The Artist: Homages, tributes and shoutouts

In my 2011 Year-End List, I chose The Artist as one of the 2011 movies I was dying to see but couldn’t until 2012. Well, I did get to see it — twice! — and I have to say it’s one of my favorite movies of last yearthis year…any year. I even modified my banner…yeah, it’s that good.

The film offers a special thrill for fans of classic movies, because it pays tribute to them, yet it’s thoroughly modern. Without giving too much away, I noted homages to classics like Sunset Boulevard, A Star Is Born, and Singing in the Rain (see below). Director Michel Hazanavicius shot at 22 frames per second, instead of the standard 24, to give the film a little of the jumpiness so characteristic of silent movies. Music is used more centrally than in a sound film, to emphasize moods or events. But the way sound is used and the way shots are framed are thoroughly 21st century. Also, it is a rare silent that has the high contrast of the deep blacks and crisp whites that Hazanavicius and his DP, Guilllaume Schiffman, were able to produce. I don’t want to say too much because I want everyone to see this movie on the big screen if possible…but even at home, it’ll still be stunning.

I so love seeing a movie made by people who love classic movies that I decided to try to put all the references I could think of together. NB: I have a complex about spoiling things for people…I hate to do it! So: There may be spoilers below…if you haven’t seen The Artist you might want to wait until you see it…and then come back and add the movie references you find! I know I’ve missed some.

Poster - A Star Is Born (1937)

The basic idea that propels the film is familiar to viewers of all three versions of A Star Is Born: a young woman who wants to be an actress (Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo) works her way up from extra to top-billed talent, aided greatly by an established actor (George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin), whom she meets in a chance encounter. Her career skyrockets while his is fading. TCM is running the 1937 and 1954 versions of Star on Feb. 26, so if there are any more specific points in common I’ve missed, I might be able to pick them up then.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) and Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in the screening room

The Artist shares a thread with Sunset Boulevard: The proud (though faded) star who is disdainful of change and has a kind chauffeur. Like Norma Desmond (silent star Gloria Swanson), George Valentin has no use for talkies. Both like to relive their pre-talkie glory days by watching their old movies. I can see him nodding vigorously in agreement as she declaims, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small” or “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” Unlike the protagonists in the above-named films, thank goodness George is ultimately a more sane and hopeful figure.

The Artist takes place at around the same time Singin’ in the Rain is set, and in the same context, and there are quite a few similarities between the two films. Like Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), George has an acting partner, Constance (Missi Pyle), whose transition to talkies was rough. Her sound test reminded me a lot of the work done by Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) in Singin’ (above). Kelly as an actor seems to have been a major influence. Dujardin gives George the same athletic style of movement as Kelly. I wish I could have found a still of Dujardin in the swordfight scene; with the thin moustache. he really resembles Kelly as D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1948) or in The Dueling Cavalier (the movie within a movie in Singin’).

Early in The Artist, the scene where George is having breakfast with his disapproving soon-to-be ex-wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) references the breakfast montage in Citizen Kane. Hazanavicius’ use of mirrors reminds me a lot of Kane. Also, when George finds a room full of belongings that he had to sell (that’s all I’m going to say), it reminded me of the shot at the end of Kane, depicting the dead man’s vast and largely meaningless collection of stuff.

In Charlie Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life, The Little Tramp’s dog is always getting his human out of a jam, as is George’s dog (played by Uggie). I know there are probably references to other silent films, especially the staircase scene where George, on his way down, meets Peppy, on her way up. I have a lot to learn about silents though, so I will have to discover them as I work through them. Many thanks to @tpjost, for his help with this post. If you want to learn or talk about silents, definitely follow him on Twitter.

UPDATE: From sharp-eyed and knowledgeable film fans @caralluch and @Kinetograph (you really should follow them :)): The dance number at the end of The Artist is a lot like Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell’s tapdance to “Begin the Beguine” in The Broadway Melody of 1940. Also, @caralluch alerted me to Hazanvicius’ use of mirrors, which recalls Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise. And, though @Kinetograph wasn’t the first to notice the use of part of Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo score in the scene where Peppy drives frantically across town to save George, he did give me the heads-up on that and also similarities with 7th Heaven, which I haven’t seen. So there are more specifics in the works.

