Second Time Around

I have to be honest and report that I felt under-nourished and bored during my second viewing of Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist, which opened the Savannah Film Festival last night. I felt mostly pleased and charmed when I saw it in Cannes five and a half months ago, but it’s too cloying and simplistic — too much of a peanut- gallery pleaser — to stand up to a second viewing.

Last May I called The Artist “a winning ‘success’ and at the same time a half-and-halfer — a film that delivers beautifully but also leaves you wanting in certain ways. It’s basically a very well-done curio — an experiment in reviving a bygone era and mood by way of silent-film expression.

“Is it a full-bodied motion picture with its own voice and voltage — a film that stands on its own? Not quite. But it’s a highly diverting, sometimes stirring thing to sit through, and the overall HE verdict is a thumbs-up.

“If you’re any kind of film buff it’ll work for you and then some, but I’m not so sure about the under-45 set. Monochrome plus no dialogue are obviously stoppers for the majority of filmgoers out there. Let’s face it — The Artist would have seemed like a quaint exercise if it had been made 35 or 40 years ago by Peter Bogdanovich.

“My basic impression is that The Artist is a very well-done curio — an experiment in reviving a bygone era and mood by way of silent-film expression.

“Is it a full-bodied motion picture with its own voice and voltage — a film that stands on its own? Not quite. But it’s a highly diverting, sometimes stirring thing to sit through, and the overall HE verdict is a thumbs-up.

The Artist has been very carefully assembled, but chops-wise it’s not strictly a revisiting of silent-film era language. It visually plays like a kind of ersatz silent film — technically correct in some respects but with a 2011 sensibility in other ways. It has a jaunty, sometimes jokey tone in the beginning, and then it gradually shifts into drama and then melodrama. But it tries hard and does enough things right that the overall residue is one of satisfaction and ‘a job well done.’

“Shot in Los Angeles, the story of this French-financed production recalls the plots of Singin’ In The Rain and A Star Is Born with a little Sunset Boulevard thrown in.

“It takes place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1931 and focuses on George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) a Douglas Fairbanks-y silent film star who stubbornly refuses to adapt to the advent of motion-picture sound, and Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a Janet Gaynor-like or young Joan Crawford-y actress whose career takes off with sound.

“Hazanavicius uses an entire passage of Bernard Herrmann‘s Vertigo score in the final act, when Valentin is at his lowest ebb.

“It’s interesting that Dujardin strongly resembles Fredric March, star of King Vidor‘s A Star Is Born (1937).

John Goodman plays a studio chief, James Cromwell plays Valentin’s chauffeur, and Penelope Ann Miller plays Valentin’s unsatisfied wife.”

Incidentally: The Artist showed at the SCAD Trustees’ theatre (216 E. Broughton Street, a block away from the Marshall House). It’s been ten years since I last attended the Savannah Film Festival, and I’d forgotten that the screen is way too small for the size and length of this fairly sizable theatre. We’ve all become accustomed to a certain largeness in proportion to a viewing space, especially with the advent of super-sized flat screens. If you’re sitting in the rear of the SCAD theatre the screen looks like your father’s 27″ television. It’s not good enough. The festival fathers need to upgrade.

13 thoughts on “Second Time Around

  1. great scott on said:

    Since it’s Harvey Weinstein’s movie I guess it’s going to win Best Picture. That fucker could make those people vote for Human Centipede 2 if that was his only Oscar hope.

  2. I’ve only seen it once and enjoyed it but I can see that it probably won’t hold up to repeat viewing esp. w/ in a short span. It’s too simple and derives much of its charm from its novelty. Maybe if you’d waited a couple of years.

  3. Fortunately for THE ARTIST’s Oscar prospects, it won’t have to hold up well on second viewings — most Oscar voters watch the top contenders once, if that, and vote primarily based on their emotional response to that viewing experience. For that reason, I think that it would be a mistake to underestimate how far the film can go in the awards race.

  4. I think this is going to be fairly big at the box office, not a blockbuster but a high-side prestige film ala King’s Speech or True Grit last year. Just a hunch.

    The zillion cable channels have given film buffs greater access to silents. Still, I doubt many of them have seen silents on a big screen, so they’ll be interested. I’m also guessing that there will be enough curiosity among the general moviegoing public to fuel box office. Most people have never seen one and I think they will take the opportunity.

    It’ll probably open the door to other silents in the next few years before the trend peters.

  5. If Jean Dujardin somehow wins or even is nominated for this, is that technically “pulling a Benigni”? Some jerkoff European comedian that no one here has ever heard of or at least NO ONE thinks is funny wins Best Actor then never does anything relevant to this country again? Or is it closer to “pulling a Waltz”– some awesome European dude gives an attention-grabbing showcase performance, wins the awards… then repeats the same damn performance for five years till finally everyone’s sick of it.

    Honestly, I’m too lazy to Wiki him, but the only think I vaguely know about Dujardin (sounds like a mustard) is he’s in that OSS 117 shit that I NEVER WANT TO SEE or know about or hear about (if I wanted to watch that, I’d watch Johnny English.) Isn’t DZ a big fan of those? Tells you all you need to know.

  6. One channel is enough? I suppose. It’s a shame the Weinstein Company is behind this, it will cause a bunch of vitriolic reactions to it that aren’t necessary.

  7. LexG

    Jerk off comedian? no one has ever heard of? No one thinks he is funny? really? can you be any more ethnocentric, prejudiced and ridiculously obnoxious? I guess not.

  8. As I said in that other thread that appears to be fast falling off the page, The Artist is an adorable, sweet, sometimes brilliant forty five minute film, and yet, it runs about two times that length. People who loved it must have had their minds made up at the halfway point and never looked back.

    And I think young early twentysomethings and younger are going to get NOTHING out of it. And I totally understand that, since this is a pretty laser-precision experiment, and not much of a narrative at all. Dujardin has to mope for about twenty minutes for this thing to reach a normal runtime.It’s a “love letter to the cinema,” except it’s clearly from someone who was already sentimental about that romance, and doesn’t deserve reciprocation. I saw it once, forgot it, and I’ll gladly move on.

    However, Dujardin is fucking brilliant in this and the OSS 117 movies. He’s funny, but he’s mostly doing the straight man, and he looks great as a Bond-era spy. Like if young Sean Connery had Sasha Baron Cohen’s rubbery features and timing. If you see those movies, the way they work is that Dujardin looks like a suave shit-kicker with a dollop of anti-Semitic attitude FIRST, and a smirking joker last. They’re both broadly funny and sharply observant because they’re only a few tiny degrees removed from the actual spy movie theatrics of the sixties.

  9. Gabe@ThePlaylist

    I could make the same argument about Moneyball, a formulaic sports movie (sans the ending) which is also garnering Oscar steam. In fact, I could also make the same argument for The Descendants. Brilliant? yes! but another predictable Clooney performance. Hmmm let’s see, the same argument also applies to a host of other buzzed about movies like The Help. Oh wait! I could even predict the same outcome for movies like My Week with Marilyn: a predictable script plus an ingenue playing dress up.

    A part of me can’t help but suspect that this anti- The Artist sentiment which has just burst out of nowhere has very little to do with Weinstein and everything to do with ethnocentric snobbery.

    Get it together people

    *flips wig*

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