Monday, 9 January 2012

The Artist - silent movie fails to match critics' praise

I may be in a minority of one on this; I didn’t come away yesterday ecstatic from seeing the movie The Artist. The silent, black-and-white, French-made homage to early Hollywoodland movie-making is well worth seeing.
But I cannot join the excessive praise lavished on the film by most critics, many of whom are talking about Oscar nominations for The Artist’s star Jean Dujardin and its director Michel Hazanavicius. Good fortune has already visited the latter; he’s married to the movie’s delightful female lead Berenice Bejo.
The Artist is a curious hybrid. Its influences – Singin’ in the Rain and A Star is Born – reflect not the director’s clear devotion to the silent era but rather the depiction of the period by films made after the arrival of the talkies.
The movie isn’t intended to be an ersatz silent film. The actors – outside film in a film episodes – don’t mug in the fashion of silent screen stars. Intertitles are kept to the barest minimum, while the soundtrack is scored for orchestra.
George Valentin, the movie’s central character played by Dujardin, never makes clear the reasons for his Chaplinesque opposition to talkies. No reference is made during the film that like John Gilbert his voice doesn’t record well.
That’s a whole lot of negatives and it’s true I would willingly watch any two much-loved Jacques Tati movies than be obliged to sit through The Artist a second time.
But let none of the above deter you from seeing the film, although don’t pay the £16 adult ticket asked by the Odeon in London’s Swiss Cottage. A quick change of plan took us to the Marble Arch Odeon and a considerable saving.
Hazanavicius deserves credit for making an unusual film which never loses sight of its aim to entertain rather than please film buffs alone, for example, with nods towards Citizen Kane. I missed his use of composer Bernard Herrmann's love theme from Vertigo, which has so upset the Alfred Hitchcock movie's star Kim Novak.
There are enchanting – if all too short - dance sequences and a wonderful piece of business has Bejo embracing the empty coat of her beloved. There is Uggie, a Jack Russell as smart as any of the human leads.
But what the film lacks is the visual flare which was the stock-in-trade of many silent movie makers. There are too few scenes that are etched in the memory by their sheer originality, audacity, movie making magic, call it what you will.

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