Friday, January 20, 2012

The Artist (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Artist

Life in Key West, as with all places, is sometimes noisy, a cacophonous goulash of sound and color. Taxis roar by followed by an infinite scatter of SUVs, while mopeds hover and buzz in and out like meddlesome mosquitoes of metal. Sometimes residents even bring out awful droning instruments known as 'leaf-blowers' in the hopes of clearing their sidewalks, but they usually succeed in merely relocating the leaves on their neighbor's sidewalk with only earaches in the air.

A welcome antidote is the black, white and silent retreat found in "The Artist", the highly acclaimed film by Michel Hazanavicius.

The film is sumptuous and beautifully made, quoting many films from "Zorro", "The Thin Man" films, "The Invisible Man" and even " The Picture of Dorian Gray" together with the lighting from Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. 

Although the tame plot of a struggling Errol Flynn actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) failed to make me fall out of my chair with a clap of surprise,the gesture and visual rhythm of the film, held me in with pleasure, turning my blue eyes to black and a soft gray.

The best parts of "The Artist" are when it moves into darker territory: George Valentin is plagued by the mocking scourge of the new Talkie pictures and can't get a job. He is driven mad by the noise of cars and strange new voices.  The film goes into dark corners and the shadows are singular and stark, quoting the best from "Lost Weekend" and Orson Welles' "A Touch of Evil". 

When George looks in the window and sees an empty suit of  clothes, he is a lost man. The emphasis is on the empty collar and sleeves. George Valentin, once a Douglas Fairbanks idol is now an invisible man. Berenice Bejo as Valentin's girlfriend, is charming and vivid, doing an excellent job as a Clara Bow or Claudette Colbert type. She is a literal visual confection.

The film is a technical delight with visual winks at every turn and twist.
The dog in the film, a Jack Russell, is sure to win your heart as he outdoes Asta to the tenth power.  

The film is a cinephile's black and white cookie, better tasted than described.  If the sugary plot echoes "The Illusionist" or the repetitive score tinkles too much in your ear, the visual sambas won't, they sneak up on you with a tickle. And rest assured, a stolen raven-like melody from Hitchcock's  Maestro Bernard Hermann improves the music tremendously. At the end of "The Artist", as you move to the exit, a  sudden rush makes things strange and alien. The abrupt clash of sound signals the loss of a friend.

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