Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My review of THE ARTIST

It would have been soooo easy to do it wrong. Soooo easy to just make it an exercise, a novelty, a curiosity piece. But THE ARTIST manages to pull off the near impossible – a thoroughly charming love story with multi-dimensional characters without the benefit of dialogue, color, or Clooney.

THE ARTIST is a period piece silent movie set in Hollywood in the late ‘20s made by the French. Not exactly fanboy catnip.

But it works! Without any Spielberg schmaltz, Scorsese scope, or Tarantino too-coolness.

Director Michel Hazanavicius is to be applauded for three things – the script, the direction, and marrying the leading lady.

Bérénice Bejo is luminous as the young ingénue. Picture a prettier and goofier Anne Hathaway (along with Frenchier and marriedier). Everything Meryl Streep does with accents and make-up she does with just her eyes.

But Jean Dujardin steals the show as the swashbuckling leading man. He has the panache, the pencil-thin mustache, and soon a lot of awards. Consider this: he’s the first actor in a hundred years asked to carry a silent movie. (Clint Eastwood was just a day-player, not a leading man back then.)

THE ARTIST is a melodrama – which was the Merchant-Ivory drama style of the day. It uses every silent movie cliché but only to better recreate the genre. This is a loving homage, not the world’s longest Tracey Ullman sketch.

As a writer, I must say it’s a little humbling to see how little dialogue you need to tell a good story. This film is brimming with wonderful little character moments – subtle gestures, body language, glances. One of the many dangers of doing a modern-day silent movie is that the audience is paying way more attention to the technique than the story. But that doesn’t happen here. You get sucked in emotionally. Or at least I did.

I’m curious to hear what young people thought of this film. I’m curious to see whether young people even went to this film. Unless you’re a student of cinema, I would imagine most people under 40 have never seen a silent movie. Maybe they’ve seen clips but not an entire full-length feature. The Gish Sisters don’t ring a bell. Will THE ARTIST resonate with audiences who have no frame of reference? Will the deliberate mugging be perceived of as just corny? Will they become engrossed or say, “I gave up seeing THE MUPPET MOVIE for this?”

For my money, THE ARTIST was one of the most ambitious and satisfying films of the year. And it was so refreshing to see a silent movie where everyone in it isn't dead.

I think it will win some Oscars. Some Golden Globes for sure. (The Foreign Press and a film made on foreign soil? Unless the French restaurants where all the voters are employed as busboys and waitresses fire them, THE ARTIST is a shoo-in for those statutes.)  Note:  I will be reviewing the Golden Globes next Monday.  

I understand that there's a campaign to get the dog an Oscar nomination.  As if Albert Brooks isn't bitter enough -- can you imagine if he loses a Best Supporting Actor nomination to a dog?  Woof!

Oh, and a note to Ted Turner:  Please don't colorize this movie.  Thank you.


Phillip B said...

A shout out to Mel Brooks, whose "Silent Movie" in 1976 falls into the category of a novelty.

WilliamJansen said...

"Unless you’re a student of cinema, I would imagine most people under 40 have never seen a silent movie."

Silent movies "stum film" was a regular fixture on Danish TV's block of childrens programming, when I grew up in the 80'ies. Today's kids get four different animated channels and Spongebob Squarepants, we got Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Reno said...

Great posting.

Jeremiah Avery said...

Growing up (I'm 31), my family raised me on black&white movies and older tv shows so I have a definite apprecation and preference for such material. I have quite a few of Charlie Chaplin's films (feature length and shorts) on DVD and make it a point to watch them when I can.

I had read about the "The Artist" and tried to find where it would be available in my area. It was showing at a small movie theater by where I live so I made it a point to go to an early showing. I enjoyed it immensely for some of the same reasons as you, Ken.

It was easy to become immersed in the story and captivated by the characters. When the film ended, I had hoped it'd keep on going. I'll definitely be buying this when it becomes available.

Nathan said...

So Ken,

What's your take on Kim Novak's Head-Splosion?

Question Mark said...

2011 has not been a great year for movies, with a number of the so-called 'big' films (Tree of Life, War Horse, Descendants, The Help, etc.) all being flawed in one respect or another.

So, it's good to see one of the few legitimately great films of the year (The Artist) positioned as the big Oscar frontrunner. If Oscar night comes down to Artist, Midnight In Paris and Hugo, I'll be a happy man.

Richard J. Marcej said...

"I’m curious to hear what young people thought of this film. I’m curious to see whether young people even went to this film."

Well, if they're like me the problem might be actually FINDING a theater in their area that's playing it. I have six theaters with 10-15 miles of my house. Of all those screens that are filled with annoying chipmunks and lame exorcist rip offs nary a one is playing "The Artist".

You've got to remember Ken, not everyone lives in New York City or the Los Angeles area. As an avid moviegoer i get so sick of 90% of "the good films" either not playing in my area or playing on one screen out of 100.

RCP said...

I enjoyed this review and am looking forward to The Artist. It would be a shame if younger people—or anyone, for that matter—missed out on this film as well as the real thing - they had FACES!

Interestingly, as recently as the past couple of years, there were still survivors - actors who were adults or nearly adults - from the Silent Era: Anita Page, Miriam Seegar, and Barbara Kent.

birdie said...

Ken, do you really dislike Albert Brooks or do you just hate the way that he has been campaigning? I think it's kind of refreshing to see someone admit that they want the Oscar nom, but I get the feeling that he's not terribly liked in the biz (hence the SAG snub). But I'll always like his films (or, most of them).

Incidentally, his longtime writing partner Monica Johnson died last year. She was (as I'm sure you know) Jerry Belson's sister, to whom I remember you giving a lovely and funny tribute (I'm a big Odd Couple fan). I have to say she really seemed like quite the character. Not sure if in a good or a bad way. Any stories on her?

