I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Artist

tn_theartistTHE ARTIST is an enjoyable, cleverly made tribute movie by the French director (Michel Hazanavicius) and star (Jean Dujardin) of those O.S.S. 117 movies, which from what I have heard are also enjoyable, cleverly made tribute movies. In this one the guy plays George Valentin, beloved silent film star, on top of the world right before the dawn of the sound era. And then he’s in trouble.

His trouble is partly because the industry is changing, but partly because he’s a dumbass. He blatantly flirts with Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a new screen star discovered when she was just an autograph-seeker photographed by paparazzi kissing George on the cheek. So this doesn’t go over well with his wife (the similarly-named Penelope Ann Miller), and his other adorable shtick (smiling at himself in the mirror, having his dog sidekick do tricks at the dinner table when she’s obviously upset that he seems to be openly and publicly cheating on her) doesn’t solve the problem. So after a while he throws him out on his ass, he has no money and has to auction off all his rich person shit (furniture, statues, giant paintings of himself). The poor scamp.

mp_theartistIt’s a classic Hollywood type of story – those old movies about the rise and fall and sometimes re-rise of fictional stage or screen stars – but done in the style of a silent film. Yes, please be aware that this is a silent film, no dialogue except for intertitles. It sounds cute and all but I imagine some people will sit down to it and then realize that on second thought they actually don’t want to see that. To make it easier on us it uses modern cinematic cheats. The picture is clear and not sped up, so unlike most actual silent films you can read their lips and expressions alot of the time, and what they’re mouthing is often modern speech too, there’s not as much of a cultural gap there. Also there’s a full orchestral soundtrack correctly timed to the movie. And one song with vocals.

That’s one of the times it cleverly uses the coming of the sound era as an excuse for little tricks. I’ll only give one more vague example, so as to not ruin too much: there’s a dream sequence where he discovers he can hear sound effects. So the movie’s playing with the fact that it doesn’t really have the limitations it’s mostly sticking to.

Dujardin deserves alot of the credit for the movie working. Even without the power of speech he has the look, charm and mustache of one of the old movie stars like Gene Kelly or somebody. They don’t have leading men like that anymore so he makes the gimmick more authentic than if it was some recognizable Hollywood guy more blatantly of our era. On the other hand there are some of those in the supporting roles though: John Goodman as the studio boss, Malcolm McDowell in like one part, Borat’s sidekick in another part, James Cromwell as George’s driver, and in the role of Peppy’s driver I couldn’t believe it but it was Ed motherfuckin Lauter (DEATH WISH 3, BREAKHEART PASS, WHITE BUFFALO, DEATH HUNT, RAW DEAL, CUJO, REVENGE OF THE NERDS 2, etc.).

edlauter-theartist
Bejo also works well as a spunky rising ingenue of the time. She’s adorable when she dances and smiles. I’m gonna start using ‘ingenue’ in my other reviews also, not just to evoke a certain era. Like, “Erika Eleniak, the young ingenue who jumps out of the cake topless,” that type of thing.

Despite the presence of Mr. Lauter this is one of those movies where it’s only playing on one or two screens in town so you gotta get there early and be prepared to be with one of those crowds of mostly people that see only a handful of movies a year (either foreign, independent or Oscar bait) because their bourgeois friends said it was real good. When the guy next to me kept saying “Hmmm” or “Ahhhh” at each line of text on the commercials I was a little concerned about getting through a silent movie near him, but it turned out to be fine. Also I almost got the spelling of bourgeois correctly in one try. I had an ‘e’ on the end but otherwise got it right. So not only am I real open minded to go see a movie like this without even knowing Ed Lauter was gonna be in it, but I’m also real smart and stuff. I would like a little credit here.

