Mar 20, 2012

The Artist (2011): B

Flip-flop nametags notwithstanding, mind-changing is something I've done a fair amount of here (by which I mean, say, 4% of the time or thereabouts, for those who want to keep track; yes, I'm nitpicky, and as a critic I at least try to hold myself to high standards, including honesty and transparency), as I often find myself in the necessary predicament of re-examining my irksome (to myself) or controversial (to others) opinions on certain movies in hopes of seeing things I hadn't before. Such was the case in The Artist, which rose from festival buzz to almost immediate Oscar glory before the backlash from silent purists like myself (to say nothing of the portion of the public that scoffs at silent movies as a matter of fact; let them eat shit like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island). Consigned to its seemingly inevitable Best Picture status, I knew I'd have to revisit it, and was ultimately delighted when I did.

My original review was penned in a flurry after a bitter first viewing, during which it felt like my long-gestating wish for a modern silent film (partially satiated by Guy Maddin and others) was smeared by the Weinstein express. Reflection invited suspicions of my interpretation of the film and a second viewing confirmed them: this was not the Disingenuous Scrap of Awards Bait I'd first seen it as (as if Harvey Weinstein made the film himself, and that Michel Hazanavicius was a mere drone), although I do think it's too seriously flawed to qualify as the masterful love letter to cinema so many of its admirerer's think of it as (for me, that was Martin Scorsese's effervescent Hugo). It gets the good try award, but more time in the editing room could have made for a significantly superior product.

The temptation exists to hold The Artist to the standards of actual silent films, when clearly that is both misguided and unreasonable (if not impossible). Such former defensiveness on my part came from the same kind of love The Artist itself trades in, and is carried through by. The replication of style is mostly acute, although it's seriously rough going during an uneven and boorishly scored opening act, which starts off as a meta film-within-a-film only to subsequently waste its energy on an inert media showcase. Graciously, once the board is set and the peices are moving, the snide self-awareness subsides and things progress more or less like clockwork. It's a crowd-pleaser, almost breathelessly cute and occasionally transcendant (I, for one, am a fan of the Vertigo cameo), even when it's too obvious or drawn-out (the dream sequence is literally stupid, but contextually brilliant), and as an adorer of the flickering source of a medium that's now even more distant from its roots, I've come to appreciate what the film says about this ever-evolving medium. Warts and all, The Artist reminds us that the fire is far from extinguished.

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