In any event, thanks for the review. I probably won't get to see The Artist until next weekend (after the Globes). I think it's pretty much a lock for Best Picture; one of the few sure bets in an uncharacteristically unpredictable year - well, that, and Christopher Plummer winning Best Supporting Actor.

normadesmond said...

maybe we're moving towards more silent film?

think of film through the 30s, 40s, 50s; talk, Talk, TALK! lots of dialogue. i loaned "the women" to a 60 something year old female & her review was, "SO MUCH TALKING!" and she wasn't wrong about that.

movies today...not so much talk, but
mucho action. film is a visual medium, right?

"The artist" was sheer delight.

Jonathan Ernst said...

I've got a different opinion than you Ken. While liked the movie, I didn't think Bérénice Bejo worked as the rising starlett. My reason (and this is going to sound like I'm nit-picking) is that her make-up didn't read 1920's for me. I know this may sound like a small thing, but when you're conveying the story through your face, make-up is critical. The problem was her make-up was too contemporary in my opinion, particularly her mouth. The silent film era emphasized delicate lips, and Bejo's make-up instead gave her large full lips. It my mind, having non-period make-up is the equivalent having her use expressions that wouldn't have existed. What if she said "LOL" at some point in the film? It would have totally broken the mood.

emily said...

I could be wrong, but isn't "marriedier" a french cuss word?

Yeah, I'm probably wrong...oh merde.

Pamela Atherton said...

I agree, it was fabulous! And Jean Dujardin charmed us with his great panache and style (did you see OSS 117? Merveilleuse!)

It WAS difficult to find, even in Los Angeles, but my 25 year-old daughter and I made a point to see it. She adored it. (she's the one who introduced me to OSS 117)

Will other young people feel the same? Perhaps, because it is so different. And besides... the dog, the DOG!! :)

cadavra said...

Someone on another blog denigrated Hazanavicius' work on the film. I replied pretty much as you did, but not nearly so eruditely. While HUGO is the best film of the year to me, this runs a close second, and I hope it does enough business that it makes it easier for Scorsese, Eastwood, et al, to make movies in B&W if they so choose. (Alexander Payne had to chop the budget of his next film literally in half in order to make it in B&W.)

Ironically, I found that it helps if you DON'T know much about silent movies. Much as I adore the film, I was slightly taken aback by the fact that it's built on a historically false concept, one which would not bother folks who are unfamiliar with that era. But then again, so is SINGIN' IN THE RAIN!

WV: "linglion"--King of the Chinese Jungle.

Tim W. said...

@ Jonathan Ernst

It's funny you mention her makeup because, while I haven't seen the film yet, in the photos I've seen of her, she's always come off looking too contemporary, and I haven't been able to put my finger on why. Maybe that's it.

As for the film itself, I've resisted seeing it despite the praise because, well, it was a silent film. I have a B.A. in Film and got my fill of those types of film in university.

Oh, and I am over 40. BARELY, but unfortunately.

Barbara C. said...

Did you ever see the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush"? The entire town has their voices stolen, so there is no dialogue except in the very beginning and very end. Genius!!

I am very intrigued by The Artist, but I don't get out to movies much. I'll have to wait for Netflix/Cable.

Jenny said...

I want to see "The Artist" SO BAD! Unfortunately, it's not playing ANYWHERE near me yet. (I live in the midwest.) Our local nonprofit film society has it on its "coming soon" list ... I hope it's REALLY soon.

Oh, and I'm in my mid-20s and I've seen several silent movies. The best was seeing "Nosferatu" in an old movie palace with somebody playing the organ live along with it. It was one of the best experiences of my life. (Because I'm a movie nerd.)

femmeperdue said...

I am both under-40 and a huge fan of the film. It just made me happy, and what a refreshing moment to come out of an "Oscar" kind of film full of smiles!

gottacook said...

With respect to your description of what the actors in this film are able to convey without dialogue: In the heyday of the TV series Dallas in its third or fourth season in the early 1980s (that is, when I used to watch it), I would sometimes imagine an episode consisting solely of the characters giving each other dirty looks, etc., without dialogue. Bruce Broughton's music was so good that I'm convinced it would have worked.

Chris said...

I think Eastwood is already making B & W movies. I really hate the muted grays and (barely) blues of his recent films. Loved "The Artist" and the whole experience of seeing a silent film on the big screen.

Ken, how can we get our own union to acknowledge that awards should be considered for writers who are not in the guild but who have written films that deserve acknowledgment? That we couldn't nominate "The Artist" is a shame. We should also be allowed to nominate an animated film if it worthy.

Roger Owen Green said...

The Artist doesn't open in Albany, NY until January 20, and in only one theater. It's on my must-see list.

Jim said...

I'll second what Pamela says about the two OSS 117 films that precede this, absolutely brilliant stuff from the same people. What the reboot of Get Smart could have been if they'd aimed a bit higher. And the second one gave hints of what they could do without dialogue through some great use of split screens. The second, the Spy v Spy pursuit through the airport (about 1.50 in) is the sort of economical film-making that Billy Wilder used to admire in Lubitsch.

Vidor said...

38 years old, saw it twice, hope it wins a slew of Oscars.

Ted said...

Loved the movie (but I kinda hope Midnight in Paris wins the Oscar)

Speaking of the leading lady looking too modern, she does the "Yes!!" arm pump in one scene.

Scott Mumford said...

Unfortunately, I found this film to be a HUGE disappointment. I gave the filmmakers a lot of credit for what they were attempting--but it ended up feeling like all style and no *substance*.

