The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My visit to The Artist after the fuss was over

with 24 comments

It didn’t take long after the Oscar nominations were announced before the backlash against The Artist began.

From what I picked up it was quite forceful and the criticism came from two different sides joint in an unholy alliance.

On one hand we had the mainstream lovers who argued that it was too slow and didn’t work for a normal audience. It was a silent film! In black and white! The Academy was out of touch with reality when they gave an award shower to a movie no one would like to see anyway.

On the other hand we had the film connoisseurs who will take success at the box office as a recommendation NOT to see a movie. If you asked them, The Artist was just a pale copy of the “real” silent movies. They dismissed it as slight and gimmicky, unworthy all the praise.

As so often when it comes to foreign movies, I’m late to the party.  I missed out the first wave of enthusiasm at the launch as well as the following wave of negativism. By the time I finally got the chance to watch The Artist, the community spotlight had moved somewhere else and I could make up my mind in peace and quiet.

Falling in love
However in this case I didn’t need to participate in the discussions to make up my mind. I knew exactly where I was and what I felt. I was in love.

Almost two weeks after I saw it (yes, this review has been on hold for a while), I start smiling if you as much as mention The Artist and my stomach goes all fuzzy and warm. I hear the soundtrack playing and it all plays up again in my head.

I think of the dog, the most adorable dog I’ve seen on a theatre screen for years, challenged only by Arthur in Beginners. I sense the bittersweet taste of the sadness and beauty and inevitability of the passing of time, just like in The Illusionist, but with a brighter lining. Glimpses from film history flash by my inward eye. I think of joy and love and laughter and dancing numbers and it makes me feel as sparkling and festive as a glass of champagne.

I think about my love for movies and filmmaking and how this love unites me with people, people who live across the ocean, people who lived a century ago and it fills me with a sense of wonder.

An underlying message?
Is The Artist manipulative? Is this outburst of nostalgia Hollywood’s desperate attempt to make people remember why they liked movies in the first place in the hope that they might want to go to theatres a little more often, rather than downloading them to a crappy computer screen for free?

Or is there perhaps a cunning, underlying message to us that we should embrace whatever new that comes and we’ll one day think of 3D movies as natural, just like what happened in the transition from silent film to films with sound?

Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.

And you know what? I don’t care.

Hollywood can manipulate me as much as they like as long as they do it well and convincing and let me believe that there’s a big, warm, pounding heart behind all of it.

The Artist left me with a smile on my face, a lust to explore the history of film, and an irresistible urge to burst into tap dancing.

I couldn’t really ask for more.

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, FR, 2011) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

April 3, 2012 at 1:00 am

24 Responses

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  1. I don’t dismiss this film as slight and gimmicky. I dismiss it as a shallow story with superficial characters that don’t undergo any meaningful change. I don’t deny it’s charming and sweet, I just don’t think it has anything of substance behind it.

    James Blake Ewing

    April 3, 2012 at 4:55 am

    • Well… I actually do think it’s more than just charming and sweet. I think it conveys the fear of aging, the fear of the new, how fragile the little success we can build up in our lives is. It’s obviously not Bergman but I wouldn’t call it more shallow than the average movie, rather the opposite.


      April 3, 2012 at 7:56 am

  2. Nicely written. What’s your take on the “innovativeness” (is that even a word? Well, it is now) of The Artist? Is it daring and new to make a silet movie in this day of age?


    April 3, 2012 at 5:54 am

    • Thanks! And to your question: while this isn’t the first movie about the transition from silent film to sound film, I’d still say: hell, yeah! I think you need to take the time we live in into consideration. I think it’s pretty bold to try to expose the ordinary movie goer of today to a brand new silent film (or at least mostly silent film). It wasn’t a granted success.


      April 3, 2012 at 8:00 am

      • I definitely agree on the boldness, I’m just a bit qurious about all those who claims it to be “nyskapande” (don’t really know a good english translation, “original” does not quite cut it) as well.


        April 4, 2012 at 6:02 am

        • “Groundbreaking” perhaps? And no, I suppose it wasn’t strictly speaking. But it certainly stood out.


