Sunday, February 26, 2012

Artist, War Horse, meh

Just back from watching The Artist and must confess to deep disappointment. And I say this not only because it's up for all those Oscars and has swept all the other awards until now into its little kitty. What was the fuss about, really?

Yeah, it has clever, nice tips of the hat to Sunset Boulevard ("I never loved you, Norma") and Singin' on the Rain, and ok, I get that the dog is cute, but dear god, what a waste of an opportunity! It's even reasonably clever in the use of limited sync sound, and the moments when it chooses to be self-referential ("I won't speak. I won't say a word" is the very first inter title, very appropriately) such as the restaurant scene when Miller - her back to Valentine - is being interviewed. Despite all that, it's a dull film.

I think the reason it failed is because it looks for inspiration and pays homage to a very self-conscious cinema at the adolescence of the sound era that harks back to its own (very-recent) history when it should have been looking to silent cinema. It had Murnau, Stroheim, Keaton (and yes, Harold Lloyd) to drawn on and it ignored all of them in favour of - what? No, really, what? - nothing very special.

Not even the gag that averted the suicide at the end raised a laugh in the audience (though I'll concede there were some chuckles) and that told me everything I needed to know. That laugh was supposed to be the post-climactic tension-relieving laughter and the hall was mostly silent. It's not that the audience didn't get it; it's that they clearly didn't care enough to need the relief of laughter afterwards.

Imagine the same scene in the hands of Griffith.

There were other annoying things about the film: Miller's inspired solution to the problem of a silent film star making it in the new world was not just implausible, it was also unbelievably providential. And the idea came to We are given no clue. And the nice, feudal driver who refuses to be sacked and turns up every time afterwards when he's needed most? Sickening. Even Valentine's shadow had a more independent existence.

I want to say, In those days we had films.

This was just a fast-fading nap-time dream.


I realise this might be the time to get War Horse out of the way. What can I say? It was vintage Spielberg. The kid loved it, it hit all the emotional and plot arcs we're told are necessary. It wrung my son's heart and elated him and I suppose that's a good thing. It was this generation's International Velvet.

Me, I was mostly unmoved. Actually, strike that. All those blood-red susets (which, as Baradwaj Rangan rightly pointed out, were pure Gone With the Wind) and backlit trenches that made war and its aftermath look immensely beautiful, made me ill. And all those good people! I mean, it makes you ask how there ever was a war when everyone was so fucking nice all the time.

For me, again, meh. (Though the kid loved the film).


Cheshire Cat said...

"The Artist" is like "Chocolat" - a trifle, confectionery, a piece of kitsch. Hating it would be like hating the dog.

km said...

The success of "The Artist" really confused me. Homage to the Golden Era, B&W and Silent films is not exactly a new thing. And even as homages go, others have done it with much better. I thought it can be best enjoyed as a a tribute to a homage to a parody of a copy.

But what are people seeing in this film? (When I saw it, some people stood up to applaud at the very end.)

Aisha said...

I have a War Horse review you will enjoy if you haven't already seen it. It is here:

Space Bar said...

cat: no, of course it's not even worth hating.

km: i honestly have no idea. the more i think about it, the more smug the film seems.

aiha: ooh! nice! (that bit between the teeth....) :D (and I hadn't, so thanks).

JP said...

I watched the artist and I thought it was like its heroine: cute at first, but then tiring in a too-many-teeth, too-little-else sort of way.