I found the first 10 or 15 minutes to be very charming. The entire second act was very long (and got rather boring--I nearly nodded off!)--and thought the 3rd act to be almost non-existant. (I don't know that I really 'bought' the love story between them, either. But I did like the dog.)

I honestly don't understand all of the "Best Film of the Year!" accolades.

D. McEwan said...

"Consider this: he’s the first actor in a hundred years asked to carry a silent movie."

Even if we rounded off the 92 years since silent movies went out to 100, there's still Chaplin, who carried the silent City Lights (Which I just happened to rewatch yesterday, still one of the greatest movies ever made) a mere 90 years ago, and carried the mostly-silent (The factory boss speaks some dialogue and Chaplin sings a song of nonsense words - to show how unimportant words can be. Beyond that, no spoken lines, just title cards.) Modern Times a mere 85 years ago.

And as mentioned above, Mel Brooks asked himself, Marty Feldman, and Dom DeLuise to carry a silent movie, Silent Movie a mere 35 years ago.

Comedy fans such as myself have always cherished the silent cinema, as not just the best silent comedy, but even the merely-better silent comedy holds up and works forever, so we grew up, even when it was well after silent movies, with Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and the Republicans also had Harold Lloyd, though he's never really done it for me.

Since the DVD revolution of a bit over a decade ago I find myself watching a lot more of silent dramas and melodramas. DVDs have made these films available again. Bless Kino Films.

Lon Chaney, that genius who was my grandfather's friend, lured me in. Most culturally literate people have seen Cheney's Phantom of the Opera (Which, fun though it is, is far from his best work) and Hunchback of Notre Dame, but it's his MGM melodramas that really open your eyes and make you sit up and gasp a century after some of them were made. (That my grandfather worked on many of these movies, offscreen, is a point of family pride, but not why they are more than worth watching, but great fun to see.)

Chaney's The Unknown is among the most-amazing movies I've ever seen. Even a film with a fairly silly plot like Chaney's The Penalty (Which involves a crime boss organizing a violent ressurection and take-over of San Francisco by an army of "anarchists". Have you ever tried to instill order and rules among anarchists? They're anarchists; by definition, they don't take orders. What a shock: Chaney's plans fail) still has a performance from Chaney that is unforgettable. Today they would say: "Is it Lon or is it CGI?" Well back then, it was all Lon.

Lon's movies led me to others. Some love the swashbucklers of Douglas Fairbanks. I've seen the big ones, his Robin Hood, Zorro, and Thief of Bagdad. They were all fun, but none of them made me enough of a fan to buy them.

D. McEwan said...


But Murnau's Nosferatu is a treat. Barrymore's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is unmisssable. (Barrymore's silent Sherlock Holmes however, is not so good, despite the presence of William Powell - Nick Charles learns it first hand from Sherlock! - but it's better than the Guy Ritchie abominations.) Lang's two-part, 5-hour German epic Der Niebenlungun is something amazing to behold, with an absurdly-sexy Siegfried. (No wonder that Krimheld kills the entire gigantic cast, including thousands of extras, to revenge Siegfried's murder.) That it was Hitler's favorite movie isn't the movie's fault.

Lang's recently-restored to almost three hours Metropolis is, desite its many flaws and intense silliness, an essential film.

Unheralded and without all the publicity aimed at The Artist, a small outfit has been, for the last three or four years, turning out short silent films based on the short stories of HP Lovecraft. The stories were written in and are set in the 1920s, so the silent technique places them in their melieu better, eliminates actors having to speak Lovecraft's often-absurd dialogue and unpronounceable "alien" words aloud, and helps sell the cheaper special effects needed to bring Lovecraft's larger monstrosities to life. Some of these films can be Netflixed and streamed. When I read The Call of Cthulhu, I considered it unfilmable. These guys proved me wrong. Also, since these are made by Lovecraft lovers, they are very faithful to the stories they're adapting.

I love a good silent movie, which is why many are on my DVD shelves, and a bunch of silents sit right now on my DVR. Sure, they're mostly Chaplin films, but the silent Ben-Hur is sitting there waiting for the right mood to strike me to watch it again. I've seen it before. Some of it is even in color. (Chaney's Phantom of the Opera has a couple color sequences also, in different color processes) It scores over the bloated Heston version in several ways, not the least of which is the blessed total absence of Charleton Heston.

I'm sorry for the folks complaining that The Artist is not playing near them, but then, why live there? One of the reasons I would never even consider living anywhere but in a major city is so I can see movies that aren't blockbusters. If there are only one or two theaters in your 20-mile radius (or larger, even MUCH-larger radiaii) you ought to be used to there being nothing to see but the latest Twilight movie, action blockbusters, and Chipmonks movies, and does Broadway-level live theater come anywhere near? No, I must have a city with live theater, and movie art-houses.

D. McEwan said...

P.S. The Man Who Laughs with Conrad Veidt is another amazing silent gem which, if you've never seen it, you should Netflix.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I was a gigantic STAR in silent movies, whereas I was merely a star in talkies. That should nail the superiority of silent cinema alone!

When I began making talkies, Bosley Crowther paid me this grand compliment: "Every time Tallulah Morehead speaks a word on screen, we long for the return of silent cinema all the harder. She is the reason silent films were invented."

We didn't need words: we had title cards!

Tom Galloway said...

Re: the Oscar campaign for the dog. Was listening to Fresh Air the other evening, and the main interview was Susan Orlean about her new book on Rin Tin Tin. According to her, there was a very real chance that Rin would've won the first Best Actor Oscar, but the rules were written such that non-humans weren't eligible. Dunno if that's still the case or not.

