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The Artist

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Scott Roberts
The Artist
on Jan 9, 2012 at 3:19:11 pm

I’ll admit I was a little nervous going into The Artist. A 100 minute, black & white, 4×3, silent film released in 2011…? I mean, I can toss a Buster Keaton DVD in my PS3 and be as happy as the next guy, but how audacious that someone would try and release a silent movie in modern times…! The people who made The Artist have balls. Big black & white balls.

Though, the more I think about it, maybe creating an original silent film in 2011 isn’t that insane of an idea. The film never really tries to trick you into thinking that your actually watching a film made in the 1930s. Different than how 2009's House of the Devil really tried to trick you into thinking it was actually a 1980s horror film. No, The Artist has too many modernisms (hey, that’s not a word!). A middle finger here, a touch of all too clean special effects there, and there’s always the “Hey, there’s John Goodman!” factor. But most of all, the film is so brilliantly self-referential. It’s one of the most meta films I’ve seen in a while.

Starting out with a silent film within a silent film, the whole thing is a wink at itself. The audience applauds. We hear nothing. There are even scenes where the actual scarce audience watching The Artist (the other 6 people in the theater and I) become sort of a layer of meta while watching the scarce audience watching the outdated filmmaking in the in the film that is using outdated filmmaking, The Artist. Huh? In an era of film when everyone is talking about the future of 3D technology, whether it’s here to stay or not, The Artist then uses a completely outdated method of filmmaking to reference the incoming panic of new technology. But at the same time, using the angle of a black & white silent film proved to be a better storytelling device than 3D has ever done. But talkies eventually did take over, does that mean we should accept the promise of radical new technology? Perhaps I’m overthinking this. I’m just saying, The Artist can provide some deep thinking if you want it to.

Throw all that aside, and you’ve got a great story anyway. It’s been done before; the silent film star having to adapt to the ever-growing threat of talkies messing up his career. Again, trying to pass this film off as anything but a reference would be silly. If this same film got released in 1931, it probably wouldn’t be all that significant. It is a modern callback to a golden era, kind of how Singing in the Rain was. I wouldn’t quite call it a film history lesson; even if is a love letter to a historical film period, because it works so well on even the most basic of levels. However, to shoot The Artist in any other way than it actually played out would immediately make it crappy. Making this a back-and-forth between talking and silent would have ruined this film. It needed to be silent the whole time. I’ll admit, the whole thing is a bit of an exercise; but a well thought out, very well executed exercise. I would hesitate to call this film a gimmick (I’m sure anyone really is), because the only way to pull this off is to do it the way that they did it.

The heart of this film is in the right place no matter what you interpret otherwise. If you were to read The Artist on simply the surface level, you’d still get a rewarding experience. The acting is fantastic, the cinematography is great, and the story is simple but masterfully told. The set designs and costumes are pitch perfect. It’s funny, it’s sad, it even gets really dark for a little bit near the end. The protagonist is one of the most likable characters you could ever imagine. The Artist left a smile on my face. If you’ve ever had an interest in silent films, go see this movie. I would graciously recommend this film to anybody. It’s fantastic. But if you are completely turned off by the thought of sitting through a silent movie, then maybe The Artist is just not for you. It’s just a different way of storytelling, but I can see how some (or a lot) of people living in 2011 wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to see this. Why would they, when Alvin and the Chipmunks have released yet another squeakquel? They’re chipwrecked this time!

Even though it’s not The Kid or The General (it doesn’t try to be), I thought The Artist was a splendid little film. One of the best of last year.


While the plot is fairly predictable, I still think this trailer gives away WAY too much of the magic, and would recommend just going into The Artist blind. But here it is anyway for your convenience:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/OK7pfLlsUQM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe>


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Mark Suszko
Re: The Artist
on Jan 9, 2012 at 5:15:05 pm

"Middle finger"? That's not modern, unless you think the battle of Agincourt is modern.


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Scott Roberts
Re: The Artist
on Jan 9, 2012 at 5:35:53 pm

I know the gesture itself isn't modern, but I don't recall ever seeing too many people flipping the bird in popular, pre-modern (1950's and earlier) films. Am I wrong about that? I don't know. I just never remember seeing Chaplin or the Marx Brothers going around giving people the finger in anything I've seen.


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Jason Jenkins
Re: The Artist
on Jan 9, 2012 at 7:21:49 pm

[Scott Roberts] "I don't recall ever seeing too many people flipping the bird in popular, pre-modern (1950's and earlier) films. Am I wrong about that? I don't know. I just never remember seeing Chaplin or the Marx Brothers going around giving people the finger in anything I've seen."

