AFF Review- The Artist

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George Burns was right: show biz is a horrible bitch goddess.

-Bart Simpson

“I won’t talk. I won’t say a word.”

George Valentin- Opening Line of “The Artist”

What do you love about movie? Not what movies do you love, but what is it about film itself that you love?

For me it’s the wonder of it. I still remember the excitement I felt when I was a little kid, when going to the theatre to see a movie was like going on vacation. It was a special trip that you made with mom or dad when they wanted to do something special for you. There was this excitement because everything was so big. Not just the screen, but the room, the popcorn, the sodas, all of it seemed larger than everything else in your life.

Even as I got older and movies became more commonplace that feeling still hung on. Hell, even when I was a theatre manager and ran the projector, seeing completely behind the screen it just added to the spectacle.

But as you get older it becomes more and more difficult to hold on to that feeling. You know what is going on behind the curtain, and it’s not pretty. It goes from being a special treat you enjoy with your family to a business. You are aware that your inflated ticked price is paying for some over budgeted, heavy effect, light story, over tested product. Now instead of being a wonderful experience that takes you away from the world for a little bit you are aware, even if just slightly in the back of your mind, that you are signing someone’s multi million dollar paycheck.

Remember what it felt like when you were a kid? Do you remember that rush of pure joy that came from even the most disposable of entertainment? When was the last time you had it?

I can specifically remember two movies that gave me that feeling recently. “Son of Rambow,” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Agree or disagree, these are movies that provoked that sense of spontaneous joy in me. I treasure those movies because I will never forget how they made me feel like a 7 year old seeing “Legend of the Lone Ranger,” and being so swept away by it that I failed to realize how awful it was.

That is the feeling I am looking for when I enter a theatre now. Not for a movie that makes me ignore its awfulness, but one that is so incredibly moving, so infectious in its joy, and so captivating in it’s energy that I leave feeling like a giddy child.

“The Artist” has given me another film to add to this list.

First and most importantly, this is a silent, black and white film. If the idea of a silent, black and white film is immediately repellent to you, please navigate away from this page. No offense, but if that will keep you away then perhaps you need to find another place to spend your time.

This is one of the best films I have seen in years. Full stop. No qualifications, no categorizations.

It is the story of George Valentin, the king of the silent action films. He is the king of the film world. He and his dog (who steals every scene he is in, and proves categorically why dogs are better than cats) can get any picture made and whatever picture they make together is sure to be a hit. But then… sound.

From the beginning film was meant to be a sound medium. But the technological limitations prevented decent recording and playback. When the tech caught up the industry was shaken to its core. Many of the stars of silent film were either unable or unwilling to make the leap (many of them being “foreigners” with heavy accents didn’t help).

Well, George Valentin finds himself in just that position. His world is silent and he sees “talkies” as a passing fad, a novelty that will fade once people grow tired of it. We kind of know how this plays out.

As George falls we see the rise of Peppy Miller, a young woman first noticed when she literally fell out of line and into Velentin’s arms at a premier. He helped her get her first job, and in doing so unwittingly played party to his own downfall.

Peppy was of the new breed of movie star (which itself was a new breed of celebrity), one who spoke.

We follow their disparate, intertwining lives over the course of a few years.

Enough about the plot. This is really a movie about sticking by your convictions no matter what the cost, but also about the cost of sticking by your convictions.

This film is absolutely expert in all regards. The musical choices, the writing (title cards as well as plot), the supporting performances (John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Uggie, Dash, and Dude who share the role of Jack the dog), the brilliant casting of the lead characters, who incidentally give amazing performances as well, (Jean Dujardin, Valentin, is French, and Berenice Bejo, Peppy Miller, is Argentinean. The casting itself is a wink to film historians who know the impact sound had on non-American actors), and the choice use of sound in two scenes, are all absolutely perfect.

I honestly could write about this movie for another hour. It is wildly inventive, gutsy, and thoroughly entertaining. This is a movie made for people like me who love movies and who are constantly looking for something to remind us of what we love about them. Even if the idea of a silent, black and white film doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then you need it more than someone who thinks it sounds great. I had almost forgotten about the joy of film, the pure love I had when I was a kid when the lights would go down and my pulse would star to race. This movie helped me remember. I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. I literally cheered at the end of it, and that is saying a lot. So go and see “The Artist” and fall in love with movies again.



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