Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Artist and Old Hollywood

I'm a little bit ashamed when I say that The Artist was the first silent film I've ever seen. Actually, it's not even a real silent film because Jean Dujardin says "With pleasure" in his lovely French accent at the end; but, in spirit, it was one hell of a silent movie.

As an avid film junkie and Awards Season follower, I tend to overanalyze the trends in popular films. For instance, I'm thoroughly convinced that the popularity of The King's Speech and The Iron Lady shows an underlying anglophilia that's spreading like wildfire around the world. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I really do think The Artist sums up the nostalgic standpoint that the film industry has embraced in the past few years.

Old Hollywood is all glamor and perfection because, supposedly, back then the stars were truly talented, the films were so original, and simplicity was magnetic. The Artist certainly conforms to several of the stereotypes of films depicting that era; there's Geoge's marriage to a beautiful but vain woman, I think The Artist is marvelous because the ending was so unexpected. I thought George Valentin would die a romantic and tragic death and Peppy would lament him and realize how much she loved him. Speaking of love, I also loved the lack of an explicitly stated romance between the two main characters. The elusive nature of their relationship made me see the film as more than a typical story of success and failure cemented within a supporting romance.

I hate generally formularic films, especially the ones labelled "inspiring," "thought-provoking," or "heart-wrenching." I can't say exactly what makes a film un-formularic. Some of them are unconventional, like Inception or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Others simply put a new twist on a theme everyone thinks of as hackneyed to death--Midnight in Paris and The Kids are All Right. I mean, who hasn't seen movies that talk about writers suffering wanderlust or angsty lesbians? And that's only from the last two years. Of course, there are formularic films that are simply marvelous, i.e. The King's Speech: obstacle (speech impediment), unlikely friendship, a little success, some failure, more failure, ultimate success. Not to mention, older films like Titanic or even Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I digress. I think The Artist is partly formularic. After all, what movie isn't? It usually takes a film with an easily accessible plot to reach the apex of the Academy anyways. That's why movies like A Single Man or Inception got nominated but never won Best Picture. 

When I'm watching the movie, I'm not analytical. I dissect it afterwards. My emotions while watching The Artist consisted mostly of excitement, delight, tearful sadness, and pure joy. By the end, I was crying and laughing hysterically. And I've come up with a money-making scheme for the producers. I think they should organize a few screenings in the true silent movie style: a huge auditorium with The Artist reeling on mute and a live orchestra playing the soundtrack. That's what I'd call a real retrospect.

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