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The Artist (2011)

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Yeah, the worst thing to happen to THE ARTIST was that it became part of the Best Picture race.

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Karina Longworth @ LA Weekly:

Harvey's unique gifts aside, The Artist wouldn't have captured the imagination of the industry if it didn't also speak to its anxiety du jour. For all of the silliness surrounding them, the Oscars are valuable as an indication of how Hollywood feels about itself in the given moment. This year, The Artist is not the best movie in the Best Picture field, but it is the best reflection of both the moment Hollywood finds itself in (facing a massive technology-driven industry transformation) and of why the Academy was created to begin with (to help the industry's powerful elite survive a massive technology-driven industry transformation). The Artist, then, isn't any silent film; it's a silent film that transforms a real, historical Hollywood crisis into a fairy tale, complete with a happy ending depicting the industry emerging from that crisis ever stronger. It's a fairy tale that Hollywood currently desperately needs to hear.

The Artist begins in 1927, the same year the Academy was conceived by MGM honcho Louis B. Mayer, who pitched the industry's elite that strength in numbers could help Hollywood survive two significant predicaments: heat from the morality police, which was increasing in intensity as the celebrity gossip media expanded; and the rapidly escalating transition to talkies. At the same time, studio chiefs were smarting from a recent wave of unionization, and Mayer's desire to consolidate power at the top of the industry later would be read as a move to protect his own bottom line by staving off further labor organization. The actual handing out of awards came later, as a PR move, an attempt to take the industry's product, dismissed by some as a degenerate fad, and rebrand it as an art form worthy of canonization and preservation.

Over the next few years, studio heads like Mayer (represented by the mogul played by John Goodman in The Artist) took advantage of the change in technology and their consolidated power to cut salaries, renegotiate contracts and generally eliminate squeaky wheels. As The Artist dramatizes, well-fed older players were shipped out, and cheap "fresh meat" was brought in. A typical performer's contract in the early days of talkies included a rider "approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences," which gave a producer the right to record and reproduce an actor's voice infinitely, and didn't require payment for audio tests and retakes. These were just some of the ways in which AMPAS, as Anthony Holden writes in Behind the Oscar: A Secret History of the Academy Awards, served to "protect the studio bosses' muscle against rebellious technicians, and to keep talent in its place."

The Artist dramatizes the flexing of that muscle in a way that ultimately and cheerfully endorses the subservient relationship of the talent to the producer/studio. When the Goodman character fires Valentin, the star defiantly pledges to strike out on his own. "I'll make a great movie," he says. "And it's not like I need you for that." The rest of the narrative essentially proves him wrong: If Valentin wants to make a movie that anyone cares about, he needs to do it with a studio. That we're supposed to accept his film-closing rebirth as an Astaire-esque dancing movie star -- contracted by the same mogul who all but left him for dead -- as a happy ending and not a humiliation, is a baffling turn of events, if we're also supposed to sympathize with his plight as an independent artist. The Artist, then, is a film in which an iconoclast hits rock bottom by staying true to himself, and learns via near-death experience to embrace conformity. . . .

Steve Sailer:

Other nagging problems with "The Artist" are that the title seems like an inept translation from the French. "The Star" would have been much better, since the hero loves being a movie star and pays no attention to whether he's an artist or not. But the title "The Artist," combined with being silent and in black and white and made by a Frenchman, makes it sound like some good-for-you ordeal, which it mostly isn't. . . .

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I saw THE ARTIST tonight, and my first thought right now is to feel sorry for the film in a way. I wish it was not saddled with so much praise/expectation/buzz. I wish my first thought after the film wasn't "that's the frontrunner for best picture?" I wish it was just appreciation for what it is--a charming, flawed little film.

Finally saw this. The above pretty much sums up my thoughts on the film, except change "frontrunner" to "winner."

It's charming, has some great moments (e.g. the dream, the shadow), some inexplicable ones (the use of the VERTIGO music), and in the end was an enjoyable watch.

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following that template so closely left me feeling bored for several stretches.

Amen. Saw it tonight, and there were probably at least three or four times that I was squirming in my seat and thinking of leaving.

I did love the first 20 minutes or so of the film, when it was just pure fun and charm. I loved the music and dance, and the film scenes. After the delightful start though it just started to go wrong for me, in pretty much the same ways Arts and Faithers have already mentioned. For me the fact that I adored the first bit made the films later mistakes seem to stand out more.

This film also reminded me of Mel Brook's A SILENT MOVIE. To my mind it was a novel idea that couldn't hold its own for a feature length run-time.

I guess I should have gone to a talkie.

Edited by Attica

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Quite honestly, I would watch the entire film again merely for the soundtrack alone. Now that was a well-deserved Oscar.

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Quite honestly, I would watch the entire film again merely for the soundtrack alone. Now that was a well-deserved Oscar.

Yeah. There was some great music in the film. I was quite enjoying the music at the start of the film before the story went south for me. It really was fun.

As to the music from VERTIGO... I'm wondering if part of it's inclusion wasn't a nod to the fact that Hitchcock is one of the directors to have survived the transition from silent films to "talkies". Actually some say that he flourished as a director, in part, because he had cut his teeth in silent cinema and therefore had a stronger understanding, of the use of imagery instead of words in telling his stories, than many of his contemporaries.

Edited by Attica

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Quite honestly, I would watch the entire film again merely for the soundtrack alone. Now that was a well-deserved Oscar.

Yeah. There was some great music in the film. I was quite enjoying the music at the start of the film before the story went south for me. It really was fun.

As to the music from VERTIGO... I'm wondering if part of it's inclusion wasn't a nod to the fact that Hitchcock is one of the directors to have survived the transition from silent films to "talkies". Actually some say that he flourished as a director, in part, because he had cut his teeth in silent cinema and therefore had a stronger understanding, of the use of imagery instead of words in telling his stories, than many of his contemporaries.

That's a good call about Hitchcock. But The Artist isn't the first time Hazanavicius has "paid tribute" to Hitchcock. I just saw a double feature of Hazanavicius' and Dujardin's previous works, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio this past weekend. Lost in Rio has an extended sequence at the end which takes place both inside and on the arms of the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes statue, that uses both musical and visual cues from Hitchcock's Vertigo and North by Northwest. I guess you could also make a case that this same sequence pays tribute to Hitchcock's Statue of Liberty sequence from Saboteur.

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