UPDATE: Vincent from Carole & Co (dedicated to the fabulous Lombard) has written a great review of The Artist that includes some similarities that I missed.

What do you all think? What did movie references in The Artist I miss? Let me know below 🙂

January Movies (whew!)

I seem to be perpetually short on time so I thought I’d make a nice list instead of those long, drawn-out posts I like so much 😉

Dude, get out of there! Hurry!

I really liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (4 out of 5 stars). I usually like espionage movies, and of course there is the cast (some of whom are wearing some pretty great suits). Even if just any two of these guys was in it, I’d have gone, plus I am no longer ignorant of Benedict Cumberbatch. (Don’t judge the gaps in my knowledge! OK, go ahead…but at least leave a comment.) There isn’t a lot of shoot-’em-up behavior, but it is suspenseful nonetheless, especially if you get nervous when spies are spying on each other. Shoot-’em-up is fine too, though. This Means War? I’m so there.

I really liked Shame, but in a different way (4.5 out of 5 stars). It’s nearly perfect in itself but I don’t think I could see it again. I found it as depressing as I thought it would be from reading the script, although a lot of stuff in the version I read didn’t make it into the finished film. There’s no question that Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan deserved Oscar nominations. Both actors suggested so much in a non-showy way, without much dialogue, and I believe those performances are actually what kept Academy voters away (in addition to the subject matter). I’d have given it 5 stars if there had been just a little bit more backstory about Brandon and Sissy. What is the significance of “New York, New York?” Why is Brandon obsessed with the Standard Hotel? You know that cool girl in your high school that wore vintage years before it was cool and always looked fabulous? That’s Sissy…but what happened to her after that? You won’t find out in this interview Fassbender did on Canadian TV show The Hour but I’m throwing it in here because it’s pretty interesting.

Charlotte Rampling as Mary (center)

I really liked The Mill and The Cross (4 out of 5 stars). I wish there was a movie like this for every painting. It’s difficult to describe it. Again…not a lot of dialogue. It basically shows Brueghel’s (Rutger Hauer) inspiration for each figure and situation in the work. It’s a meditation on the creative process, a record of the human condition in Flanders in the 16th century (hint: lousy), an invective on humanity’s inhumanity, and a powerful statement in favor of the separation of church and state. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, definitely go. Much will be lost on even the biggest home TV.

I loved The Artist (5 out of 5 stars), it’s just brilliant. It’s also laden with homages and tributes to Old Hollywood and the early 20th-century silents — a feast for classic movie fans. Still working on a larger post on this theme.

This month I also decided there should be ejector seats in cinemas (5 out of 5 stars). People who are talking/yelling, chomping loudly on gum, crinkling candy wrappers, talking on a cell phone, texting, tweeting or IMing can be removed in a speedy and efficient manner. Alternatively, should ejector seats prove too costly, perhaps two auditoriums can show the movie at the same time — talkers in one, silent types in the other. I’m kidding…sort of 😉 The stillness of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Mill and The Cross was almost wrecked. That was my non-classic moviegoing month of January 2012, how was yours?




Review: A Dangerous Method

I was a bit reluctant to see A Dangerous Method. Carl Jung’s ideas about the collective unconscious, synchronicity, archetypes, and the anima/animus were revolutionary at the time and still make a lot of sense to me. If you’ve ever taken a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that’s based on Jung’s concept of extroverted vs. introverted personalities. But the trailer sort of made it seem like I was going to have to title this review “Carl Jung Did More Than Feud with Freud and Sleep with His Patients.” Though Jung did have differences (and a messy breakup) with his onetime mentor Sigmund Freud, and at least two extra-marital relationships, there is so much more to the life and work of one of the 20th century’s greatest minds. And thankfully, A Dangerous Method is a better film than its trailer.

It is true, Jung was unique in his time for his emphasis of feminine consciousness, and he had many female patients, students, and colleagues, many of whom worked closely with him when they became analysts and/or researchers in their own right, well before women were the norm in the field. Method is about the relationships between Jung (Michael Fassbender); a woman who was all of the above plus Jung’s mistress, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley); and both of their relationships, a kind of intellectual triangle, with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Also in the mix are a couple of polar opposites —Emma, Jung’s rather uptight wife (Sara Gadon), who knows all, and Otto Gross, a libertine student of Freud’s (Vincent Cassel), who avoids repression of any urge.

Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein.

Sabina Spielrein was the first patient Jung attempted to cure with Freud’s “talking cure,” the basis of modern psychoanalysis. The danger of this method is transference, in which the patient transfers their feelings, often romantic or erotic feelings, to the therapist. The film opens as she’s in the midst of a nervous breakdown, being admitted to the Burghölzli, a psychiatric hospital at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where Jung is assistant director. She’s volatile and disturbed, but she’s smart and educated, not to mention beautiful, and she responds well. Because her stated ambition is to become a doctor, she is soon helping Jung with his research, while he’s still treating her. She is admitted to a university and they work together. Eventually, Jung and Speilrein become lovers.

Freud and Jung before it all went downhill.

At the beginning of the film, Jung and Freud haven’t yet met. When they do, they have a 17-hour conversation and Jung is deemed heir apparent to Freud. “I’ve simply opened a door,” Freud tells Jung. “It’s for the young men like yourself to walk through it.” But as their collaboration continues, it seems like Freud would rather slam the door shut than let Jung take over. Freud thinks all neurosis has a sexual cause, and Jung believes that there are other factors, including spirituality and individual personality. Freud, almost 20 years older and set in his ways, is more and more reluctant to hear the younger man’s ideas. We see the authoritarian, almost tyrannical, side of him, and the cold and ruthless streak in Jung. Spielrein is caught in the middle — her love is with Jung but her mind takes her nearer to Freud.

The acting is uniformly great. Fassbender and Mortenson are excellent of course. Gadon is appropriately controlled. Cassel has an interesting cameo as Gross, who sets the stage for Jung and Spielrein’s relationship. Gross seems like a representation of Jung’s desires; we never see him talking to anyone else and he says so many things that Jung wants to hear.

But the real surprise to me was Keira Knightley. She shows you Sabina’s struggle, intelligence,  and persistence. Even when she’s in full breakdown mode, she manages to suggest that there’s something more there, whatever it was that allowed a mental patient to become an analyst herself. I even liked her accent. I figure that’s what a Russian immigrant in Switzerland would sound like. I thought she deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination but with the field so crowded with excellent performances, I knew it was a long shot.

Jung’s ideas are fairly abstract but the movie does a good, if somewhat sensationalized, job of explaining both his and Freud’s ideas. Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay, an adaptation of his own play The Talking Cure, sometimes using Jung’s and Freud’s exact words. The language is beautiful and delivered well, be it smooth, violent, or repressed. Ultimately the film is beautifully shot but never fully sheds its stage-play origins. That’s a small price to pay though, when you’re witnessing a revolution.

PS: If anybody wants to read up on Jung, I highly recommend Introducing Jung written by Maggie Hyde and illustrated by Michael McGuinness. It’s like a comic book and it really explains things in an effective and painless way.





2011 Year-End List

How is that for a generic blog post title? The thing is, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of year-end “Best and Worst Lists” out there that I completely agree with, and chances are, you’ve probably already read those. So here is a little bit quirkier, non-standard list.

  1. Film that unintentionally emphasizes the importance of hand sanitizer Shame
  2. Movies I liked that prove I’m not too picky The Three Musketeers (2011). Cowboys and Aliens
  3. Sequel that prompted me to check out the first installment in the series Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  4. 2011 movies I’ve haven’t seen yet but want to Moneyball. Young Adult. Drive. The Ides of March. Warrior. Melancholia. 50/50. The Guard
  5. 2011 movies I’m dying to see but couldn’t until 2012 (and still haven’t) A Dangerous Method. Haywire. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The Artist. The Mill and The Cross.
  6. Possibly the hugest disappointment The Green Hornet. I still don’t know what happened there.
  7. My most anticipated movies of 2012 Wettest County (It’s about Prohibition. Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain are in it, and the screenplay is by Nick Cave. I’ll be there.) The Dark Knight Rises. The Hobbit. The Woman in Black (if I can handle it). John Carter.
  8. Movie in which I totally identified with the main character to the point that people in theatre were staring as I laughed and cried my way through it Bridesmaids
  9. First Woody Allen movie I’ve really, really liked in years Midnight in Paris
  10. Extraordinarily gorgeous movie I saw three times in the theatre Jane Eyre (2011)

So…what are some of your quirkier likes and dislikes of 2011?