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Archive for January 18th, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by James Clark

         There is, about a silent, black and white feature movie introduced in the year 2011, something so apparently hopeless that you know it has something up its sleeve to amaze and charm us. Even granting this design frappe, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist carries a mastery of dynamics so agile, witty and daring as to leave us speechless during the final credits.

    A silent film star digs in his heels when pressured to contemplate a feature involving talk that can be heard, insisting, “I’m an artist!” [after all, and speaking, however well-considered, self-evidently kills the magic sustaining the rewards of cinema]. His aces in the hole include a devil-may-care smile, a twinkle in his eyes and easy laughter—not very unlike the pop of Gene Kelly in his prime (say, in Singin’ in the Rain)—and, the source of much of that laughter, a winsome little terrier with a repertoire of lightning-quick human responses—not very unlike that of Nick and Nora’s Asta (the talkie home field of which sends out some promising vibrations, like a restaurant pager announcing one’s table is ready). Getting in the way of a smooth, Hollywood ending, however, is his imminent exile (as suddenly unemployable) to palatial quarters not very unlike those of Norma Desmond in the sobering viscosity coming to us under the title, Sunset Boulevard. We begin with him on a night like so many he’s had, self-impressedly basking in adulation from his huge fan-base on the occasion of his newest hit. After a curtain-call spent cavorting with that irresistible pup and ignoring his blonde, klutzy co-star, he’s out on the sidewalk in front of the theatre, giving the kind of press and radio interview Gene Kelly brought off with such incandescent conviviality at the beginning of that classic about the dialectics of gloomy (rainy) times. Then one of his fans, hitherto held behind a security line, a girl with her own reservoir of devil-may-care, plunges forward to retrieve her purse, dislodged in the commotion; and he’s as delighted to see her as he is when beholding the spunk of his terrier. She is Peppy Miller, and in her will-o’-the-wisp spareness she reminds us of someone in another Gene Kelly movie (only this time Gene’s lost his mojo, he’s called Andy Miller and he meets the love of his life in helping her retrieve the contents of a somewhat larger than purse-size container, a book bag vibing a world of talk and [musical] sounds). That would be The Young Girls of Rochefort, and that would be our French filmmaker bringing his Hollywood dust-up into the more comprehensive tribulations of a Gallic precursor, Jacques Demy. (more…)

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