Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Artist comes to Netflix!: Notes from my rewatch

-George Valentine/Jean DuJardin has quite a smile. He tells Peppy that she needs to have some physical feature that sets her apart, and where would DuJardin be without his smile? I still think he nailed the performance, but the smile is really an attention grabber. On second viewing, I wasn't sure if he was smiling at times or if he was just laughing. If it's the latter, then he's less of a charming man and more of a Tom Cruise-like a-hole who turned people off (after a couple decades of being the biggest star on Earth) with his smirk. For instance, in the first encounter with Peppy Miller, where she accidentally gets past the security rope, is he laughing at her or with her? The power of DuJardin's epic smile is also used to diffuse a couple tense situations that are really nicely orchestrated. If the film is thematically a celebration of the art, then the power of laughter (comedic art) to diffuse an otherwise tense moment fits in with that theme

-Speaking of the film's theme being a celebration of art, 4 of the past 6 Best Picture Oscar winners have had thematic elements that deal with art and performance to some degree. In addition to King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, King's Speech, and Argo, the protagonist's successfully rests on putting on a show. Some might say that Hollywood is narrow-minded and only likes saluting itself, but none of the best picture films from 2003-2007 or 1995-1999 along with 2001 had that theme and in the cases of Gladiator or Slumdog Millionaire (and even Kings Speech), the films aren't necessarily celebrating art, but more commenting on the nature of media to manipulate people and those are not really the primary themes of those films.

-Who exactly is George Valentine modeled after? His love of laughter might suggest a silent film star like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Chaplin successfully resisted sound movies for several years after 1927. Two of his three most famous films were made after the Sound era with City Lights coming out in 1931 and Modern Times in 1936. Modern Time had a little snippet of sound here and there and ended with Chaplin singing right at the end just like how we first hear Valentine's voice at the end. So there are those definite parallels. It looks like Valentine is a comic star based on how he makes the crowd laugh at his movie debut and performs dog tricks but it also doesn't look like he's completely slapstick like Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy. The film within the film "A German Affair" contains hints of a dramatic storyline. When he strikes out on his own, he does a swashbuckling adventure and a safari film which resembles Douglas Fairbanks who did make one of the most seminal Three Musketeers film adaptations. Like Valentine, Fairbanks got considerably more freedom and directed and produced his pictures after co-founding United Artists.
Then again, he's dancing at the end and he's a little bit stubborn with his artistic vision which parallels notorious workaholic and control freak Gene Kelley (or perhaps the Singing in the Rain version of Gene Kelly from 1952 which borrowed heavily from his persona). Lastly, since he's French, he could be modelled after Charles Boyer who got nominated for an astounding four Oscars (a pretty high number for a guy I've never heard of until ten minutes ago, not that I'm the expert)

-Isn't it funny that George's wife is played by Penelope Anne Miller and Bernice Bejo's character's name is Peppy Miller. What are the odds of that?

-I've never been a humongous fan of George Cromwell as characters go but he's excellent in here and I wouldn't have minded seeing him getting nominated for the film. I was also reminded that Malcolm McDowell should get nominated one of these days.

-Was the film great because it was able to capture our attention and entertain us despite the limitation of having virtually no sound or was it a good film because it didn't have sound? I would argue a little for the latter. I think the lack of sound pointed us modern viewers toward elements that we're not used to paying attention to. From personal experience, my first film class focused a lot on mise-en-scene and pausing movies and looking closely at details. I used to try to read films that way but eventually veered away from focusing on the finer visual details of the film. This film was visually rich and subtle and the silent nature of the film bought me closer to appreciating those clues. I don't think that's a small achievement.

-The Artist Studio was filmed in the famous Bradbury building which was also the location for Blade Runner. 500 Days of Summer, Chinatown, and other movies.

-I like the fact that the relationship between Peppy and George was never technically romantic. It was a good change of pace from the usual relationship we see on screen between the leading man and lady. I thought that Peppy's gradual arc from devoted fan to star to savior was one of the strongest things about the movie and Bejo was wonderful at it. At the same time, you can kind of see Bejo's character in the movie's first couple acts as a less amoral version of Anne Baxter's Eve in All About Eve who turned on her idol. I think the most unnoticed, least discussed moment in the movie that I found creepy when she was embracing George's jacket and dancing with it.

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