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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 Ultimate DVD Geek

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“A lot of us felt blindsided,” Van Vliet told me. In the seventies, Van Vliet was drafted out of film school by Industrial Light & Magic, where he worked on The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now 62 and semi-retired, he said, “Once you get into your fifties, you’re pretty disposable.” Van Vliet was in the middle of reviewing DVD screeners before casting his Oscar votes, a process he estimated would take a hundred and twenty hours. “The Academy is essentially asking us to give them three weeks of labor, and then they’re going to take our results, put them into a ceremony, and sell it,” he said, referring to the seventy-five million dollars that the organization earns from the television broadcast. “Then they’re turning around and kicking us in the teeth.”
~ “Shakeup At The Oscars”

“Richard Schickel was a very perceptive critic and a wonderful writer and documentary filmmaker. As a person he was, to use a once popular term, ‘crusty,’ and he could be brutally funny. But it’s his deep and abiding love of movies that I’ll always remember about him. His early 70s PBS series ‘The Men Who Made the Movies,’ his 2004 restoration of Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, his wonderful little book about ‘Double Indemnity,’ his biographies of Chaplin and Cary Grant… this is a man who gave his life to the thing he loved.”
~ Martin Scorsese