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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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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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