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Another Film Review

We've made a good head-start this year on actually Seeing Films We Want To See... and there are two new Tim Burtons due this year so hopefully it will continue (Dark Shadows in May and the stop-motion animated (!) remake of Frankenweenie in October).

We went to see The Artist at the Electric on Saturday. Just as well we booked in advance as all three showings were sold out. It was horrendously expensive, though, as we decided to book a sofa and it came to just over £25. I'm sure those sofas were £10 originally. You should at least get a free drink included! Anyway, it did seem the ideal setting for such a film, and the audience actually wanted to be there - I anticipate if it's on beyond a week anywhere else it will be mostly full of ignorant kids who actually aren't interested in the film, or haven't realised what it is.

Anyway. I knew full well what I was going in for and thus was not surprised/disappointed/horrified by the fact that it was (a) black and white or (b) a silent film.

If you are not familiar in any way, shape or form with the history of modern cinema or Hollywood in general, most of the in-jokes and references will go over your head. I'm pretty sure there was plenty I missed myself, but these thoughts will comment on the references and homages I did spot.

The film is about a silent movie star and matinee idol, George Valentin (cf. Rudy Valentino), who refuses to bend to the 'talkie' whims of modern Hollywood, believing that silent films will reign supreme, only to become destitute and temporarily insane. Meanwhile a young protegee, Peppy Miller, rises to stardom and manages to resurrect George's career. Aside from that skeleton I shall now only refer to minor plot points so as not to spoil things completely. :P

The production company for which George (and latterly Peppy) works is entitled Kinograph; Paul missed this reference but I assumed it was to do with the fact that the old film noir directors (Billy Wilder, etc) were European/German (often Jewish) refugees post-war, explaining the dark and cynical tone of their movies - something I vaguely remember from my America Noir module at uni. :) ("Kino" being German for "cinema", obviously.)

George has a dog called Uggy, which most of us interpreted as a reference to Toto in The Wizard of Oz. (The man on the sofa next to ours whispered to his other half when the dog appeared, "That's the Wizard of Oz" - thankfully he didn't continue doing so throughout the rest of the film.)

George's silent co-star (I've forgotten her name now as she was only in the beginning of the film) does the first sound test for Kinograph (we don't hear it, ironically), resulting in George laughing off talkies as redundant, presumably because the woman's voice was awful - which reminded Paul and I of Singing in the Rain, as did a later dance sequence that was very much reminiscent of Fred&Ginger / Gene Kelly / early Hollywood musicals.

Quite obviously, there were a number of references to Sunset Boulevard - I think to make a film about silent films / jaded movie stars / the rise of talkies which didn't reference it would have been sacrilege. I know I personally have a tendency to see SB references where there are none, but I think most of these were obvious...

George has a gigantic portrait of himself at the bottom of the massive staircase in his mansion. (And actually, something about the pose in the portrait also reminded me inexplicably of the ending of Harvey...) At this point I even said to Paul, "That has to be a reference to Norma!" It's such a shame the actual house at 10086 no longer exists, as I'm sure they would even have filmed some of the scenes there; as it transpires, they used Mary Pickford's house (thank you, IMDb, for that snippet). Later on George also has a projector in his apartment showing his old films.

In a bizarre twist of (fan)fiction reflecting reality, Peppy buys all of George's stuff when he auctions it off and hoards it all in a locked room (I gave Norma a similar room in my fic-verse, which was full of her own artefacts and old movie props...)

In the silent film which George writes, directs, produces and stars in ("Salome", anyone??) - and which later flops, obviously - one of the characters is even called Norma! (The actual line is, "Farewell Norma! I never loved you!", which is a bit mean. :P)

Also Paul thinks that Peppy's real name was actually Betty (cf. Shaeffer) as that's what he read it as when she wrote down her phone number, but I'm not quite sure on that myself.

Other, more general, references include: the opening sequence of George's film where the character is being interrogated by Russians via electricity into his brain (reminscent of Metropolis to me, although I've not seen it yet), and generally looking like a 1920's silent-movie version of James Bond; Peppy saying the words, "I want to be alone" (the most famous misquote in history); etc. I've actually forgotten most of them now, and as I say, there may be more that went over my head...

Aside from the homages, the film was actually funny in and of itself. Not as hilariously funny as the Electric's audience would have you believe (“Look how I am laughing at this because I get it.”), but certainly worth a few giggles. The humour, as Paul pointed out after, is very French (as it would be, being a French-produced film) - quite visual and subtle, though oddly, I can't remember any particular references to the sort of slapstick employed by the likes of Chaplin or Keaton... The music is amazing, and very much reflects the period; it's beautifully shot in the screen dimensions of the time, without resorting to computer-generated 'noise' or scratches.

Overall: highly recommended.

This weekend has gone much too quickly. Before the film on Saturday Paul was at his business course again and I tidied the bedroom a bit (dusting / hovering) before going to meet him at the cinema, then we went to Wagamama for tea. Sunday was very lazy indeed because we were both shattered.

Back to the gym today, so let’s hope it doesn’t kill me as I haven’t been since October. :(

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
cloudsinvenice
Jan. 16th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
Nice review - and I bet you're right about the extent of the SB references... still haven't seen it myself, though! (The Artist, that is...)
teylaminh
Jan. 16th, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
It's definitely worth a viewing. :) I think you and Rem will love it. :D

I want to re-watch in case there are any other, more subtle, SB references that I might have missed or forgotten to mention... and actually as I write that I've just remembered another - George's butler signing photographs of him for the benefit of posting to fans. :) (Not quite the same as Max writing fanmail but close enough!)
cinematixyz
Jan. 19th, 2012 12:05 am (UTC)
Can't WAIT to see 'The Artist'. Really Excited about it!!

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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