Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"The Artist": Echoes in Silence

The Artist is a glossy, black and white valentine that I loved.  It creatively echoes Singin' in the Rain, the 1952 MGM musical comedy directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly and starring Gene Kelly as a lovably vain silent screen star in 1920s Hollywood right at the brink of the sound revolution.
George Valentin (superbly played by Best Actor Oscar nominee Jean Dujardin) rather resembles Hollywood silent screen star Don Lockwood (superbly played by Gene Kelly) in Singin' in the Rain.
George Valentin will have a "meet cute" encounter with a young lady who aspires to be in show business.  He will discover her and get her into the movies at his studio.  They will fall in love.
Don Lockwood had a "meet cute" encounter with a young lady who aspired to be in show business.  He discovered her and got her into the movies at his studio.  They fell in love.
Despite their on-screen chemistry, George really doesn't care for his blonde co-star one bit.
The same goes for Don Lockwood and his blonde co-star, the annoying Lina Lamont.
Relationships and careers will change with the revolution of new technology, the advent of sound in films.  The Artist, a French production boldly and beautifully shot in black and white, is predominantly silent just like the films of the 1920s.  Here, silence is golden. The Artist is a film young acting students and wannabe filmmakers need to see.  Steven Spielberg told AFI (American Film Institute) "I don't get a lot of answers that give me comfort" when he asks young people what films they like from the 1930s and 40s, the black and white days.  In a clip that's on YouTube, Spielberg went on to say that studying the classics, the movies made before the 1960s, is crucial to your craft.  I have heard sentiments similar to Spielberg's come from casting directors in New York City.  One said, "It's the American Idol generation.  They don't want to do the work.  They just want the fastest route to a red carpet."  The Artist, what the self-absorbed George publicly labels himself as being, falls in love with Peppy Miller after he discovers her.  Bérénice Bejo scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work as the Peppy, the determined dancer who becomes a Hollywood sensation in this film-within-a-film story.
If you were a young actress submitted to audition for that role, how would you know how to play Peppy if you didn't see the Singin' in the Rain and some silent films starring Louise Brooks, Clara Bow or early Joan Crawford?  Peppy is not going to move like women on TV's The Bachelor or a show like Glee.  This is a different era, a different tone.  Dress was different. Make-up style was different.  The women in a Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton silent 1920s comedy will not be outfitted like they're on Whitney.  Trust me on this.  Do your homework.  Make Mr. Spielberg proud.  In The Artist, George's star falls as Peppy's ascends.  A few critics have compared that element to A Star Is Born.  I'd say it's more What Price Hollywood?, the 1932 RKO film directed by George Cukor.  Constance Bennett was Mary Evans, a waitress hungry for movie stardom.  An alcoholic director discovers her.  He hits the skids as her movie career skyrockets.  Peppy Miller is called "The Girl You'll Love To Love." Mary Evans is called "America's Pal."
In A Star Is Born, the 1937 original directed by William Wellman and the superior 1954 remake directed by George Cukor with Judy Garland and James Mason, the woman who becomes a star has a love for the suffering actor who discovered her that eclipses her need to be a star.  She'll walk away from movies to help him put his life back together.  Peppy will help her down-and-out actor/director love, but she won't quit movies to do so.  In What Price Hollywood? and in The Artist, one of the lead characters gets hit with a divorce. Not so in A Star Is Born.  The Artist is a big French kiss to classic movie-lovers and classic movies, especially MGM musicals from the famed Freed unit with screenplays by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.  First, there's the obvious similarity to Comden & Green's Singin' in the Rain with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor.  Millard Mitchell (in the middle of the pic below) plays producer RF Simpson, a loving send-up of Oscar winning MGM movie producer and songwriter Arthur Freed. One of the songs Freed wrote -- "Singin' in the Rain."
The RF Simpson-like movie producer trying to deal with The Artist is well-played by John Goodman.
A major lesson to be learned by George the Artist calls to mind another marvelous gem in the MGM musical crown that's, again, a Freed unit musical with a screenplay by Comden & Green.  In The Band Wagon, Fred Astaire at the top of his game plays Tony Hunter. Hunter, a Hollywood musical star since the 1930s, is in a bit of a career lull. He accepts an offer to reinvent himself in a new 1950s Broadway musical.  He's riddled with self doubt as he meets with its husband and wife writing team and the show's Ascot-wearing director. When the director calls Tony an "artist," Tony counters with "...I'm just an entertainer." The quartet then launches into the movie's joyous anthem, "That's Entertainment."
Movie audiences grow cold to George's arrogance.  His vanity project jungle movie flops.  He must learn to become, like Tony Hunter in The Band Wagon, "...just an entertainer." Peppy is an entertainer.  She packs the movie houses.  George has not been one to share the spotlight.  He was a self-centered star onscreen and off.  He could be a selfish Gene Kelly in Freed's For Me and My Gal starring Judy Garland.  Will George learn humility?  Or will he cling to the past in fear and drink himself into oblivion now that movies can talk?  "I'm washed up. No one wants to see me speak."
With a character in this situation, ask yourself "What would Arthur Freed do?"  For a film with hardly any dialogue, The Artist says so much in so many clever ways.  It's a tale of transitions. From silent movies to sound. From vanity project to team work.  Plus it has a movie pooch that takes its place alongside Asta from The Thin Man and Toto from Freed's The Wizard of Oz.  This is a must-see for classic film fans.  And future filmmakers.  Gene Kelly's artistry helped Arthur Freed's An American in Paris win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1951. It was all shot in Hollywood.  A Parisian in America, director and writer Michel Hazanavicius, made a great valentine to the art -- and the entertainment -- Hollywood gave us.  Bravo, Michel, on your 10 Oscar nominations.
One more thing: There's a cameo appearance by veteran actor Malcolm McDowell early in The Artist.  
Actress Kim Novak made entertainment news by saying that she felt "raped" when she saw a sequence in The Artist using a Bernard Herrmann love theme from the soundtrack of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. She starred in that 1958 classic.  It's a film that was appreciated more by the French when it was released than here in America, by the way.  In Stanley Kubrick's controversial and hugely popular 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange, McDowell starred as Alex. Alex likes "a bit of the ultra-violence." He violates a woman to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain." The MGM musical is referenced in Kubrick's futuristic film.  Gene Kelly's recording of "Singin' in the Rain" is on the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack.  I can't recall Kelly saying that  he felt raped.  And there you have it.

1 comment:

  1. While the movie industry abandoned black-and-white silent films 80 years ago, the spirit is of the past is back with writer/director Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist, a true crowd-pleaser that evokes the charm of old Hollywood.

    Set in the late 1920s, the story centers on George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a famous movie star who is truly on top of the world. His movies are some of the biggest in Hollywood and he is constantly surrounded by fans who heap praise upon him. One day, by pure chance, he meets a young background actor named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), with whom he has an instant connection. What he doesn’t know is that their careers about to take completely opposite trajectories. Ignoring the trades and warnings from a powerful producer (John Goodman) that talkies are becoming the big thing, George refuses to change up his act, and watches his career sink lower and lower as Peppy rides the talkie wave and gets bigger and bigger.preguntar doctores preguntas medicas chatear medicos preguntar veterinarios consultas derecho y leyes consultas veterinaria preguntas psicología y psiquiatría preguntas derecho y leyes preguntar medicos consultar abogados especialistas consultapreguntar a doctor online pregunta medica online chatear medico online preguntar veterinario online consulta derecho y ley online consulta veterinaria online pregunta psicología y psiquiatría online pregunta derecho y leye online preguntar a medico online consultar abogado online consulta especialista Thanks


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