A Lost Art

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By now, most Americans have at least heard of the spectacular 2011 film, “The Artist.” After the film earned five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, even some of the skeptics have gone to the theater to “see what all the fuss is about.”

For those lovers of classic cinema and Hollywood’s Golden Age – like myself – watching “The Artist” for the first time was a highly anticipated event. Having seen the theatrical trailer before the film’s premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, I was impatient for the opportunity to see the film in it’s entirety. Once I discovered the US release date, I marked my calendar, set a reminder in my phone, and regularly checked the Internet for updates. When the longed-for date arrived, I promptly checked for showtimes in my area. Nothing. I checked the following week. Nothing. The closest theater showing it was in the city. I’m not much of a city person and even if I was willing to brave that environment, the cost to get to the city and back was rather prohibitive. I was beyond disappointed. But I was determined to find a way to see this film.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to formulate a plot of any kind. I had been driving my friends and family to distraction with my constant chatter about “The Artist.” A good friend remembered my babbling and emailed me when she discovered that the film was showing at a local art theater. I was there at the first possible opportunity that week. Sitting in the nearly empty theater alone in my own row of seats, my heart fluttered with anticipation.

The lights dimmed and the movie began. Filmed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio as were the original silent films in their heyday, “The Artist” maintained an authentic “Old Hollywood” feel throughout the entire film. I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I held my breath in suspense, and mostly just grinned like an idiot for most of the film. A moving, exuberant story, conveyed through superb acting and directing, along with a magnificent score, made the lack of audible dialogue go unnoticed.

Classic movies just “get” me, and this one, I knew, was an instant classic. Having a nostalgic affinity for black and white films in general, this one “got” me more so than usual. The similarities in the storyline to 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” a reference to 1941’s “Citizen Kane,” the use of Bernard Herrmann’s Scene d’Amour from the “Vertigo” soundtrack for the most emotional and climactic sequence of the film – these and other elements enriched the film as a whole and made it a truly gratifying experience for a classic movie fan.

The two leads in the film, both French actors, share excellent screen chemistry. Jean Dujardin gives a brilliant performance, especially considering the fact that he could not use the spoken word, with it’s subtleties of tone and inflection. His heartfelt and authentic George Valentin is never over-acted or gaudy, and Dujardin’s natural resemblance to Gene Kelly added to the beautifully nostalgic feel of his character. Dujardin definitely earned his Academy Award for Best Actor. A few faces easily recognized in this country, including John Goodman and James Cromwell, rounded out a phenomenal cast.

Lovely sets and authentic locations, historically accurate and visually pleasing costume design (which earned the film an Academy Award in that category), a lovely score with just the right amounts of borrowed pieces to provide the proper nostalgia (another Academy Award), all contributed to a film that could without a doubt be considered a true work of art.

I left the theater that day on a cinematic high I’ve never before experienced. I gushed to friends and family about how exquisitely wonderful I found “The Artist” to be. I went to see it again the following week. And again.

Beware to anyone who asked, “Have you seen that ‘Artist’ movie? What’s it about? Is it really silent?” My exuberant response usually brought about an awkward silence. No one I know personally is as passionate about classic films and their history as I am – definitely not enough to appreciate “The Artist” as deeply as I do.

I celebrated inwardly – and had plenty to say to anyone who asked about it – when “The Artist” won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Musical or Comedy, and Best Musical Score at the Golden Globes. I waited on pins and needles to hear of the Academy Award nominations.

On the big night, I planned to stay awake until the very end of the Academy Award ceremony. This was a big deal – anyone who knows me well knows I’m in bed and not to be disturbed by 10pm. I couldn’t remember when the Oscars had ever been such an important event for me. I was emotionally invested. As the big moments drew closer, I watched with bated breath. Best Costume Design! Best Original Score! Best Actor! Best Director! Then the really big moment. I was practically quivering with anticipation. “Come on, Tom Cruise, just say it!!”

“… ‘The Artist.'”

I’m bouncing up and down on the couch, inwardly squealing like a 15 year old girl, trying to keep my celebratory outburst as silent as the film that has just won Best Picture!!! My poor hubby is trying to sleep in the other room. I turn off the television as Billy Crystal says goodnight, and go to bed with a big silly grin on my face. But as late as it is, I can’t sleep. I post my joy on Facebook. Only one of my friends is interested, but that’s enough for me.

Now I eagerly anticipate the release of “The Artist” on DVD and Blu-ray so that I can watch it again. And again. And again…

Obsessed? Maybe a little. Passionate is what I’d call it. Passionate about the lost art of filmmaking. Watch a film like “Casablanca” and then watch a recent release. Very few movies nowadays can be called art. Don’t get me wrong, even I enjoy a modern movie now and then, but they simply don’t leave me satisfied, with the exception, perhaps, of BBC productions. But that’s a story for another post.

“The Artist” is a work of art. The lost art of filmmaking resurrected for 100 glorious minutes of viewing pleasure. As director Michel Hazanavicius puts it, “‘The Artist’ was made as a love letter to cinema.” What a love letter! It is poetry for the senses, evocative of a Golden Age.

I know there are many who disagree. They are the same people who do not appreciate the films of the past, not realizing how many pop culture references were born in those films, blindly refusing to acknowledge that without those masterpieces of filmmaking, the films we see today would not be possible. I am so glad that a modern director chose to make this incredible film, black and white, silent, and in my eyes, quite possibly the best film yet made.

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One thought on “A Lost Art

  1. […] “Vertigo” opened up a new world to me – the world of Alfred Hitchcock. With a clever story, Hitchcock’s directing, and Bernard Herrmann’s haunting music, it captivated me. James Stewart turned my ideal “good guy” on his ear, presenting the image of a man flawed, obsessed, haunted by his past and trying to take control. The music in the film has stayed with me through the decades, down to last November when I first watched “The Artist,” and recognized the Scene d’Amour, used in the most climactic part of the film. That cemented my love for “The Artist,” as you can see in one of my earlier posts, A Lost Art. […]

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