Pat Reeder said...

Saw this film over the weekend and LOVED it. But then, I've been a silent movie fan since I was a teenager and used to collect Blackhawk 8mm movies in the prehistoric pre-video days (still have them, too. I used to own a 1913 house with a big front room and would project them at silent movie parties). I've always said that both movies and political discourse have been going downhill ever since actors were allowed to talk.

Ken, on another, much uglier subject, I'd love to hear your reaction to this quote from Laura Prepon in an NBC promo interview for "Are You There, Chelsea?":

“I always kind of say that we have an element on our show of like an updated 'Cheers.' But, the only difference is, you wouldn’t have seen 'Cheers' get away with the kind of stuff that we get away with nowadays. Now there’s this great resurgence of female driven comedies right now...”

So, just curious: do you think that if you could write 'Cheers' today, Dianne would be a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, unfunny slut?

This sort of ties in with the silent movie subject, since in many ways, silent movies were pushed into greatness by finding creative ways to deal with their limitations. Maybe not being able to curse five times in every sentence actually forces writers to be wittier, or at least, not to be awful.

gottacook said...

D. McE: As much as I might wish that it were 2022 and my daughters were away at university, it's only 2012, hence City Lights is only 80 years old this year, not 90. (What I can't get my mind around is that Horsefeathers is also 80 this year...)

cshel said...

Ken, was the dog a better actor than Moose?

I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie, but it probably won't be before the Globes. It would be so cool to have a b&w silent foreign film sweep the award shows.

I'm also looking forward to Ricky hosting. Oh, and of course to your Globes review, Ken.

Although I really enjoyed Midnight In Paris, I don't think it was quite award worthy.

By Ken Levine said...


On CHEERS we always prided ourselves on taking the high road, so no, we wouldn't have a character like that even if we could.

Kirk said...

I really enjoy all the Chaplin silent feature-length movies from THE KID through MODERN TIMES (actually, I also like a few of the talkies he made afterwards, which I don't think get enough attention, especially MONSIER VERDOUX). The shorts are another matter. a couple years ago, I bought a DVD with about fourteen hours of Chaplin shorts (with THE KID thrown in for good measure). I have to say, far too many of them was of Chaplin just getting into stupid fights. Some of these were made when he was still working for Mack Sennett, and he maybe didn't have complete control of the product. Still, those were the films that originally made him a star. The films we venerate him for today, such as CITY LIGHTS, were made when his stardom had long since been secured.

Speaking of silents verses talkies, I'm always struck by how quickly the movie industry adapted to sound. Watch a talke made in 1931, and usually they're so difficult to watch you wonder why they just didn't stick with the silents. Yet a mere two years later, they've gotten the process so well down pat, it's as if sound had been around for a hundred years.

Kirk said...

Kim Novak weighs in:

"The 78-year-old actress said in a statement released by her manager Monday that she feels violated because music from the Alfred Hitchcock film is used in the French black-and-white homage to the silent-film era. Novak said "The Artist" filmmakers had no reason 'to depend on Bernard Herrmann's score from 'Vertigo' to provide more drama.'"

I don't know. I think she should count her blessings that the music didn't end up in a commercial instead!

Steve C. said...

I'm 53, my wife is 50. We both found The Artist boring and clichéd. I feel like I'm missing something. It was to us the same tired story that's been done dozens of times. The silent actor struggling with the talkies. That would have been fine but there was nothing else. Most of the 2nd half was just him moping around. Snore. But we did love the dog. Compared to complex tales found in The Help, this seemed like a dumbed-down version of a screenplay.

Johnny Walker said...

See this on Friday. Seriously looking forward to it.

Greg Ehrbar said...

My daughter is 14. She reads teen novels, saw all the Twilight movies and watches Pretty Little Liars. She read about The Artist and could not wait to see it. We waited until the one "art" cinema in town ran it, we saw it and loved it.

She's not a big fan of black and white movies or classic cinema, though we have exposed her to great films and classic TV. She just liked it as a movie.

As for the legendary Ms. Novak, the music from "Vertigo" could have turned up in a far lesser film than this. At least the director respects the source material.

The composer of "Tubular Bells" was very upset that his music was picked up for "The Exorcist" and is forever associated with horror (and is copied in similar films).

"The Tra-La-La Song" from The Banana Splits kid's TV show was used in "Kick Ass." "Singin' in the Rain" was used in "A Clockwork Orange."

For more examples, perhaps Ms. Novak should look at this link and thank her lucky stars.

As for the luminous Ms. Bejo, who reminded me of a happy, peppy Leslie Caron, I can forgive her "modern look" because I have forgiven Melinda Dillon for the "Billie Newman on Lou Grant" hairstyle she insisted on when she played a '40s mom in the otherwise meticulously authentic "A Christmas Story."

Mike said...

I loved this film and hope it wins Best Picture. I smiled throughout the screening. Some people are exposed to silent film, through TCM showing silent films on Sunday night and they show a silent film here in Atlanta every summer at the Fox Theatre.

Tod Hunter said...

I can't speak to all of "The Artist," not having seen it -- yet -- but I can tell you that the "La Reina Theater" is on the Warner Bros. lot.

The theater name hit a nerve with me because I used to work at the Sherman theater in Sherman Oaks, and we used to trade comp tickets with the nearby La Reina and the Sherman Oaks Cinema on Van Nuys Boulevard.

The typeface on the theater marquee is way contemporary, by the way, but why quibble?


-bee said...

I am really surprised that so many people here had the same reaction to pictures of the lead actress as I did: "she looks too contemporary for that era!"

I put off seeing the film for a long time because this pissed me off that much.

