“The Artist”- Michel Hazanavicius

This year’s smash hit at Cannes… Silent and in black and white… Classically French…  Charming performances… And the dog…! Hmmn, what? Oh I’m sorry, I think I might have dozed off there.

There have of course been some genuinely wonderful films about Hollywood. Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (’50), Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad And The Beautiful (’52), Robert Altman’s The Player (’92) and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (’01) being the four most memorable.

All depict a pitch black world bereft of a moral compass, where blindly driven characters devote their lives to sacrificing their talent on the altar to personal ambition. The result is a landscape where anything can happen, and everyone’s careful calculations are forever undermined by the whims of the non-existent but mischievous Gods. They are all in other words European films, that just happen to use Hollywood as their backdrop.

They reek of the Old World, with its ironic insouciance and casual cynicism, and are free entirely of that unshakable certainty and boundless optimism that make the New World so appealing and give it its veneer of invincibility.

Mulholland Drive might look like Hollywood, but its correct title, as David Thompson so perceptively pointed out is Mulholland Dr., and the that Dr stands for “dream”, as in nightmare. The powers that be that govern this world are nebulous, nefarious and hopelessly inscrutable. This might be the dream factory, but these are the wrong kinds of dreams.

The Artist is the exact opposite. It’s an all too conventional Hollywood film clumsily dressed in European art-house chic. Sure, if you’ve never seen, say, a Madonna video (it’s in black and white!!) or a foreign film (what, subtitles!!! (well, titles actually)), then you might but briefly mistake it for something mildly un-conventional. But you’ll very quickly tire of the film’s un-rippled progress, as all the characters dutifully make their way down all too well worn paths.

The fact of the matter is, The Artist isn’t a pastiche of those early Hollywood films, it’s one of them. And it’s every bit as dull, dreary and predictable as those kinds of films have always been. That’s why, both then and now, we gravitate towards the likes of Méliès and Eisenstein, Lang, Murnau and Chaplin. Their constant invention and dazzling brilliance are a glorious corrective to the barrage of endless tedium we’re forever forced to put up with from mainstream Hollywood.

Still. There is of course one part of the world where they’ll see The Artist as a fantastically courageous attempt to buck the prevailing trend of drowning everything in a cacophony of wide screen, surround sound 3D Technicolor noise. Roll on the Academy Awards.

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  1. […] philistines. So they fell over them­selves in their haste to lav­ish The Artist (reviewed by me here ear­lier) with ill-considered praise on the grounds that a) it’s French, b) it’s in black and […]

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