The Artist (2011): Nouvea Old

I will freely admit that I am not completely up on recent ‘silent films‘ or even silent films that are also in “Black and White.” The last modern silent film that I watched was Mel Brooks‘ 1976 Silent Movie. Now Mel didn’t opt to film his silent comedy in back and white (he’d done that already in his 1974 Young Frankenstein).

Interestingly Young Frankenstein was actually shot entirely on black and white film stock, which was still available in 1974. By the time that The Artist hit our screens in 2011, it had to be shot in colour first and then presented in ‘black and white’ although purists will argue that the film was actually presented in Sepia as Black and White is actually crisper.

Written and directed by Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist stars  Jean DujardinBérénice BejoJohn GoodmanJames CromwellPenelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle.

Despite this being a star heavy vehicle, be rest assured that the film belongs solidly to Dujardin and Bejo (wife of Hazanavicius). Shot for 15 million dollars the film has grossed ,to date, over 133 million at the box office.

Français : Jean Dujardin au festival de Cannes

The story of The Artist is an old one. George Valentin ( Jean Dujardin) is a huge star. In the silent cinema world depicted in the film he is a cross between Douglas Fairbanks, Charley Chaplin and William Powell (as Nick Charles in the Thin Man series).

That actor  Dujardin is a more than capable actor can be evidenced by his winning the Best Actor Award in Hollywood for his work in the film.  A film that, incidentally, he only ever ‘says’ two words in and that’s at the end of the movie.

It is during a premier of his latest film that Valentin ‘bumps’ into young aspiring starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the publicity that arises from that chance occurrence helps Peppy get her career started.

As her star rises, Valentin’s is on a downward spiral after studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) tells George that ‘sound will be the next big thing’ and that the studios are going to pursue it. Valentin lets Zimmer know that there is no way that he will be working in ‘talkie’s.’ He leaves the studio and prepares his next film which will be a silent.

Français : Berenice Bejo au festival de Cannes

Just as his film is to premier, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 causes George to go bankrupt. In the meantime, Peppy’s career is going from strength to strength. I adored the look of the film and it’s faux black and white cinematography is crisp and luscious. The film ‘felt’ like the old silent films and it helped to sell the story.

But in the film just before George starts production on his first silent movie, he is sitting in front of his dressing table. He takes a sip from his glass and when he sets it down it makes a noise. He is stunned.

In George’s world there is no sound. As the sounds begin to creep in on his world, George tries to speak but nothing comes out. George panics and begins silently screaming for help. He runs outside where silence controls the world. A large feather floats down through the air and as it hits the ground a huge banging is heard. George’s eyes immediately open. he has been dreaming.

This for me was when the film surpassed being clever, well written and well acted. This moment in the film elevated it into sheer genius. It is no wonder that it received so many nominations and won so many awards.

I am not sure how it would have faired at the cinema. Audiences today are not used to actually having to ‘watch’ a film. It could be argued that they don’t even really ‘listen’ to them. With the wide spread use of soundtracks that are so loud that they drown out the actors, I can only assume that it is the explosions, gunfire and screams of the dying that tell the average movie goer where they are at in the film.

Despite the obvious success of the film upon release (just look at the box office returns) it worked better for me on the DVD player at. I could set in the privacy of my own home and listen to the ‘dramatic’ mood music provided and get really carried away in the story.

Excellently written, acted and filmed, this is one film that, if you missed it at the cinema, you’ll shoot yourself if you miss the maiden DVD run.

This film is entertainment with a capital E. Please don’t miss it.

George Carlin (b:May 12, 1937 – d:June 22, 2008) George WAS the MAN

Playin' with Your Head
Playin’ with Your Head (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world lost a brilliant comedian when George Denis Patrick Carlin died. But George wasn’t just a comedian. He was a talented actor (Dogma, Car Wash, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) a master satirist, and author. He won five grammy awards for his comedy albums.

That’s right I said albums.  Back in the day, before cd’s and dvd’s and mp3’s we old folks used to listen to music on plastic or vinyl  records. Comics like George would put out comedy albums of their live performances. The oldie goldies maintained their popularity and their visibility through this medium.

Guys like Richard Pryor, Redd Fox, Steve Martin and even Robin Williams all did albums. They also started the same way. Working the comedy clubs and hoping that one day they would be able to perform in Vegas. Interestingly all the above mentioned comics did work on television. But Pryor and George were too raw for television. TV watered them down and they suffered for it.

No, these guys, these demi-gods who had the power and intelligence to make anyone see the absurdities of life and  the humour that we face in our everyday existence worked best live and on-stage. And the one comic who was the Man, the unadulterated master of this was George Carlin.

He started out playing the clubs. He was brilliant, he gave us the Hippy Dippy Weather man, Wonderful Wino Radio, and more. He was the man who was thrown off the stage in Las Vegas because he said the word shit in his act. This occurrence opened a door for George, it gave him the ammunition he needed to create his ‘Seven Dirty Words’ routine.

Classic Gold (album)
Classic Gold (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Seven Dirty Words evolved into ‘Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television’ and over the years the list got longer and funnier. George had the capability to make our fears and prejudices funny. He wrote a poem about beards during a time when long hair and beards were seen to be a bad thing.

His acts poked fun at God, politics, the constitution, law and our rights. Nothing was sacrosanct or taboo to George and we loved him for it. George constantly worked and he used to ‘guest host’ The Tonight Show regularly. He was the host of the first ever Saturday Night Live. He also did a yearly HBO special right up until four months before his death.

So lets take a moment to remember the irreverent genius that was George Carlin as we approach the anniversary of his passing. And while you are at it, recite to yourself, internally or out loud, which would be much funnier, the list of Seven words. In case you’ve forgotten or have never heard it, here it is courtesy of Wikipedia:

“ Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war. ”
—George Carlin, Class Clown, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”

So here’s to you George you definitely brought a lot the party we call life. I hope that where ever you went after you left us, they appreciate you as much as we did.

Last Words (book)
Last Words (book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)