We've really come a long way haven't we?

Jason Jenkins
Flowmotion Media
Video production... with style!

Check out my Mormon.org profile.


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Scott Roberts
Re: The Artist
on Jan 10, 2012 at 4:22:53 pm

[Jason Jenkins] "We've really come a long way haven't we?"

It all started to go downhill after that film in 1937 when Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd held Buster Keaton's legs up for a keg stand. I think we watched it in film school.


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Jeff Breuer
Re: The Artist
on Jan 19, 2012 at 6:56:51 pm

I finally watched The Artist yesterday, and yea, it was amazing. I was plugged in the whole time, I cared about the people and what happened, I went through a range of emotions as they funneled me through a roller coaster ride, and it was damn entertaining. Good movie.

[Scott Roberts] "I can toss a Buster Keaton DVD in my PS3 and be as happy as the next guy,"
Glad to hear, me too! I'm glad they lived up to everything I hoped. There were a number of gags that were stolen strait out of old silent films but it works as an homage, especially since not many people get to see those old movies.

[Scott Roberts] "the other 6 people in the theater and I"
If you get a chance to see it again with a packed audience, that is the best. We always have a chance to watch silent films on DVD at home, but experiencing it with a crowd is a real treat. Without all the extra noise the crowd really seems to ban together and laugh and fear and get excited together. I am almost more aware of my physical surroundings in a really fantastic way.


[Scott Roberts] "One of the best of last year."
I think this will be in top 100 lists for years to come. Great movie.


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Bob Cole
Re: The Artist
on Jul 23, 2012 at 3:31:59 am

I can't agree with you guys on this one. Just saw The Artist for the first time and was very disappointed. (full disclosure: saw it on DVD, not in a theater)

I enjoy silent films, especially those of Buster Keaton. But not this one. There is "much to admire," but not much to love, imho. The story got telegraphed in the first minute, and the gimmick at the end felt like, well, a gimmick.

Silent film acting, from the days of silent filmmaking, was indeed an art, but this film reads like a documentary without audio. Courage is wonderful, bla bla bla, but you still have to entertain and surprise an audience. I'm truly amazed that this film was even nominated for Best Picture.

As with many of these appraisals, the best test is time. If The Artist reawakens interest in classic silent films, great. I thought Hugo did a lot better job, even on that didactic level.

Bob C


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Tim Wilson
Re: The Artist
on Jul 23, 2012 at 4:51:14 am

[Bob Cole] "this film reads like a documentary without audio. "

I like your assessment just before that: gimmick.

To me it mostly felt like a "Look at me! I'm French! And I'm in black and white!" I was somewhere between bored and annoyed the entire time.

I'm on the record as loving Hugo, but I also felt like Inglorious Basterds did a better job communicating a driving passion for movies. The coolest thing about The Artist was the dog. And look! He's French! And he's in black and white! And at the Oscars!

Sacré Bleu.


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Bob Cole
Re: The Artist
on Jul 23, 2012 at 3:28:11 pm

[Tim Wilson] "To me it mostly felt like a "Look at me! I'm French!"

That's funny. I didn't have that feeling, at least not consciously. But it was annoying, even without my being aware of the Frenchiness. (And I love French films - my favorite film of all is The Rules of the Game, which is not just a drama, but also a comedy, a film about filmmaking, a poem, and a philosophy of life; "Everyone has his reasons" are words to live by.)

I was so mystified by the success of The Artist that I looked up the reviews, and discovered that yes indeed, the critics loved it.

I think that one reason the critics loved it is that it was DIFFERENT. And the critics have to watch so much junk. A lot of the junk is very beautifully produced, but it is still junk -- boring crap that should never have been produced. A week ago, we watched (on DVD) one of the first two Batman/Nolan films. I should say, we watched part of it - it was so ponderous, self-important and boring that we switched off to watch whatever South Park episode was on the DVR.

Well, at any rate, I am very glad that Tim Wilson agrees with me about The Artist. If I have to be an old crank who's totally out of step with the world, it's good to have such good company.


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Scott Roberts
Re: The Artist
on Jul 23, 2012 at 4:00:04 pm




I don't think it's the greatest movie ever made, by a long shot, but it's cute. It tells a nice, simple story. Not a brand new way, but in a way that hasn't been done in a LONG time. At least successfully (to avoid the "well, this guy made a silent film in 2004 that was pretty good" argument. Yeah, but sadly no one saw that one [you could potentially mention]).

