The Artist is a glossy, black and white valentine that I loved. It creatively echoes Singin' in the Rain, the 1952 MGM musical comedy directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly and starring Gene Kelly as a lovably vain silent screen star in 1920s Hollywood right at the brink of the sound revolution.
, a French production boldly and beautifully shot in black and white, is predominantly silent just like the films of the 1920s. Here, silence is golden. The Artist is a film young acting students and wannabe filmmakers need to see. Steven Spielberg told AFI (American Film Institute) "I don't get a lot of answers that give me comfort" when he asks young people what films they like from the 1930s and 40s, the black and white days. In a clip that's on YouTube, Spielberg went on to say that studying the classics, the movies made before the 1960s, is crucial to your craft. I have heard sentiments similar to Spielberg's come from casting directors in New York City. One said, "It's the American Idol generation. They don't want to do the work. They just want the fastest route to a red carpet." The Artist, what the self-absorbed George publicly labels himself as being, falls in love with Peppy Miller after he discovers her. Bérénice Bejo scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work as the Peppy, the determined dancer who becomes a Hollywood sensation in this film-within-a-film story.
and some silent films starring Louise Brooks, Clara Bow or early Joan Crawford? Peppy is not going to move like women on TV's The Bachelor or a show like Glee. This is a different era, a different tone. Dress was different. Make-up style was different. The women in a Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton silent 1920s comedy will not be outfitted like they're on Whitney. Trust me on this. Do your homework. Make Mr. Spielberg proud. In The Artist, George's star falls as Peppy's ascends. A few critics have compared that element to A Star Is Born. I'd say it's more What Price Hollywood?, the 1932 RKO film directed by George Cukor. Constance Bennett was Mary Evans, a waitress hungry for movie stardom. An alcoholic director discovers her. He hits the skids as her movie career skyrockets. Peppy Miller is called "The Girl You'll Love To Love." Mary Evans is called "America's Pal."
In A Star Is Born, the 1937 original directed by William Wellman and the superior 1954 remake directed by George Cukor with Judy Garland and James Mason, the woman who becomes a star has a love for the suffering actor who discovered her that eclipses her need to be a star. She'll walk away from movies to help him put his life back together. Peppy will help her down-and-out actor/director love, but she won't quit movies to do so. In What Price Hollywood? and in The Artist, one of the lead characters gets hit with a divorce. Not so in A Star Is Born. The Artist is a big French kiss to classic movie-lovers and classic movies, especially MGM musicals from the famed Freed unit with screenplays by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. First, there's the obvious similarity to Comden & Green's Singin' in the Rain with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. Millard Mitchell (in the middle of the pic below) plays producer RF Simpson, a loving send-up of Oscar winning MGM movie producer and songwriter Arthur Freed. One of the songs Freed wrote -- "Singin' in the Rain."
is well-played by John Goodman.
A major lesson to be learned by George the Artist calls to mind another marvelous gem in the MGM musical crown that's, again, a Freed unit musical with a screenplay by Comden & Green. In The Band Wagon, Fred Astaire at the top of his game plays Tony Hunter. Hunter, a Hollywood musical star since the 1930s, is in a bit of a career lull. He accepts an offer to reinvent himself in a new 1950s Broadway musical. He's riddled with self doubt as he meets with its husband and wife writing team and the show's Ascot-wearing director. When the director calls Tony an "artist," Tony counters with "...I'm just an entertainer." The quartet then launches into the movie's joyous anthem, "That's Entertainment."
Movie audiences grow cold to George's arrogance. His vanity project jungle movie flops. He must learn to become, like Tony Hunter in The Band Wagon, "...just an entertainer." Peppy is an entertainer. She packs the movie houses. George has not been one to share the spotlight. He was a self-centered star onscreen and off. He could be a selfish jerk...like Gene Kelly in Freed's For Me and My Gal starring Judy Garland. Will George learn humility? Or will he cling to the past in fear and drink himself into oblivion now that movies can talk? "I'm washed up. No one wants to see me speak."
says so much in so many clever ways. It's a tale of transitions. From silent movies to sound. From vanity project to team work. Plus it has a movie pooch that takes its place alongside Asta from The Thin Man and Toto from Freed's The Wizard of Oz. This is a must-see for classic film fans. And future filmmakers. Gene Kelly's artistry helped Arthur Freed's An American in Paris win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1951. It was all shot in Hollywood. A Parisian in America, director and writer Michel Hazanavicius, made a great valentine to the art -- and the entertainment -- Hollywood gave us. Bravo, Michel, on your 10 Oscar nominations.
One more thing: There's a cameo appearance by veteran actor Malcolm McDowell early in The Artist.
Actress Kim Novak made entertainment news by saying that she felt "raped" when she saw a sequence in The Artist using a Bernard Herrmann love theme from the soundtrack of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. She starred in that 1958 classic. It's a film that was appreciated more by the French when it was released than here in America, by the way. In Stanley Kubrick's controversial and hugely popular 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange, McDowell starred as Alex. Alex likes "a bit of the ultra-violence." He violates a woman to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain." The MGM musical is referenced in Kubrick's futuristic film. Gene Kelly's recording of "Singin' in the Rain" is on the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack. I can't recall Kelly saying that he felt raped. And there you have it.