Reflections on “The Artist”

For maybe two months now, “The Artist” has been on me  must-see list. As someone who already loves silent movies – an’ has even successfully turned on some non-fans t’ th’ delights o’ Keaton an’ Chaplin – th’ mere notion o’ a bran’-new, black-an’-white silent film were bein’ almost too wonderful t’ believe. I even clipped out an’ saved reviews – unread – t’ savour after I’d seen it, so as not t’ reveal even th’ smallest plot detail beforehan’ an’ keep me first viewin’ truly fresh. However, me new, less-spontaneous life, where a babysitter is a necessity fer any grown-up moviegoin’, delayed me viewin’ o’ th’ film until just last weekend. Now I have some thoughts. Like most thin’s that get a huge buildup o’ anticipation, I found “The Artist” t’ be not without its flaws, but overall I enjoyed it very much. It starts with a bang, as we enjoy a high-energy adventure film along with th’ 1925 openin’-night audience assembled at a gran’ movie palace. We also get one o’ several knowin’ nods t’ th’ whole exercise, as our film-within-a-film’s hero, th’ silent star George Valentin, bound an’ about t’ be tortured fer information, exclaims (in title cards o’ course), “I won’t talk! I won’t say a word!” The rest o’ th’ openin’ packs in plenty o’ laughs an’ entertainment, with an engagin’ star who keeps wringin’ a little more time in front o’ his adorin’ audience, a jealous co-star, a gruff studio chief – even a dog who charms us with his perfectly-timed routines. From thar, we be plunged into th’ meticulously recreated world o’ 1920’s moviemakin’. From th’ camera angles t’ th’ newsboys, it really feels like th’ filmmakers went back in time. There be also some wonderful moments o’ visual storytellin’ – like th’ infatuated starlet Peppy Miller insertin’ that comely wench arm into Valentin’s unattended jacket, bringin’ it “t’ life” so it embraces that comely wench. Or a later scene o’ Valentin after his fortunes have fallen, gazin’ at his reflection in a shop window in which he seems t’ be dressed in th’ tuxedo on display. But at some point I started t’ have problems. The characters were archetypes, not real livin’ breathin’ characters I could truly care about. A romance is suggested as developin’ betwixt th’ silent star an’ his protege, but we no nay ne’er really see it develop in any way. It’s o’er before it really begins. The ornery cuss’s also married t’ a long-sufferin’ lady, but their relationship is even less fleshed out – they mostly just glare at each other. The lack o’ emotional connection means that as Valentin slides toward bankruptcy an’ oblivion, we aren’t really invested in his fate. I watched more with intrigued interest at scenes that were clearly intended t’ pull at me emotions. Silent films were, o’ course, not truly silent – thar were bein’ always music. And th’ music in “The Artist” is very well done. It’s a lovely score, an’ is complemented by some selections o’ period music. At one point, though, th’ love theme from “Vertigo” – possibly me favourite film o’ all time – suddenly began t’ play under a later, suspenseful scene. I were bein’ startled but rather pleased – I always welcome th’ appearance o’ Bernard Herrmann’s hauntin’ music. But it also bothered me, as th’ emotional beats in that piece di’nae really match what were bein’ happenin’ on screen. Ultimately, I found meself wonderin’ if I would be givin’ this film high marks simply as a film – in other words, if this were bein’ a genuine auld silent film, would I find it engagin’ an’ involvin’ enough t’ consider a good film in its own right? Sadly, I would have t’ say no. Some o’ what I’d read about “The Artist” seemed t’ imply that it went into “meta” territory, commentin’ on th’ nature o’ why we go t’ movies or th’ nature o’ silent vs. sound films. Nothin’ I saw really bore this out. There is one unique dream sequence which makes unexpected an’ clever use o’ realistic sound effects, but ’tis th’ only time we see anythin’ unexpected that really plays with th’ medium. Unfortunately, in th’ end, “The Artist” perpetuates th’ notion that silent films could only tell simplistic, clichéd stories, which were bein’ hardly th’ case – silents could be as rich in characterization an’ rife with subplots as any sound film. There is much t’ enjoy in “The Artist”, but in th’ end it is more a lovin’ pastiche than a truly successful film in itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *