Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: The Artist

I caught this movie several weeks ago on a bus ride from Boston to Portland.  It was on a small television, and the sound and music were 3/4 of a second out of sync.  I was exhausted after a long flight, clinging to my carry-on bag despite having plenty of room around me, and pretty much ready to fall asleep, but instead I watched a silent movie that just happened to win an Academy Award.

I can see why this movie won, even with all the technical issues, it was still amazing to watch.

There are a lot of things I don't know about Hollywood.  I don't know why they don't still film movies in black and white, I think it lets you focus more on the essence of the story instead of focusing on details.  I mean, I like details in a film, I think they're important, but if you're doing an artistic movie or you need to have something appear dream-like, why not use black and white?

I also don't know why more movies aren't silent any more.  It might be my experience in life working with people who are Deaf and hard of hearing, but for me a big part of communication is facial expression and body language.  Most movies really don't use these to their full effect, instead going with stony-faced action stars or people who can only pull off one or two expressions.

Look at the picture up above and how expressive those faces are.  You can read an entire story into those expressions without needing to have a lot of talk get in the way.

I also don't know why I don't watch more silent movies or black and white movies.  I clearly like them, but just don't have as easy a time getting access to them.

But enough about that, let's talk about The Artist.

The movie is the story of George Valentin, a silent movie actor who has it all.  He stars in movie after movie, always gets the girl, and lives in a large estate.  However, eventually talking pictures come onto the scene, and George, convinced they're a fad, winds up burning bridges across Hollywood, winding up with just whatever funds he saved and his pet dog.

However, before all that he befriends Peppy Miller, a young actress whose star is about to rise as fast as George's is to fall (in fact, he's responsible for one of Peppy's defining characteristics, a beauty mark he himself draws on her).  Their bond is strong and instant, but George is, at the time, married, and Peppy is quickly getting caught up in the whirling world of Hollywood.

There are brilliant moments throughout the film, such as a small segment where George actually hears background sounds around him instead of the standard silent movie music, a tense scene where his dog has to get the attention of a policeman, and many shots where lighting, mood, and music do more to explain what's happening to a character than all the dialogue written by Tarantino or any other script writer could hope for.

It's an absolute joy to watch a movie like this, where clean lines replace cluttered sets, bold music replaces crashing explosive sound effects, and expressions replace cliched dialogue.  There are probably a lot of people out there who wouldn't think they'd enjoy a silent movie about the fall of silent movies, but why not?  We're programmed to recognize music in movies and faces of people, so why not let those rise to the forefront of a movie instead of expensive CGI and lines like "I now pronounce you man and knife?"

Also, Bernice Bejo is absolutely adorable as Peppy Miller. I want to see her in more movies.  I wish I could see more Uggie the dog (he steals the show so many times), but sadly it appears he had to be put down in 2015.

1 comment:

Siluce said...

Thanks for the review! I still like to watch this movie every once in a while. Perhaps you've seen it already, but I really recommend Biancanieves as another great, silent black-and-white movie.