But finally, I DID see it, and she won me over. I am a long-time fan of silent films, and despite her looks, the 'style' of her performance seemed in keeping with the era, I really did buy her as someone who COULD have been a star of the 'happy-go-lucky' type at that time (despite the 'yes!' fist pump which I noticed too!)

As for the film - I liked it a lot. Tackling the issue of 'silence' head on was a great way to present a silent film to modern audiences, who otherwise would naturally be thinking: "hey, where the hell's the dialogue"?

I don't think The Artist quite measures up to the greatest silent films, of which there are many, but it was very good and the performances were great.

For those who liked this film and would like to dip their toe into silents of the 20's, I suggest King Vidor's "The Crowd" and "Show People". Harold Lloyd was particularly great at working with animals, try to find 'Hot Water' (don't know if its on DVD though).

Cap'n Bob said...

Does anyone else remember SILENTS PLEASE, a TV show that ran silent movies? Sometimes the movies ran in their entirety, sometimes they were chopped. Ernie Kovacs was the host and it aired in 1960-61.

Jonathan Ernst said...

@ Tim W., glad you agree.

@-bee, I also noted the fist pump, as something very un-20's.

and @Scott Mumford and @Steve C., I too nearly nodded off in the middle, when nothing was really happening.

The filmmakers did such a lovely job when they were having fun with the spy film and the musical, why couldn't they carry that over to the rest of the movie?

Danielle Solzman said...

I'm under 30 and have seen every silent film listed on AFI's list of 100 Years, 100 Laughs.

I will see this film when it opens where I live.

Danielle Solzman said...

I do have to echo the other comments here...for being an Oscar contender, it needs to go wide BEFORE Golden Globes. I live in a city that has the Kentucky Derby but we cannot even get the limited releases WHEN they come out?!?

DwWashburn said...

"Unless you’re a student of cinema, I would imagine most people under 40 have never seen a silent movie."

In my office there is a young man twenty years my younger. He really enjoys coming into the office and hearing about my interests. He told me one day that he could understand most of my interests -- St Louis Cardinals, Three Stooges, 60s British Invasion music, Hanna Barbera cartoons -- but he couldn't understand my fascination with silent movies.

I asked him if he had ever seen one and he said no but told me what he thought a silent movie was. I told him he should start with shorts and I loaned him some Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. He was pleasantly shocked. The most surprising thing he told me when he returned the DVDs is that he never knew that silent movies had dialogue cards.
I “discovered” silent movies in the early 70s during my college days. It’s a shame that more young people do not know of this very interesting part of cinema history. Thankfully Turner Classic Movies shows silent films every Sunday night at 9PM PST.

Pat Reeder said...

To -bee (or not to -bee, whatever):

My wife had a similar reaction to the lead actress and thought her looks were too contemporary, although she also loved the movie and her performance. But I reminded her of the exception to the kewpie-doll rule: Greta Garbo. Her looks and style were startlingly contemporary, almost to the point of looking like she beamed back to the '20s from a time machine. But she was considered a great beauty and a mega-star even back then, so it coulda happened.

Chris said...

Here's a comfortable friday question: if you hated the cum stain joke on the 2 Broke Girls pilot, what did you think of the shit joke on the "Are You There, Chelsea" pilot?

"You know you popped a little when you were pushing the baby out" (Her sister was having a baby and says "I know. I did that for you"). Is it me or does that not even make sense?

Here's to great contemporary comedy writing.

Marco said...

Am under 40 and for years, "Metropolis" is one of my favourite movies. So I would watch "The Artist" - likely not in cinema though, I'd prefer the home cinema for a flick like this.

Tony said...

Although they contain sound, the films of French writer/director/actor, Jacques Tati, all have no recognisable dialogue in them and all succeed at moving along (vague) narrative plots and are extremely funny and poignant to boot. The Illusionist was a recent animated film of one of his unfilmed scripts which, again, had sound but no recognisable dialogue and was an utter delight.

And I agree with the previous poster about the Buffy episode "Hush". A brilliant episode mostly without dialogue and all about communication.

Elisabeth said...

Loved your post on The Artist !

And yes, young people under 40 are going to see the movie (and liking it). I am 25 and absolutely loved the movie, the fact that I am French and living in Paris might help, but the movie had huge success in France, was sold out for the few weeks and was very popular for young audience, which I thought was interesting. I hope it has success in the US too.
I really hope it wins an oscar, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Berjot are both great in the movie !

crackblind said...

Saw it with my wife and immediately thought that I had to take my boys (10 & 13) to see it. They thoroughly enjoyed it (though I have to disclose that the first movie I showed each of them was Singing in the Rain so they had that reference and strange parents to come from {and I just want to add that I still remember hearing them say "let's play Sinning in the Rain, I'll be Donald O'Connor, you be the other guy})

We've shown them a bunch of silent movies - they love Harold Lloyd. Whenever anyone asks how I can raise kids in NYC, the fact that movies like this are readily accessible is one of the justifications I point to.

Also, for those of you who already mentioned Mel Brooks' Silent Movie - has there been a better actor in the past 40 years than Marty Feldman who could have thoroughly survived in the silent era?

Courtney Suzanne said...

My husband and I are both under 40, and we love silent film. I went to film school and pretty much focused on silent film studies, while he was a fan on his own. I started watching the films of Charlie Chaplin when I was in high school.

Unfortunately, we live in the Midwest, and the one theater that shows films like this has had this one on the "coming soon" list for weeks. Even though we have a 1 year old baby at home, we're going to find a way to see this one in the theaters.

Anyone who is interested in silent film should check out anything involving Kevin Brownlow. He has written books, produced documentaries, collected and restored silent films, and interviewed many of the stars of the era (many soon before they died.) I was lucky enough to meet him in college and attend a couple of his presentations.