Because of all the acclaim this movie has gotten (97% Fresh Organic and Locally Grown on Rotten Tomatoes, 6 Golden Globe nominations, Best Picture honors from Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Boston Film Critics Association, Detroit Film Critics Society, New York Film Critics Circle, Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, Phoenix Film Critics Society and Vancouver Film Critics Society, Best Director from Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Denver Film Critics Society, Detroit Film Critics Society, New York Film Critics Circle, Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and Phoenix Film Critics Society, heavily favorited for Oscar nominations and for Best Picture – Comedy, Musical or Fake Silent Film at the Senior Choice Awards) you might go in expecting some kind of overwhelming innovation, greatness or soul-shattering depth or insight of some kind. If so you’re not gonna even come remotely close.

The trailer below, not coincidentally created by legendary Oscar hoggers the Weinstein Company, tries to make it seem like it turns real serious and emotional at some point. And maybe the title makes it seem like it’s supposed to be some kind of statement about creating art or the power of art or something like that, a topic which really probly never will need anything ever said about it again, but which probly causes audible boner sproinging at all critic’s screenings. This isn’t even about that, I’m not sure why they chose the title and I don’t think it ever occurs to George Valentin (who’s not a writer or director anyway) to create some kind of statement or emotional journey with his movies. He just likes dancing with pretty girls and being adored. I think even if you try to create a comparison of the end of the silent era to the way digital technology has completely upended the movie, TV, music and publishing industries in recent years and changed everything you’d have trouble coming up with a believable argument for the movie having much depth or relevance.

I’m not saying I want it to have any of those things. It’s like CHARLIE’S ANGELS, it might not even work as well if it had deeper characters. This is a real good, cute movie and I don’t think the filmatists wanted you to think it was anything more than that. They weren’t begging for a best picture. That’s why in addition to all those other accolades it’s a heavy favorite for this year’s Perfectly Good Movie That I Start To Unfairly Resent After It Wins a Bunch of Awards Award. Previous honorees include THE KING’S SPEECH and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

But it perfectly achieves what it sets out to, which is to be a funny and sweet piece of fluff that pays loving tribute to a couple bygone eras of film. It takes tropes from a certain type of cinema and exaggerates them to be more silly but maintains a little bit of sincerity about using them, and lovingly imitates an out-of-fashion style of filmatism, making a few postmodern type jokes playing with the form and our modern sensibilities and what not. In that sense it’s pretty much the same type of movie as BLACK DYNAMITE. The one way it’s better than BLACK DYNAMITE is that it has a couple big tap-dancing scenes, which I enjoyed. On the other hand it doesn’t have any kong fu, so it evens out. What I’m saying is why wasn’t BLACK DYNAMITE nominated for best picture you racist assholes.

In conclusion I liked THE ARTIST it is good. thanks

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, January 14th, 2012 at 6:42 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

40 Responses to “The Artist”

  1. A favorable comparison to BLACK DYNAMITE is the only thing I’ve heard about THE ARTIST that makes me want to see it. That, and the crooked DEATH WISH 3 cop. So, congratulations, Vern, you’ve accomplished what Alliance of Women Film Journalists & Oklahoma Film Critics Circle could not.

    What I’m saying is, I am racist against whatever nationalities are in Michel Hazanavicius’s blood.

  2. Can’t wait to see this. Glad you liked it, Vern. And yeah, it’s very much of a piece with a lot of these recent tribute films like Grindhouse, Black Dynamite, Super 8, ect.

    By the way, just to clarify: many actual silent films of the teens and twenties do have clear pictures, actors moving at normal speed, and were often accompanied, live in the theater, by a full orchestra (and sometimes even singers and small choirs). Decades of lousy prints being projected at the wrong speed–usually 19 frames per second instead of 24–with terrible plink-plunk piano scores have completely distorted the modern audience’s understanding of what silent films were like. For a glimpse at the true silver nitrate glory of silent cinema at it’s best, I recommend Criterion’s wonderful collection of Josef Von Sternberg films: Underworld, The Last Command and The Docks Of New York. The last, in particular, is just breathtaking. The lighting and photography seriously rivals Storaro’s work on Apocalypse Now or Ridley Scott on Blade Runner.

