Monday, 30 January 2012

Why "The Artist" Matters

Over the past few days, I have been reading various negative comments (on twitter, New York Times online comments, etc) from film fans about The Artist. While I understand the negative comments from modern film fans (e.g. "It's getting too much hype," "It looks really weird"), I do not understand the classic film fans who have responded in a negative light. This is my take on the film as a classic film fan, and why this film matters and should matter to all classic film fans.

Here are common comments I've been reading from the classic film fan:

1) "The plot has already been told a million times; it's not original."
OK. True. The story of a film star whose career fades while another star ascends is not new. We've seen it in A Star is Born, Singin' in the Rain, and others. But, my friends, director Michel Hazanavicius is not trying to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He is instead creating a movie that is an homage to Old Hollywood. He wants us film fans to have these existing classic films in our minds as we watch it. It's a tribute to films and an era that has come before us. In addition, I hate to break it to you classic film fans, but Old Hollywood used recycled storylines all the time. How many times has Hollywood told the "A Star is Born" story before The Artist? I don't need to tell you how many. This "not original plot" problem has existed long before 2012.

2) "Jean Dujardin is trying to be Gene Kelly."
I fail to see how The Artist's leading man Jean Dujardin (pictured above) bearing a physical resemblance to legendary Gene Kelly is his fault. Dujardin possesses the charm of Kelly, has a lovely smile like Gene did, and has a similar charisma on screen. However, he is not trying to be Gene Kelly... he never could be if he tried. Gene Kelly is and will always be the one and only Gene Kelly. The fact that Dujardin studied the films of Gene and was inspired by his screen persona should make us Gene fans proud that stars are still looking to him with admiration and wanting somehow to emulate his magic on screen. Plus, Dujardin is an actor first, and a dancer second. He learned to tap dance for this film only. It's not like he's trying to be the next song and dance man. He's not ripping off Gene. Jean Dujardin is a talent unto himself.

3) "They ripped off Bernard Herrmann's score for Vertigo."
While I understand Vertigo star and living legend Kim Novak being disappointed that the score for Vertigo has been lifted directly into one pivotal scene in The Artist, Hazanavicius has spoken out and said that he purposefully included this stunning piece of music because the film is his love note to Old Hollywood, and he wanted to include the music as an homage to the genius composer Herrmann. I can wholeheartedly accept this argument, and I'll tell you why. The original soundtrack by Ludovic Bource (pictured below) that comprises essentially 1 hour and 30 minutes of screen time (compared to Herrmann's music being used for only 10 minutes) is the most delightful and unique soundtrack I have heard in my recent memory for modern films. If Hazanavicius had used only existing music in his score, I might have a problem, but, instead, Bource's beautiful original material is being neglected because of this needless controversy.

4) "It makes existing silent films less important... Hazanavicius doesn't know how to make a silent film."
I really don't think this movie was ever intended to be a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin remake. It is a story of Old Hollywood being told in black and white and in silent movie form. However, since it's such a beautifully made film, you would think that classic film fans would be thrilled that perhaps new audiences who didn't even know of the existence of silent films are now going to watch Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton's films. And, if they don't, at least people are being exposed to a movie that doesn't move at a mile a minute, takes its time to tell a character-based, simple and beautiful story with no words, and not requiring a thousand camera edits in each scene. It's a nice change of pace if you ask me, and maybe more movies will start to be told again in this manner. I don't see the harm in that.

It is truly disheartening to me that classic movie fans are saying this movie is getting too much hype. Aren't we the people who say that "they don't make 'em like they used to?" Why are we knocking Hazanavicius for actually making 'em like they used to?? Who would have thought that in the year 2012, we would be encountering a silent film up for the Best Picture Oscar? And that a silent movie is back in movie theatres for a new generation to experience? This is not an occasion for classic film fans to become elitist and say that classic movies are better and that The Artist will never compare. Instead, we should be rejoicing that someone had the courage to make a silent movie for modern audiences. We should be rejoicing with even more vigor that it actually turned out beautifully, has flawless performances, and has loving allusions and references to Old Hollywood films. The Artist matters, and the first people that should appreciate this are the classic film fans.


  1. Excellent post, I completely agree with all of your points. I love how critics keep trying to say The Artist is just a rehash of A Star is Born, neglecting the fact that A Star is Born was a rehash of What Price Hollywood. And frankly, I'm delighted that a silent film has become so embraced by the public. The other day I got a comment on my review of The Artist from someone who said they sought out Chaplin's Modern Times specifically because of The Artist and I fail to see how that's a bad thing. Getting people to watch silent films can be like pulling teeth, so as long as the door gets opened, I don't really care which key opened it.

  2. Thank you so much for your beautifully articulated comment! So good to hear that someone sought out Chaplin because of the film. I would love to read your review!


  3. AWWW What do these peons know? They need to sit down and watch a few of Chaplin's films, Some of Davies, Novarro, Bara and Pickford's early silents.

    You know how I feel! I loved the film and I'm thrilled that 75 yrs after Chaplin was snubbed for sticking to his craft by doing Modern Times (6 yrs after silents were looked upon as unnecessary) I think it's wonderful and kudos to the writers and directors for paying homage to silent film, it's impact on every film after 1929. It's beautiful and how exciting is it that an actor can win a SAG in a silent while up against such Hollywood heavyweights.

  4. Absolutely Page, I couldn't agree more. I appreciate you weighing in, since your knowledge of silent films is way more in-depth than mine. And it really is thrilling that Dujardin can win against the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt.