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.