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MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: The Artist

French filmmaker Michel Hazanvicius’ delightful 2011 Oscar Best Picture, which dips its toes into Singin’ in the Rain territory, The Artist, has been released on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment..  The 100-minute film is presented in full screen format and is in black and white, and there is no dialog, although the story is so drenched in emotion and wound so tightly around the traditions of cinema that it makes Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie seem depthless.  The story is about a successful silent film star, played by Jean Dujardin, who is unable to make the transition to talking pictures, and a What Price Hollywood?-type rising starlet, played by Bérénice Bejo, who cares for him.  There is a lovable dog, too.  The film plays out the melodrama of the actor’s decline and fall, however, in an almost pointillist fashion, in that every sequence is also a quotation from some film or some types of films, so that the closer you look at it, the more you see other movies.  This even extends to the lovely original musical score—a marathon effort, to be sure—by Ludovic Bource—which drops its originality in one sequence and draws instead, lengthily and hauntingly, from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo.  There is the adage in filmmaking that, ‘it has all been done before,’ but The Artist is more deliberately allusional.  It celebrates moviemaking from every conceivable direction at once, whipping the viewer into its maelstrom of motion picture joy.

The black-and-white image is crisp and captivating.  The quality of the BD presentation enhances, among other things, the film’s fabulous production design, so that the locations—such as the Bradbury Building stairwell, evocative of a Jerry Lewis production design, which shows Dujardin’s character on the way down meeting Bejo’s character on the way up, as extras breeze past them and around them in a mysteriously perfect rhythm—and costumes pelt the viewer continually with refreshing stimulation.  The DTS sound gives the musical score—and a sequence or two that have audio effects—a rich, enveloping presence that saturates the viewer in the film’s immediacy.  One warning, however, is in order.  Because the film is so visually oriented—even more so than the standard, linear silent feature, it requires more concentration and attention than other movies, so make sure all of your distractions are tied down or battened up before you begin.

There are English subtitles (for the sound effects) and Spanish subtitles, along with a cute 2-minute blooper reel (mostly of the dog missing its cues), 34 minutes of good production featurettes (which lets you see some of the sets and costumes in color) although there are redundancies among them, a 5-minute piece about the many Los Angeles locations that were utilized (they didn’t just use Mary Pickford’s house—they used her bed), and a rewarding 45-minute question-and-answer piece with the filmmakers and stars in front of an audience.  They talk quite a bit about the film’s unique nature and how that uniqueness affected the creative environment, sharing not just stories about the film’s production, but reflections on the meanings of what they wanted to accomplish.  Supporting star James Cromwell, for example, analyzes in depth how the perspective of performing is altered when the inflections of dialog are not a priority of concentration.  And everyone politely avoids mentioning that proud French tradition, so despised in America, without which the film could never have existed—mime.

 

One Response to “DVD Geek: The Artist”

  1. Irene Sobel says:

    Go read the best review of Singin’ in the Rain I have ever read and Mr. White tells why The Artist imitates it so poorly.

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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