I went to see The Artist last night. I have an unlimited Cineworld card and it’s been getting a hell of a lot of awards buzz, so I was intrigued. I didn’t know much about it, beyond it being a tribute to silent movies, being in black and white and having John Goodman and Zefram Cochrane (as he will always, always be to me) in it.
There are a number of good things you could say about it. The two leads, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, really do look and act the part of 1920s/1930s film stars. It looks great. I’m not an expert on the period, so can’t say how authentic the detail really was, but to a casual observer, it seemed believable enough. But, other than that, I didn’t see the point of the thing. It just felt like Hollywood (/the film industry) having a massive wank to me, and this seems only further reinforced by the number of awards it’s been nominated for. Everything about it screams Emperor’s New Clothes. ‘Oh, aren’t we clever? We can make a silent movie, like they did in the olden days, but we can pretend it’s original because, a) it has contemporary actors in it and b) it’s a quasi-metaphorical “statement” on how romantically wonderful the olden days were’. Except, no. The lead characters are pretty unlikeable, saved only by the hard work of the two lead actors and the dog, who will probably get best supporting actor (and, to be fair, deserve it). The storyline is kind of dumb and incredibly heavy-handed, and it all feels so very much style over substance. I’m not saying there is no merit in making a contemporary silent movie, but why not update the form for 2012 rather than do a pastiche of the 1920s/1930s period which actually has nothing of interest to say, but thinks it’s being ever so profound?
It’s not the only example of Hollyood/film industry masturbation out at the cinema right now, however. Hugo is guilty of similar things, saved only by its use of 3D (the only film I’ve seen to use the medium successfully since Avatar) and the way it did actually get me to be vaguely interested in the history of cinema, which The Artist comprehensively failed to do. The metaphor in that film is also clunky and heavy-handed though, Chloe Moretz is really awful (and she is usually excellent), and Sascha Baron Cohen does a great impersonation of Inspector Clouseau/The ‘gid moaning’ guy from Allo Allo, although I don’t know if that’s what he was aiming for. It’s exceptionally pretty, but once again feels very self-congratulatory – and rather preachy. ‘My Week With Marilyn’ also has some of the same flaws, although it’s a more interesting and engaging watch all in all – however fabricated it may or may not be.
But really, the film industry needs to get over itself – you’re not half as fascinating as you think you are, luvvie.