“The Artist”: Let me add to the choir…

I was alternately enthralled and annoyed by ‘The Artist,’ a critic’s orgy of irresistible charm. It will surely bring back sweet memories of the silent era (if you’re a hundred), but its style sometimes feels like it’s being used only as a manageable plot device.

The reason why this film by Michel Hazanavicius (please don’t make me try to spell that again) has achieved such critical heights is that its roots are not in parody, but overt self-referencing and quietly self-conscious humour. An inevitable problem of the film, however, is that it oscillates between the external, exaggerated performance style of the Hollywood silents and the more naturalistic, psychologically implied approach, both of which operate in two different registers entirely. Whereas the George/Peppy dance outtakes scene shows them off-guard and behaving as two ordinary performers on film, George’s sync-sound dream is pure physiognomic expressionism. Neither seem quite appropriate for the film and sometimes ‘The Artist’ feels like the silent novelty is only there to paper over such lack of rigour. With mise en scène duplications from the likes of Hitchcock, Sternberg and Lang, the film almost begs for affectionate applause, much like the movie’s scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier.

It’s also worth remembering that ‘The Artist’ is far from the only experiment in creatively reviving the form of silent films, most worthy of attention is Guy Maddin’s madcap charm in ‘The Heart of the World’ and ‘Brand upon the Brain!’

I have little else to say (it’s all been said before) other than my expectations for it to be a big BAFTA and Academy winner, especially as Jean Dujardin possesses a preternatural affinity for the Old Hollywood style (an almost Cary Grant/Errol Flynn combination of suavity and self-deprecation). No one likes a pat-on-the-back more than Hollywood.

P.S. I think we’re all fed up of seeing “Silence is Golden,” or a variant of, in reviews. Please step up your game, critics!


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