  3. so what you’re saying is… “It’s this year’s ‘Little Miss Sunshine'”!!!!%&$’

  4. Vern, you’re a noted film critic and published author. Of course you’re real smart and- wait…what the fuck is “kong fu”? Get the hell outta here, you illiterate hack!

  5. Stu’s obsession with typographical spelling errors is the mark of his pathetically burgeiose sensibility.

  6. Or maybe Vern is making a racist remark about my close personal friend Michael Jai White’s massive gorilla-like appearance.

  7. The film isn’t really comparable to BLACK DYNAMITE though. Or LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. More like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Why?
    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/the-artist-kim-novak-rape-vertigo-279690

  8. “Stu’s obsession with typographical spelling errors is the mark of his pathetically burgeiose sensibility.”

    Mouth – shut up snob and go see BEAUTY & THE BEAST again. Oh wait, you don’t need my encouragement to do that. Damn you’ve won again Mouth. How do you keep winning? You’re the local Tebow.*

    Vern – I pity when people absolutely refuse to give silent films a chance. Silent cinema as a format can allow you freedoms and filmatic touches that you can’t pull off with regular sound film. Kinda like how even with computers getting more and more Skynet advanced, 2-D traditional animation still has it beats in evoking scenery mood and so forth.

    My point is, take one of the essential silent movies: CITY LIGHTS. If you’re not at the very least slightly moved by that ending, you’re a soulless bastard who deserves to die alone and have Newt Gingrich as President.

    *=Except unlike the real thing, you aren’t humiliated by the Patriots twice in a row.

  9. Stu – surely I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know Novak was still alive. Thanks THE ARTIST.

  10. A really apt comparison is really between Black Dynamite and the OSS 117 movies, especially the first one. They are painstaking recreations of the look and feel of spy movies from the 60’s, especially the Connery ones, but then they will break off into absolute lunacy, like Nazi’s having a secret base inside the pyramids or death-by-paddleball. The best example is when the spy is seducing a woman in a very Bond-esque manner, the music is swelling and romantic, but as the camera pans away to dwell on a flower pot, only to go over slightly to accidentally spot a mirror which shows him actually unbuttoning his fly and starting to thrust, so the camera whip-pans away back to the flowers.

    I didn’t think the second one was all that great, but that first movie is fantastic, even if it does lose steam in the last fifteen or so minutes.

  11. I think I got it. He wrote ‘kong fu’ cause thats how BD says it. “WHO IS INTERRUPTING MY KONG FU???”

    Tell me it doesn’t make sense if you say it out loud. Or that wine was stronger then I thought.

  12. Kong fu is not a spelling error, and I can prove it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNEoP7TuEu8

  13. I suppose “kong fu” fits in the tradition of “dyn-o-mite.”

    MJW & I are going to allow Vern a pass on this one.

  14. (97% Fresh Organic and Locally Grown on Rotten Tomatoes, 6 Golden Globe nominations, Best Picture honors from Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Boston Film Critics Association, Detroit Film Critics Society, New York Film Critics Circle, Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, Phoenix Film Critics Society and Vancouver Film Critics Society, Best Director from Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Denver Film Critics Society, Detroit Film Critics Society, New York Film Critics Circle, Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and Phoenix Film Critics Society, heavily favorited for Oscar nominations and for Best Picture – Comedy, Musical or Fake Silent Film at the Senior Choice Awards)

    I was eagerly reading through this sequence and suddenly felt deja vu. I have done advanced anal retentive analysis and I believe I have stumbled upon a minor segment of repeats. I want to put Vern on notice that if this is a purposeful attempt at whimsy I am not amused at your shenanigans.