          April 4, 2012 at 7:08 am

  3. With the last point there’s something I feel I should point out. While the transition from black and white to color or from silent to audio did affect certain people pretty strongly (colorblind for the former, deaf for the latter, though they still missed out on the soundtracks that were part of the silent movie experience.) 3D for example is known to actually cause illness in some people. It can mess with their equilibrium, cause headaches, nausea, and in extreme cases even throw body chemistry out of proportion.

    These kinds of problems are one of the biggest hurdles in 3D and Virtual Reality from what I understand (particularly with the latter.) I think the movie Avatar (the one with the blue kitty people) hit on why a bit, it has to do with the fact your body is trying to adjust to what it sees and if it’s not exactly catered to -you- it could cause death. Lets say you were 3 inches taller, so much subconcious stuff is affected from how you walk, to how hard the heart has to pump to get adequate blood to your toes, etc. . . .and some people are affected by this sort of thing far worse than others.

    Holly "Digit" Dotson

    April 3, 2012 at 8:58 am

    • Well… I guess it also depends on what you’re aiming for. I remember when 3d was something that mainly was shown at amusement parks where you experienced crazy car rides, rollercoasters etc. That made me feel sea sick. It still does. I can’t go with the smallest merry-go-round without feeling it and on a 3D screen it’s no difference. However when it comes to normal movies I’ve never felt bad.
      I enjoyed the 3D in Avatar pretty much. I HATED it in John Carter, where it was horrendously badly done.

      Regardless of physical effects or not: for my own part I’m a little bit sceptical to the claims that 3D will become the equivalent of sound film. But of course I might very well be completely wrong. Life has taught me to be a bit humble in my predictions. You never know.


      April 3, 2012 at 9:07 am

  4. Great thoughts about a great film, my favourite film that I have seen so far in 2012. I will give you bonus points for mentioning Beginners as well, my favourite film of 2011. I’d forgotten about Arthur the dog! Some of The Artist may be a bit gimicky, but it all adds to the charm, the dream sequence with sound would be a great example. Overall, it is the great performances of Dujardin and Bejo that make the Artist so good, all the effects or novel film techniques in the world can’t rescue a film if the leads aren’t up to scratch.

    Russell Betney

    April 3, 2012 at 9:41 am

    • Thanks! Oh yes, Beginners was way up on my top list for 2011, a wonderful film that I think got a little bit overlooked by the community.

      The casting was brilliant. It’s wonderful how much you can convey wihtout the use of words. But again: they say that the things we express with our bodies and faces is major part when we communicate with other people.


      April 3, 2012 at 10:17 am

  5. A story I wouldn’t probably normally be drawn to told in an interesting and fun style gifted by great performances. Forget the backlash, The Artist is special and unique (for now!)


    April 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

    • It really stood out and I think I’ll remember it for this if you ask me about it in a few years.


      April 3, 2012 at 10:19 am

  6. Nice to see you still falling in love with it even after all of the hype that went with it.

    Great write up Jessica,

  7. I enjoyed it quite a bit but couldn’t quite love it as you did. It’s lovely to read, though, how it so charmed you. What a fantastic experience that is, falling in love with a film!

    • Thanks! Yes, it was one of those occasions when I came back bubbling of enthusiasm. I met up with my husband and a friend who had watched a French movie, Elle, instead. And I felt as if I had pulled the long straw.


      April 4, 2012 at 7:06 am

  8. I didn’t like this movie as much as you did (though I did like it). But I’m really glad you loved it as much as you did. Great post.


    April 4, 2012 at 5:13 am

  9. Good review. I had The Artist as my top film of 2011. I wrote my review before it won, but even then it was already getting criticism because it was the expected winner. I explicitely address the whole “gimmick” argument in my review. You can read it here, if you are interested:


    April 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    • Well spoken from the soapbox. I haven’t had the chance to see the movie until now, but I’m all with you.


      April 6, 2012 at 7:50 am

  10. […] recently decided to watch and write about The Artist, after the award season […]

  11. […] Perhaps it’s fitting that on the week I was waist-deep in silent film, that Jessica finally caught up with THE ARTIST. […]

  12. […] 10. The Artist It was a love letter to the world of movies, surprisingly fun and entertaining, and I enjoyed every moment of it. […]

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