Over 90% of the films ever made have been lost forever, most of them from the silent era.

VP81955 said...

Am waiting for "The Artist" to arrive in Lynchburg, Va.; we have a multiplex that's very attuned to "art" films, and it says it's trying its darndest to secure it.

I like silents, more often than not staying up late for TCM's "Silent Sunday Nights." I agree with the earlier comments about "Show People" (by now, every movie buff should realize that Marion Davies, a gifted comedic actress, was not Susan Alexander Kane, something Orson Welles apologized for) and "The Crowd" (sort of "It's A Wonderful Life" without the sanctimoniousness that marked so many movies of the '40s). I will also recommend "Girl Shy," my favorite Harold Lloyd movie (with a brilliant, multi-modal chase scene through the streets of Los Angeles) and "Sherlock Jr." from Buster Keaton. Both Harold and Buster were marvelous filmmakers, not just comedians.

Saw the premiere of "Are You Listening, Chelsea" last night only for the presence of Laura Prepon, I was among the first people to interview her in the late '90s when "That '70s Show" premiered (I was editing a weekly in the area of New Jersey where she's from). The series has some potential if they can give the characters some texture, and Laura deserves a good sitcom after several years in the wilderness. Whether or not this is it is hard to tell.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

The main actor was also in the two OSS 117 movies, which were hilarious because of him... and everything a remake of The Pink Panther should have been.

VP81955 said...

Someone noted Kevin Brownlow's work on behalf of silents research, and I echo the approval. Silent film has a different "language," so to speak, than talking pictures do, which often makes it difficult to follow with modern-day eyes. Brownlow helped explain the "hows" as much as the "whys," "wheres' and 'whos," and his work is truly appreciated.

"Hollywood," his groundbreaking 1980 series about silent film, isn't on DVD because of rights clearances (much the same reason the wonderful compilation "Los Angeles Plays Itself" will likely never be on DVD), but it is available via YouTube. A link to all 13 episodes can be found at

Pat Reeder said...

In addition to Kevin Brownlow's works, I'd also recommend Walter Kerr's "The Silent Clowns." Great for both history and insightful criticism, plus it's one of the few books to give Raymond Griffith his due.

Maureen Hallissey said...

Maureen Hallissey

Can I be referred to as young at 28? Well anyway, I loved it.It is the breath of fresh air a jaded cinema insustry badly needed and the two leads were amazing.Hollywood should pay attention. Less is most definetly more.

D. McEwan said...

"gottacook said...
D. McE: As much as I might wish that it were 2022 and my daughters were away at university, it's only 2012, hence City Lights is only 80 years old this year, not 90.

You are, of course, correct. I skipped math class to go to the movies. Sorry you dislike having your children around you so much, but I'll bet that when 2022 rolls around and they are gone, you'll wish for the return of the halcyon days of 2012, when you had your girls around you.

What is more embarrassing for me personally is rereading my comments a day later and seeing to my horror that I described the plot of Chaney's The Penalty thusly: "a crime boss organizing a violent ressurection and take-over of San Francisco by an army of anarchists'."

Oops. He did, of course, organize a violent INsurrection, not "a violent resurrection," although you can see violent resurrections in the hilarious Herbert West: Re-Animator, and most any zombie movie.

Miss Kim Novak needs to get back a life. I didn't hear Bernard Herrmann's heirs squawking about the use of the Vertigo music, but then, they were probably busy cashing the licencing-fee check. The gorgeous Vertigo music has been reused before now and will be again. Those are the breaks when you write such great music, though I don't believe Kim Novak contributed even a single note to that score, so what is her problem? Perhaps she should try being "silent" as well.

Cap'n Bob, I rmemember Silents Please, which I watched hungrily. Years later, when I began to see truely restored and full-length editions of those films, I got a bit retroactively miffed at how they had been edited for TV.

I'm intrested to see all the love for Harold Lloyd. Of the big five silent comics: Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy, Lloyd is the only one who just never made me laugh or engaged my heart, even well before I learned what a big ole Republican he was. (Chaplin = far left, Lloyd, = fairly right-wing, Keaton = utterly apolitical.) Yes I've seen Safety Last. It was no The Navigator or City Lights, or even a Sons of the Desert. (Yes, I know that the masterpiece Sons of the Desert, is far from silent, but Laurel & Hardy did not make any silent features. You find me a funnier 20 minutes of silent film than the L&H Big Business.)

I must agree with Kirk about Chaplin's shorts. They do little for me. My personal Chaplin collection begins with The Gold Rush and ends at Limelight, and if Keaaton weren't in Limelight, it would stop with Monsieur Verdoux, which I love except for the last five minutes.

Whereas I have all of Keaton's solo silent shorts, which are nearly all masterpieces. I was always among those who leaned more to Keaton than Chaplin, though Chaplin's skill and virtuosity always impress, and when he gets it right, he gets it spectacularly right. Just never hire him (or Woody Allen) to babysit your just-pubescent daughters.

D. McEwan said...

(to continue)

"Tony said...
Although they contain sound, the films of French writer/director/actor, Jacques Tati, all have no recognisable dialogue in them and all succeed at moving along (vague) narrative plots and are extremely funny and poignant to boot.

The importence of sound in Tati's films is often overlooked. It's true he eshews dialogue (though it is not true that his films have "no recognizable dialogue," merely no important dialogue, and the dialogue seldom ever drives the stories. However, his use of sound effects and music is precise and hilarious.

