Reviews: The Artist
A Love Letter to Silent Film
As a film student, I probably have a bit of a different view of this film in addition to the fact that when I saw the film there was a Q&A with one of the actors afterwards. I see this film as a love letter to silent film. They weren't doing it to get awards or make a lot of money. They didn't even think it would get that popular. It was done out of their love of silent film and it's era. Yes, this story has been done before, but what story hasn't? I found it very interesting that they took the risk to make a largely silent film in this era. It was simple,but you could tell they put their hearts into it. They wanted to make a tribute to the silent film era and they did, a tribute that a lot of people happened to love and enjoy. You can't really judge this film on the same level as most other films because it's not like most films. It doesn't have dialogue or intricate visual effects. It's simply a film about the silent era and how the transition from silent to sound affected a lot of actors of the time, many of which were unable to make the transition for a number of reasons. I happened to greatly enjoy this film, even if a lot of others do not. It wasn't made for a gimmick or to get recognition or a lot of money. It was made as a tribute, a love letter to a bygone era that has largely been forgotten by a lot of the viewing public. This won't start some sort of revival of silent films or anything,but if it sparks a newfound interest in the silent era in even one person, I think the filmakers did their job.
The Silence is Overbearing
The Artist is a silent black and white comedy about a silent movie star struggling to adjust to 'talkies' whilst watching the rise of a young actress he first set on the path to fame. The silent style is wonderful with furious mugging, pantomime and clever intricate bits (like a fantastic bit where the lead and the love interest dance with a only the legs of the one visible. This is fantastic and easily the best part of the movie. Whilst I'm getting the praise out of the way the setting feels spot on and the actors really seem to be silent movie actors. There is a very funny dog. If all this were true and nothing else, it would be a good fun movie with spirit, that people should talk about but don't. However unfortunately, it's also silent and the silence does not work. Firstly it causes weaknesses in the plot, it feels like a starstruck fan girl is being picked by a mature actor looking for something newer and younger than his longstanding marriage. The plot is always thin which would be okay, the plot isn't important, but removing the voices means it lacks the subtlety to tell us the really important questions. Okay the girl likes him, but is she still going to like him when they've spent more than 5 minutes in each others company? This is a very negative view of the plot and isn't suggested by the film, but because no-one speaks it's left up to interpretation. Equally other important questions are left unanswered. Throughout the film I was wondering if the star was refusing to work in talking films because of pride or his voice and when the answer came it felt like 'so what?' What's more at every point of the film, it's hard to settle because it's constantly thrown in your face that this is silent! Memento is a film the runs backwards through time, a gimmick that keeps the film interesting and reveals to us an important part of the condition of the main character. The Artist is the opposite of that, the silence can make it boring and since it was clear The Artist could have had silent charm _and_ voices it just reinforced the idea that the star should just suck it up and speak. Chatter would have ruined the film, however a few carefully chosen words and background noise is better than having to read black cards. SingingInTheRain is what this film could have been if only they didn't deafen the charm with silence.
I absolutely loved The Artist. I wasn't sure how they were going to manage the translation from "Silent" to "Talkies", and the fact that they just kept the whole film silent I thought was wonderful. I heard a review that commented that Silent films were, in a way, a more pure form of acting - you didn't have to worry about anybody else's words getting in the way, or about having a cold that made your voice clog up, or about accidentally telling more than showing. The only acting that mattered was in your face and body. I'm not an actor or a film student or a filmmaker, but it was really interesting to compare the way the acting in The Artist was done to the way it's done in other modern movies. More focus on the eyes, on the faces - the actors having to work far harder at what they do. Not to say talkies are bad, just to say they're different. The story it told was good, though it dragged at times, but there were moments that utterly tore at your heart - the punch to the soul that was seeing the empty pavement where Clifton had been standing the day before, or George pouring whiskey over his reflection, both made my heart ache. But really, it was the characters that drove the movie, rather than the story. Absolutely excellent, well deserving of the Oscar.
Silence is Golden (oh, give me a break)
Almost within minutes of it starting, I realised two things about The Artist: 1) I had seen every bit of it before in many other movies, and 2) I will adore it all the same. The Artist is basically a carbon copy of Singing In The Rain, both in terms of plot and characterisation. Heck, it is the same basic plot from Wimbledon, though I would be paying The Artist an insult with the comparison. Though we've seen this sort of romantic comedy format played out many times before, this film gets away with it. Maybe it is the charm of the characters; perfect pastiches of the happy, go lucky stars with infectious, heart warming smiles on their faces. Or perhaps it is the beautiful cinematography, which manages to convey a huge amount of information despite the absence of sound. It's probably both. On the subject of silence, the film uses it to its advantage throughout. The silence mirrors the protagonist's character, literally in the sense that he refuses (or is unable) to voice act, and metaphorically in the sense that he is can't (or won't) communicate his feelings. Meanwhile, though the film manages to create a perfect pastiche of silent era movies, it isn't afraid to do its own thing and employ a more modern, cunning take on the medium. There is a marked difference between the mugging movie characters, and the subtle expressions of the actors who play them. If I have any problem with the movie, it would be with the pacing. In screen-writing terms, there is a moment in the second act called "Plot Point Two", wherein the hero is at their lowest. Once the character manages to overcome their despair, they surge on to the big climax and finale. In The Artist, plot point two occurs halfway through the film, and we are forced to wait an age for the climax. When the climax finally does come, it is basically the exact same scene as the one that occurred at plot point two. It makes the film feel longer than it needs to be, and I don't understand why they didn't just condense the two scenes into one. People have dismissed The Artist as Oscar Bait. Though that's probably true, it is totally irrelevant. Ignore such childish cynicism and go see this film. Go see this film!
I understand its great to have a silent movie and everything, but I honestly feel like this movie is vastly overrated. I feel like the whole movie was simply using this as a gimmick, and while I have nothing against the movie being in black and white, or being silent, I don't like the plot. I personally prefer the hilarity that is Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, and I feel like that does much better at making an enjoyable, modern, silent movie. Over all I feel like a film student would love The Artist, but I am not that sure a normal person would.