I saw “The Artist” last night. Honestly, I wanted to hate it, and my first reaction (which got me booed by my friends Maeve and Steve who went with me) was “best children’s movie of the year!”
After a day to digest it and wash off the shitty mood I was in all weekend, I came around to liking it a lot more. The cinematography was gorgeous, and of course Dujardin is a masterful mime. But I couldn’t help but feel a pinge of cynicism when re-reading all the stratospheric praise the film received. Like many actors in Hollywood, it was incredibly charming and pretty, but like those same actors, that alone doesn’t make it brilliant and unique.
Part of the problem is that the film is both pretentious and self-aware, the latter of which provides a convenient and critically unfair excuse for trespasses of the former. A perfect unintentional metaphor for what I didn’t like about the film came with the cringe-inducing appearance of generic African tribesmen. In their first appearance, their context can be seen as satire or reflective of the times. In their second appearance, that context is gone and suddenly you’re left asking “was that necessary?” Not to mention the troubling racial aspect, but that’s a whole other can of worms and hardly surprising with a French director.
As a whole, though, my lack of matched enthusiasm for the film can be attributed to apprehension that extends beyond the mood it happened to catch me in. Rather, I have a longstanding predisposition against any work that serves as a love letter to its own form. You see this also in novels about writing and writers and plays about theater, and it drives me absolutely fucking bonkers. The play Title of Show is perhaps the worst example I can think of all these things, because it presents itself as a love letter to theater but instead quickly becomes a tribute the artists put on for themselves for doing theater. Rather than the form being wonderful, it is them being wonderful for being part of the form, and it descends quickly into irritating, self-conscious nonsense.
I felt this to an extent with “The Artist.” It is a very daring and unique movie if you have not seen many silent films. I don’t deign to be an enthusiast, but even I felt a bit of boredom with the concepts used, such as occasional use of sound (or lack thereof) as a metaphor for the film’s over-arching story. This seems to be a very clever device, except it was actually done with the very first big-time “talkie” film, the Al Jolson vehicle “The Jazz Singer.” In “The Artist” it is in the execution that one must find art, because in and of itself it’s nothing more than a ham-fisted send-up to prior works. Which, again, brings about a bit of disdain for it rooted in my cynicism towards our preoccupation with nostalgia and referential material as art. All art, of course, owes something to predecessors, but not all of it need be a very direct allusion to it that says “hey, remember our predecessors!”
What makes “The Artist” work, though, and why I ultimately think others are right when they tell me I’m just being too uptight is that it’s masterfully executed. It will likely, to the chagrin of many, be the belle of the ball at this year’s Academy Awards. Part of me, though, wonders what we will think in hindsight when we look back at this film five years from now and figure out that Hazanavicius, the film’s director, really isn’t capable of anything other than light comedy fair and whimsy (which is all his work thus far has constituted). It may seem preposterous to ask so much of something that is meant to be so silly and light and charming, but that’s par for the course when a film is put in the company “The Artist” is put into and especially when it calls itself “The Artist.”
But if you’re willing to postpone or overlook that context and conversation and simply marvel at a few magnificent shots and a fantastic display by Dujardin, you’re going to love it.
On a less pretentious note, did anybody catch “The Walking Dead” half-season premiere or whatever the Hell we’re calling it? I liked the episode, but oh my God, Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal are over-acting the shit out of Rick and Shane. When they’re in a scene together it’s like watching theater majors performing their midterm in a 200 level acting class. I like them both and maybe part of this can be assigned to the writers, but goddamn. Let’s knock it back from like a constant 11 to a starting point of, like, 6.
- Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…
- Listen to me LIVE as guest co-host of Alternative to Sleeping tonight at 10pm!
- Realtors: “WAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH” George Hearst III: “NONONOO SSSSHHH IT’S OKAY, it’s okay…here. Here’s a pacifier.” Kristi: “#oops.”
- Open Mic web series premiere tonight @ Lark Tavern
- Trust Me, You’re Going to Want to See This