I think without the awards recognition and massive praise it received prior to you guys seeing it, you would have liked it more. "Oh, I saw this movie called The Artist on Netflix, I'd never heard of it. It was kind of neat." Instead of "I can't believe people thought this was so good. I didn't think it was as good as other people thought".

I felt the same way about The King's Speech. Decent movie, nothing special. It told an interesting story in a pretty standard way, but it was entertaining. I don't understand why everyone decided to choose that particular movie to singularly plant a long, wet kiss on its butt, but they did, and it won everything. But I would say at least The Artist was, yeah, DIFFERENT. I would take a gimmicky concept movie done well like The Artist over an interesting story done with mild cinematic attention like The King Speech any day of the week.

If your argument is that The Artist is just boring, then OK, that's a valid argument. I find Blade Runner boring. I find Gone With the Wind boring. I find 8 1/2 kind of boring. People will find mostly well liked movies to be boring. Holding an attention span is an important thing, and there's often nothing that certain movies can do about it to any given person.

I saw the Artist in theaters before the awards praise; and it was charming, and entertaining, and I loved it. Had I seen it with higher expectations, perhaps that wouldn't be the case.


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Bob Cole
Re: The Artist
on Jul 23, 2012 at 4:27:55 pm

Agreed about the problem of expectations. I can still remember telling friends in high school about this or that "great movie" (Planet of the Apes, Medium Cool) - and then having to hear how disappointed they were! And I hate to admit this, but sometimes I shy away from re-viewing favorite films because I am not sure that I would really like them again (Planet of the Apes, Medium Cool...).

After some of the other strange Best Picture awards, I wasn't expecting that much from The Artist, and I was still disappointed. But I suspect that you are correct, that my attitude would probably have been very different, with lower expectations, and the sense of discovery.


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Tim Wilson
Re: The Artist
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:52:28 pm

Bunch of great ideas in the last few posts that I'll try to carry forward...

Bob, it wasn't the French-ness per se that bothered me. I studied French for 5 years, and used it for scholarship and business, as well as travel. Cocteau's Beauty and The Beast is on my all-time list, and I like Boudu Saved From Drowning almost as much as Rules of the Game. LOL Which is a lot.

But it felt like we were supposed to be as aware of THAT than that it was set in Hollywood. {Spoken in French accent] "No American studio would make THIS movie! (Although thanks Harvey!)"

And of course, Scott, I vastly preferred The King's Speech in every way. And preferred Hugo to both. So there you go.

And even though it annoyed the shit out of me, I'd probably have given it a grudging Fresh rating anyway. It's just one of those situations where a binary choice isn't quite descriptive enough.

Bob, I'm also glad to hear you say what you did about the Nolan batflix. I'm SUCH a fan of his, and I dislike those movies SO MUCH. There are so many great pieces -- Ledger, Hathaway, they look amazing, etc etc -- but OH MY GOD. They're so ponderous, so long. Even before the opening credits roll, you can FEEL like it's going to be a long movie. I'm exhausted, almost ready to go home for a nap, before the Warner Bros logo fades off the screen.

(That said, I was in Hollywood last week, and the Batman signage around town was AMAZING. Loved it.)

But I do get the idea of movies that I love that are too slight to hold up under the weight of my praise. It's a hard balance to strike between YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE and, "well, I'm not saying it's the greatest thing ever, and it's kind of goofy, and I understand why other people don't like it, but I really want you to see it." That's just not how I react when I see something I like and want to tell someone about it. Definitely more of the screaming inclination....


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Mark Suszko
Re: The Artist
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:57:42 pm

Scott would have liked the silent movie better if something exploded in it somewhere along the line, I bet:-)

Tim, Scott, Mike, et al, I can sympathize about liking a movie everyone else seems to hate. That happened to me with "Idiocracy" as well as with an old Jackie Chan movie I thought was droll, but my family hated with a deep, screen-talking hate.


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Tim Wilson
Re: The Artist
on Jul 24, 2012 at 4:56:02 am

[Mark Suszko] "Scott would have liked the silent movie better if something exploded in it somewhere along the line, I bet:-)"

Would definitely have done it for me. LOL


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Scott Roberts
Re: The Artist
on Jul 24, 2012 at 2:16:28 pm

[Mark Suszko] "Scott would have liked the silent movie better if something exploded in it somewhere along the line, I bet:-)"

A nice hefty explosion with no audio shot in crisp black and white film... ...a French explosion nonetheless... Magnifique!


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