But Tati's work most-closely resembles that of Keaton. He was wonderful, and his films are magnificent. And yes, the recent The Illusionist, based on a screenplay Tati wrote decades ago, is a lovely film, and eveyone who believes you can make good animated movies for adults should see it. A feast for the eyes, and a dessert for the heart.

[WV: "maness":

1. "insane masculinity, as in The Maness of King George.

2. What differentiates the guys from the dolls.]

D. McEwan said...

"Pat Reeder said...
In addition to Kevin Brownlow's works, I'd also recommend Walter Kerr's 'The Silent Clowns'."


One of the best books ever written about film - PERIOD! My treasured first edition, now all fingerprinty on those glossy black pages, sits not a foot and a half away from my computer workstation, so I can reach out and take it to consult without moving from the chair. It is essential! It is genius!

Kerr's book Tragedy and Comedy is also an essential text, so fascinating that I reread it every five years or so. It was the late Daws Butler who introduced me to Kerr's Tragedy and Comedy, and I first read Daws's own personal copy he kindly leant me. After reading and returning it, I bought my own copy, as I had to have it to consult, but nothing is cooler than first reading a great book in a copy owned by Daws Butler.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"cshel said...
Although I really enjoyed Midnight In Paris, I don't think it was quite award worthy."

Nor did I, to put it mildly. I posted my review of Midnight in paris, Woody's most-overpriased movie in years.

jbryant said...

D: For what it's worth, when I was a t.a. for film classes in southern Illinois, Lloyd's films almost always generated more laughs than Chaplin's or Keaton's -- not more love, necessarily, just more laughs. I understand that that was true of audiences in the silent era as well, or at least that Lloyd's films made more total profit than Charlie's or Buster's (though to be fair this is partly due to the fact that he made more films than Chaplin).

I've always loved all three for various reasons. Glad I don't have to choose between them.

-bee said...

D. McEwan said:

I'm intrested to see all the love for Harold Lloyd.

Well as one of the people who recommended a Lloyd film, I will say that I DO rate Chaplin and Keaton a bit over Lloyd, but since an aspect of The Artist which many seem to love is the dog, I brought up Lloyd because while Chaplin and Keaton were superlative at working with animals, I think that's one area where Lloyd actually surpassed them a little. There is a scene of Lloyd bringing home a live turkey for dinner in "Hot Water" that should be a classic.

Pat Reeder said...

To D. McEwan:

Your copy of "The Silent Clowns" sounds like mine, sans the Huckleberry Hound connection. I've read it so many times, the dust jacket has disintegrated and half the pages are loose. I may have to scour Amazon for a new copy.

I love his observation about very early silent comedy; that at that time, we'd already had the comedies of Shakespeare, Aristophanes and Shaw, but every new medium has to go through it's "chimps flinging feces at each other" stage. I was also stunned by his story of the film distributor telling him at the height of Harry Landon's stardom that "we'll be dropping the little SOB soon." They saw the end long before Harry did, sadly.

Wish someone would write a really good book just about Langdon. The only one I've ever found was in the Dallas Library. Glad to read it, but it was basically just a bound copy of someone's thesis. Come on, publishers, we're talking a sure-fire bestseller, here!

Jim said...

Are Chaplin shorts not funny? Well they haven't held up well (to put it politely) but if you want to know why Charlie became such a huge star then you have to ask what else was on in the cinemas back in the teens. And the answer to that is not a lot. NOt in quality terms anyway. OK the Sennett comedies are fun for a bit, but it doesn't take long to overdose on pratfalls. French comic Max Linder's work stands up a lot better, but they usually contain two or three decent gags padded out with filler, and they're not the sort of thing that you can sit and watch for hours.

Actually just about the only comedy films from those days that would keep modern audiences occupied for a whole evening are those of Ernst Lubitsch. Try and get hold of the Lubitsch in Berlin DVD set especially the two films starring Ossi Oswalda, The Oyster Princess and I Don't Want To Be a Man. The second of those is probably the weirdest romantic comedy you'll ever see, as the heroine decides that the best way to get the chap she fancies is to disguise herself as a man. But of course being a Lubitsch film it all makes perfect sense.

Pat Reeder said...

The quality of Chaplin's short subjects depends on the era. The early Keystones are typical Sennett slapstick with just a little more artistry to them courtesy of Chaplin. The next batch he did for Essanay were better. Then he finally gained full creative control at Mutual. The so-called Mutual "golden dozen" from 1916-17, like "Easy Street" and "The Cure," are terrific. In his autobiography, "An American Comedy," Harold Lloyd notes that Chaplin ruined it for everyone because before he came along, all you needed for a one-reeler was two gags and a lot of filler. But Chaplin started filling his movies with gags, and that forced all the other comics to up their game.

Remember, if an older comic doesn't seem funny to you, that doesn't necessarily mean that he wasn't good or original. It might just mean that you've seen the same gags repeated too many times by lesser comics who stole them from him.

Amanda said...

I'm 30 and had never watched a silent film before. I loved the trailer for this, so I was looking forward to it for a while. I actually saw it this past weekend (where it was only playing at the artsy theater in my town; it's not playing in a 50-mile radius otherwise, no exaggeration) and I really enjoyed it.

I found that it was an interesting film and I really liked it but there were parts of the 3rd quarter of the film where I felt like it dragged and I started to wonder what they could have edited out. But the last quarter picked up again and the ending made me smile.

I definitely am recommending this film, though I'm finding my friends and coworkers have never heard of it. That's what I get for being the only one in my circle of friends who follows Hollywood news and watches movie trailers all the time, I guess...

Median vahtikoira said...

Love your blog. Keep going. I really admire your writing style.

Johnny Walker said...

Well I'm happy to report that I just returned home from a packed cinema in Liverpool, filled with young and old alike, where it went down a storm.

