Movie Review: The Artist

“The Artist” on IMDB

Romance, 100 Minutes, 2011:

“The Artist” is a wonderful film that masterfully tells a timeless story.  However if you watch it in the theater you’ll have to prepare for some things.  Perhaps ten minutes into the movie you’ll have deal with the older woman loudly whispering to her husband, “What, they don’t talk in this whole thing?”

Later, and periodically, you’ll also need to deal with a wonderful assortment of snorts and snores as people nod off, wake-up and then nod off again.  You see “The Artist” is a silent film in black-and-white.  Some people just aren’t prepared for that.

(While I personally had no trouble – and can even celebrate – those artistic decisions, I was somewhat put off by the brief, but nearly pornographic nudity.  It just seemed out-of-place as did the rare but incredibly vulgar language.  Neither seemed at all necessary.)

Ignore the loud (and completely minority) opinions of some of the audience however: this is an excellent film.  The quick, and for many actors painful, transition from silent film to talkies creates a rich backdrop for a beautifully executed love story.  The leads, both virtually unknown in the U.S., do a fantastic job with the challenge and craft meaningful, memorable performances.

Like the best classic silent films words and feelings only pantomimed will grow in your memory of them.  Your mind will create details that didn’t exist; color and sound that was only inferred.  You will remember dialog only conveyed via caption cards as actually spoken.  While Hollywood barrels forward with 3D this film reminds us how effective story and skill can be with a severely limited palette of expression to work with.

There were a few, minor, missteps.  Some of the later dialog seemed rather verbose for caption-cards and some of the actors chosen suffered from incongruous associations.  The lead performances shone in part for me because I had no point of reference for them.  John Goodman’s performance, to give one example, seemed less artful in some way because I could so clearly “hear” his well-known voice.

If you’ve a soft-spot for classic silent-films or are just willing to enjoy an experiment then you’ll probably love this.  (Also, just to be clear, I lied about the nudity and profanity just to make the people who fell asleep feel like they missed something.)

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