Helena Bonham Carter poster, and twelve cans of Vienna sauages. Oh, and we also wanted to be able to see The Artist. We were fed up with the fact that all the good movies like Jane Eyre, Anonymous, The King's Speech and now The Artist were hogged up by the 1% living in L.A. and New York, and sometimes Des Moines.

I even carried a hand painted sign that said "We are 99% smarter than you give us credit for, you bustards!"

We descended upon the local multiplex prepared to do battle, but were surprised that they already had The Artist showing. They must have gotten wind of our intentions and caved into our demands. So we bought our tickets, and made our way into the theater to join the throng of one older lady, and together the three of us taught the elitist 1% that there is a goldmine of business waiting to be had here in the hinterland. It is a lesson I guarantee you they won't forget soon!

Coming out of left field (as I like to call France) to capture Best Picture at the Oscars, The Artist was a bit of a surprise. The French have always thought their films to be better than ours.

"Zee Franch feelm," Jacques Cousteau said, "eez a thang of great beau-tay, feeled weed Franch men, Franch we-mon, and zee Franch fries." I would not always agree. If the "Franch" things are so good, why did he name his ship The Calypso and not Le Pâté?

Yet, in the case of The Artist, Monsieur Cousteau may be correct.

The story revolves around the plight of George Valentin, a silent film star who misjudges the revolutionary effect that sound will have on the industry, and to his misfortune, ignores the concept. His obstinacy, and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, conspire to drive him into obscurity and poverty. Always in the background, however, is Peppy Miller, a young dancer whose accidental meeting with George marks a turning point in her own career. The two are attracted to each other, but George is married. Later, as George's career collapses and Peppy's takes off with the Talkies, George's pride keeps them apart. Only when George hits bottom and he has lost everything (including his wife), does George finally allow the faithful Peppy into his life, and indeed, they live happily ever after, or at least longer than Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

Filmed in black and white and as a silent movie, I'm sure that The Artist was considered a gamble. However, it is one that at least artistically paid off. The director and art department had a good eye for detail in recreating the feel of an old black and white movie without relying simply on the herky-jerky motion associated with the fewer frames per second of the old silent movies. This film paid homage to the attention to visual detail of the silent movies and to the fascination of the visual effects that the media allowed. There is a wonderful scene in which Peppy finds herself alone George's dressing room, and indulges her fantasy, allowing a tuxedo hanging on a clothes tree to woo her. On film, the effect is amazing, and the director lovingly lingers on the shot with an innocent fascination of a 1920's moviegoer.

Similarly, although this is a silent movie, meaning it uses no spoken dialogue to tell the story, sound is an important part. In a scene where George begins to confront the enormity of the impact of sound technology on not only the film industry but on him personally, sounds begin to startle and overwhelm George, but even as he screams, his voice remains silent. It is a brilliant and exceedingly clever scene that not only advances the story but draws the audience viscerally into the movie.

I would imagine that the actors in this film were fascinated by the challenge of recreating the quirkiness of silent film acting. Everyone knows that silent film stars "hammed it up." But in a silent movie, how do you depict a silent film star who is not "hamming it up?" Well, if you want to know the answer, go see how this cast did it. Without exception, they gave wonderful performances. Jean Dujardin (George), walked off with Best Actor Oscar for his performance, and quite deservedly. Berenice Bejo (Peppy), was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, losing out to Octavia Spenser for her role in The Help. Tough call, that one. Both actresses did a fine job, and I do not for a minute begrudge Spenser her prize, but I think that Bejo did a splendid job in a more difficult role. Too bad there could not be two Oscars in this category this year.

Gutsy, innovative, entertaining, and exceptionally well executed, The Artist was a most deserving Best Picture winner. Having won, it will probably make its way into your part of the woods, if it hasn't already, and when it does, make a point to go see this one and shove the popcorn bag of freedom in the face of the 1%.

Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-03-05
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