  15. I wouldn’t say you’re 100% accurate about Valentin being a mere face on the silent screen, Vern. He ends up penniless and shunned partly because he sinks all of his own money into writing, directing, and acting in “Tears Of Love”, the briefly-glimpsed jungle adventure caper that a dozen people come to see. THE ARTIST stumbles a bit for me in not depicting that picture-within-a-picture as some kind of epic auteur vision that Valentin HAD to create to prove all the talkie-worshippers wrong. He’d be some kind of hero if “Tears Of Love” was an artistic rebuke of talkies, or even a failed talkie itself, so the fact that more isn’t made of its substance is a little sad, and detrimental to Valentin’s status as a likable outsider. It’s just business as usual for him and his dog…but I still think it’s important that he DOES take ownership of it, and believes in it enough to do it himself.

    As far as a comparison with the digital era, I think a more apt comparison would be with the 3D blockbusters of late, which is a phenomenon not everyone is sold on even now. There’s a topic that holds relevance to moviegoers; maybe not a whole lot, but some. As you say, THE ARTIST may have been hurt by drawing its lines a little clearer; this isn’t really a meditation on how art stays fresh in the face of changing trends. Although that imaginary version of THE ARTIST sounds to me like a terrific film. This is merely a very good one.

    Not that sound films were a phenomenon everyone was instantly sold on then, by the way. I want to say that even THE JAZZ SINGER didn’t change things overnight, and viable silent movies were made for about another year that were well-regarded and well-attended…but I don’t have any basis for that (other than Charlie Chaplin). It’s just a feeling based on momentum of an art form. Poison didn’t stop making albums (okay, album) just because Nirvana became popular, nor did people stop buying them. Far FEWER people were buying them, and Poison sounded a hell of a lot less relevant after that, but to say an audience for a form of expression completely vanishes when a new mode of expression comes along is a total lie now, and probably was then.

    Having said all that, I completely agree with you that THE ARTIST is “merely” a lovable movie with a great heart, and well worth seeing. If it should be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, I’ll be pleased. If it should win, I’ll be pissed, although probably not as much as last year, with the jaw-dropping upsetting of THE SOCIAL NETWORK and INCEPTION. I could see THE ARTIST’s colorful, cheerful score getting a win; it really was a third main character in the movie. But to deny that I’m really rooting for a repeat win for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is to deny my inner NINnie.

  16. I was not amused at the attempts at whimsy & shenanigans of one of the OSS 117s I watched like a year ago after various recommendations. Well, maybe “amused,” yes, but it was a very dry, mild amusement, and not enough to make me laugh. Though I often enjoy French wit & comedy, I realized I wasn’t the target audience at all, and I didn’t watch the whole movie. I don’t have much of an interest in the 60s spy adventure movie scene, and maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for OSS 117’s clever spoofery of it. I could see why someone would like it, but it wasn’t my bag.

    That’s been happening a lot with me lately — Portlandia, Battlestar Galactica (Somehow I watched, like, 6 episodes of this, what the fuck?), Dexter, True Blood, Archer, Parks & Recreation, Glee, HUGO 3D, Ron Paul 2012’s platform, those “Shit Girls Say” videos, Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant” funny strips: I’ve dabbled or taken a close look at all these things, of which I can sort of understand the appeal, but I don’t ever have the same strong, almost rabidly positive reaction that I hear & read about from a lot of other people.

    Anyway, Brendan’s correct. BLACK DYNAMITE is a good, fair comparison, but it’s better than the OSS 117 I saw, ergo we add to the infinitely growing list of films that would be improved with the addition of kung fu (kong fu optional).

  17. I can’t wait for the sequel “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”

    har har har

  18. ah BLACK DYNAMITE, one of my favorite movies from the last few years

    this review reminds me, I need to check out those OSS 117 movies, I love 60’s spy stuff

  19. Ed Lauter, now there’s a truly bad ass. When he played Major Douglas Kyle and put together the evil A Team I thought he was pure evil. He nearly pulled it off too…

  20. I just noticed that this is the German BLACK DYNAMITE trailer embedded above.

  21. Mouth: Did you watch past the first season of PARKS & REC? The second season is probably the biggest quantum leap in quality I’ve ever seen a TV show take, an even bigger quantum leap than that one about that guy who time traveled between bodies (I believe it was called TIME TRAVEL GUY). The first season was, eh, kinda cute, I guess. The second made me a fan for the duration. The characters got bigger and yet more specific, and the setting expanded SIMPSONS-style to give the world of the show a sandbox quality, like you could explore every little corner of it and there would be something interesting going on in there.

