The Artist (France-Belguim, 2011)

They (still) don't make them like they used to

It’s rare to see long queues at Bradford’s art cinema, Pictureville, but The Artist was still packing them in a week after it went on general release. I guess the novelty value (if you didn’t know it’s a silent, black and white movie) and the superbly realised, if simple, narrative has generated great ‘word of mouth’. A solid diet of mainstream Hollywood is likely to give most people a hankering for difference, and writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’ ‘dream’ project is certainly unusual.

I don’t mean to sound… mean, as it’s pleasing to see difference do well, but this is simply a novelty film. Hazanavicius’ OSS117 films were very successful in France, parodying spy movies of the ’60s and ’70s (I haven’t seen them). The best parodies are affectionate, and he clearly has great affection for silent Hollywood. And, as he says in an interview in January’s Sight & Sound, he had no problem using ’40s (expressionist) lighting for a dream sequence; so he’s simply offering a pastiche of ‘old’ film-making. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

He’s also recycled the A Star is Born narrative and we find ourselves in a number of movies, including Singin’ in the Rain (itself a pastiche) and Fairbanks’ Zorro movies. There’s the ‘postmodern’ ‘joy’ (I know I’m ‘over’ apostrophying but that is/was postmodernism folks!) in reliving the naive narratives of the past where dogs can ‘save the day’, mined successfully by Lucas and Spielberg, but I don’t want to diet on it too often.