I heard sniffling from the row of young people behind me, and the young guy to my right was literally perched on the edge of his seat at times.

As for my family, it was a multi-generational success. (I swear we all looked like we'd shed a few tears as we talked about it afterwards -- I know I had.)

It is, as Ken pointed out, an astonishing (and, in this age of digital effects, timely) reminder of the power of the story. A good story with strong characters is "all" you need. Snappy dialogue, beautiful visuals (which isn't to say this film was ugly), special effects, they are all window dressing compared to story and characters.

Anyways, two thumbs up from me!

Scott Mumford said...

Now that we've discussed "The Artist"...let's move on to: "Melancholia"...

Tim Dunleavy said...

Just saw THE ARTIST tonight, and absolutely loved it. As a longtime lover of silent movies, it was thrilling to see them not only make a new one, but make it right.

But I must make one correction and one objection on your post, Ken.

First of all, you describe it as "a film made on foreign soil." In fact, THE ARTIST was shot in and around Los Angeles. I especially liked the scene shot on the metal staircase at the Bradbury Building, which I recognize from dozens of movies. (I kept thinking of James Garner and Carroll O'Connor on those stairs in MARLOWE.)

And my one objection to your post: you described Bérénice Bejo as "a prettier and goofier Anne Hathaway." First of all, there's NO ONE in movies today prettier than Anne Hathaway. And in addition, Ms. Bejo was the one element of the movie I wasn't crazy about. I eventually warmed up to her, but for the first half of the movie she seemed to be trying too hard to act cute. Also, her face looked too sterotypically French for me to accept her as an American named Peppy Miller. (Although I admit I may be influenced by knowing her background ahead of time. I had the same problem trying to accept Greta Garbo as an Englishwoman in her silent film A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS.)

Ike Iszany said...

Here's my thought. If they were playing the best film ever made from the silent film era (with the possible exception of Charlie Chaplin films) at my local cinema, let alone one I have to drive twenty miles to get to, would I go and pay ten bucks to see it? The answer is "No." So why would I go see a modern black and white silent film?

Josh K said...

Ken, I work at a movie theater and am only 19. I was asked to screen the movie and I was thinking i was just going to be bored and fall asleep. Boy was I wrong! It was spectacular. Having never seen a silent film, it was a really nice treat to go abck and see how films began. These days movies tend to be unoriginal and lack creativity in my opinion, but the Artist was a rare treat these days. I say it deserves best picture. I was thouroughly engaged and entertained throughout the entire film. I have ntohing but good to say about The Artist

jbryant said...

Ike: Why does anyone go to see any movie? Because they hear it's good from friends or reviews, or the ads make it look like something they might enjoy. So if THE ARTIST sounds like it might not be your cup of tea because of the story or concept, fine. Don't go. But if you're staying away because it's a black-and-white silent (neither of which have anything to do with the quality of the film), well, that's just dumb.

RCP said...

Finally went to see The Artist and loved everything about it.

And sorry Kim Novak, but the sequence using music from Vertigo was in fact my favorite part - moving me to a tear or two - odd for a he-man.

Gordon Blake said...

As "someone under 40" I have seen precious few silent films, although I have watched a few famous ones such as "Metropolis." As for black and white movies, I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (his first talking film)so I'm not completely ignorant of the good old days.

On a different note, does all this talk about silent films remind anyone of "Singing in the Rain"?

WV: "whourus" conveniently incorporating who, your, and us into one catch-all.

Pat Reeder said...

Ike Iszany said: "If they were playing the best film ever made from the silent film era (with the possible exception of Charlie Chaplin films) at my local cinema, let alone one I have to drive twenty miles to get to, would I go and pay ten bucks to see it? The answer is 'No.' So why would I go see a modern black and white silent film?"

I think the more important question is why you would not pay to see the best film made during a period of more than 25 years of Hollywood's highest artistry, and what there is about you that would lead you to make such a silly and self-defeating decision.

D. McEwan said...

"Ike Iszany said...
Here's my thought. If they were playing the best film ever made from the silent film era (with the possible exception of Charlie Chaplin films) at my local cinema, let alone one I have to drive twenty miles to get to, would I go and pay ten bucks to see it? The answer is 'No.' So why would I go see a modern black and white silent film?"

But why is the answer "no"? You're blanketly cutting yourself off from hundreds of the greatest movies ever made for no observable reason. You won't be sitting in silence, you know. There was ALWAYS music with them. Why would you refuse to see them? Do you loathe yourself? Do you require color and dialogue and noise to keep you from being bored? Are you that shallow and attention-deprived?

One recommendation: since you're limiting yourself only to Chaplin, I should tell you that Keaton's features are better than Chaplin's. If you're only going to watch the silent films from a single artist, go with Keaton. Don't miss The General because you already saw The Gold Rush and met your quota.

cadavra said...

Chris, sorry to be so late in replying, but: exactly. It's clear Eastwood would prefer to make his period films in B&W, but Warners is too chickenshit to let him, so they compromise on that ghastly desaturated color that burns my retinas and savages my soul. Glad I'm not alone on that.

And face it, the world is full of Ikes who'd rather watch Adam Sandler or giant robots than something a little different (never mind good). Roger Ebert often tells of the time someone called asking about SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE. Roger said he thought it was the finest movie of the year. The man replied, "Oh, that doesn't sound like something we'd want to see."

Kelley D. Cadungug, PhD said...

Being in my early twenties, this particular style of film was a first for me. I can now genuinely say that I am a fan -- an amazing movie.

Though I hate to change the subject of your post, I must know, where on earth can I purchase the picture the thumbnail as a poster? A perfect piece of art to complement such a fantastic film.