  22. “That’s been happening a lot with me lately — Portlandia, Battlestar Galactica (Somehow I watched, like, 6 episodes of this, what the fuck?), Dexter, True Blood, Archer, Parks & Recreation, Glee, HUGO 3D, Ron Paul 2012’s platform, those “Shit Girls Say” videos, Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant” funny strips: I’ve dabbled or taken a close look at all these things, of which I can sort of understand the appeal, but I don’t ever have the same strong, almost rabidly positive reaction that I hear & read about from a lot of other people. ”
    What about TvTropes.org?

  23. Yeah, actually Parks & Rec is the one thing I listed that I definitely do like. It might not totally belong on that list, but I included it because I seem to have read on other web sights & on some FaceBook statuses that it’s, like, the BEST THING EVAH! Before I ever started watching the show, via sheer online cultural osmosis, I felt like I knew Ron Swanson personally.

    In both my living room & my live-in top secret office/comms hub, I have 2-3 TVs side-by-side[-by-side], and I often watch sports on 1-2 of the TVs with either cable news or some lightweight NetFlix or DVR recorded show on the other TV, so that’s how I’ve seen most of that stuff, including all of P&R up to episode 3.6 or so. Mr. Majestyk’s right about the Pawnee universe, but the show’s never touched SIMPSONS-level quality in my opinion.

    I do appreciate its existence, though, if for no other reason than that the ladyfriends seem to like it, keeping her/them occupied while I simultaneously watch muted NBA & NFL games. (And Aziz Ansari represents South Carolina, which pleases me.)

  24. Okay, cool. I like PARKS & REC a lot but I’m not one for superlatives. It’s a very good show with characters I like spending time with and a refreshingly earnest and positive point of view. It does not, as far as I know, cure cancer.

    However, it’s no COMMUNITY, which, with its genre-hopping and trope-exploiting sense of mischief, fits me like a glove. Also it has Alison Brie, who I could only dream might someday fit me like a glove.

  25. That tvtropes.org thing seems comprehensive. Maybe a bit too comprehensive. They got a long-winded definition for everything there (And I approve of that; that’s my style.), yet the examples I’ve seen of each trope & sub-trope seem to be lacking. Not the most user-friendly visual layout, either.

  26. TVtropes is a stupid website for stupid people, if you ask me. “Oh look, there are two TV shows, with blonde actresses in them. I guess that’s a cliche LOL”. Fuck man, whoever writes this shit has absolutely no idea of the tropes and cliches of anything.
    They have a trope called “The Warburton”, meaning that Patrick Warburton was in that show. Well, he is a busy actor, but not THAT busy. They should have named it “The O’Quinn”, because Terry O’Quinn really IS an actor, who pops up everywhere. Also I have some real trouble with people who think they know everything about old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, just because they remember some highly inaccurate jokes from ROBOT CHICKEN and FAMILY GUY about them.

  27. I appreciate your enthusiastic scorn for the website, CJ, and you might be right, but I’m not sure using the example of your outrage over inaccurate representations of old cartoons is going to help you win your argument.

  28. CJ just appreciates the Flintstones on a higher level than you do, Mouth. Where you see an ersatz HONEYMOONERS laden with an embarrassment of geology puns, he sees an exploration of the constancy of human foibles. After all, are we not as a species still looking for our Great Gazoo to grant all our wishes, only to discover that the things we want are not necessarily the things we need, i.e., more technology, a table at Chateau Rocktambleau, etc.?

  29. To be honest, I wouldn’t declare any Hanna-Barbera cartoon, as entertaining (often in their cheesiness) many of them are, to be masterpieces, but if you are running a website, that lists all kind of character and story tropes, you should at least know what you are talking about and not just name these tropes after character traits, that are completely wrong.

    To speak in the language of this website: It’s like they would call the trope of uncool fat guy “The Steven Seagal” instead of giving this name to a badass ecological warrior. TVtropes is just a joke of a website, that is run by MST3K addicted frat boys, who think that Tarantino came up with “My name is Buck and I’m here to fuck” all by himself, because they know EATEN ALIVE only by name. (And also probably have their LimeWired MP3 of MISIRLOU just labelled “Pulp Fiction Theme”.)

  30. My god, Majestyk’s post is so saturated with literary snark and CJ’s posts are so saturated with nerd shit that it’s difficult for me to process these words and respond in any way that is not equally extreme in some fashion.

    But I celebrate moderation. My mode is medium cool. Please continue tearing down other nerds amongst yourselves for my enjoyment.

  31. Mouth – good thing my local weather service issued a Smug pollution alert so I avoided this thread for most of today.

    Anyway, CJ is right about his rant. The great shit one learns at this web sight that those spammers remind us repatedly.

    Mr. Majestyk – I take it you were a Jetsons fan growing up.

  32. I love TVtropes, sorry about that

  33. And I am sorry for appearing to play the smug anti-nerd card, especially when in fact I have been openly maintaining a viewer’s journal for my BUFFY experiences. T-Pot, kettle, etc..

    I also apologize to THE ARTIST for currently being located in a place where it is not possible to view the film. My current town needs an infusion of Seattle elitist Oscar-baitery so I can catch up with Vern in our ongoing race to see the most arthouse/semi-obscure movies the fastest. Yes, I like to make everything a competition.

  34. I agree that the movie was good but if you think about it there’s not much depth to it. It’s really well made, nice movie. The Weinsteins seem to have figured out it’s easier to buy a good movie than make one.

  35. Mouth – I didn’t think you played the smug card. Not at all. Sorry if you thought I said you was or something.

    Oh and for the record, I got nothing against the Jetsons or people who liked it. I couldn’t think up of any other cartoon FLINTSTONES sitcom rip-offs at the heat of the moment. My bad.

  36. I don’t doubt that silent/old timey films are as much a niche taste as everyone says they are. But every few years, when Guy Maddin screens one of his difficult mostly silent films here in Toronto, the crowd really gets into it. Laughter, applause, cheering: based on the response you’d think Maddin was putting a summer popcorn flick up on the screen.

    It’s difficult to precisely identify who these people are; they look so normal in the theater. Out in the real world they don’t have any badges or t-shirts that signify whatever deep-seated weirdness it is that gets them all giddy for Maddin.

    Also, if there’s a better transliteration of Kafka’s themes of alienation and hopelessness than the Fred & Barney Nothing episode of FLINTSTONES, then I certainly haven’t seen it.

  37. Those silent films aren’t SUPPOSED to look sped up, they were just shot at a different framerate (ie one other than is used in modern projectors).

  38. On Ed motherfuckin Lauter:

    http://www.filmcomment.com/article/a-face-in-the-crowd-ed-lauter

    I read that in the last issue of Film Comment a couple months ago, but there was no real Film Comment website until a few weeks ago. Now that they’ve joined the 21st century, we can link to it. Not the best article ever penned, but it’s a nice tribute to a guy who doesn’t get a lot of tributes.

  39. Ed motherfuckin Lauter:

    He claims that Richard Pryor once told him he was funny, “really funny.” That’s awesome. That’s like Schwarzenegger telling you he’s impressed with your bench press, or Elizabeth Berkley complimenting your pool sex technique.

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/veteran-character-actor-ed-lauter-has-40-years-wor,82312/

  40. Mouth, I like Ed Lauter too, but somehow I doubt that Arnie and Elizabeth were high as kites when they gave your imaginary compliments.

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