Last week I finally was able to see The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius) and Shame (Dir. Steve McQueen…No, not THAT Steve McQueen). Due to the different UK film release schedule, I have had to patiently endure the holiday season without the usual movie award season films. As an avid Oscar fan, it has been driving me crazy to see friends and family commenting on the films they’ve seen…four months ago. Well, now it’s my turn.
At first thought, one would think that The Artist and Shame are two completely different, unrelated films about very different subject matters. True, they are distinct in many ways, yet they have some striking resemblances. The first is about a man addicted to fame and a steady job, the second is addicted to sex and a steady, um, screw, so to speak. Both male protagonists are pros in the self-loathing department, and both have female counterparts that look up to them for guidance, in their own distorted ways. And both films are very theatrical. The Artist, being a silent film, relies on the highly expressive qualities of the actors to essentially portray their lines through miming. Likewise, Shame has a slow-moving pace that makes it a perfect piece to be staged, with grand performances by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, which ultimately overshadow the film as a whole. That being said, I was mesmerized by both films; one captivating me by the nostalgia for classic Hollywood, the other purposely making me feel so uncomfortable that I couldn’t help but stare and admire its raw honesty. Plus, Michael Fassbender ain’t bad to look at.
What I appreciate about The Artist, which I consider to be a close second for my favorite film of the year, is its tongue and cheek approach to the silent film era. It plays with the genre, pokes a bit of fun at it, but at the same time captures this great moment in film history – the transition to Talkies. As I’m sure it did with others who have seen it, this aspect of the plot brings Singin’ in the Rain (Dir. Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1952) to mind (A personal favorite of mine). Not only through plot points, in which the movie studios realize that the current silent film actress has a nauseating voice for talking films, but The Artist’s Jean Dujardin is almost eerily identical to Gene Kelly by looks and charm. Kelly being a personal idol of mine growing up (I’m a tap dancer, you see), this association was actually a delight. The stars of The Artist are beautiful French people, but they also exude a ridiculous amount of charisma. While there are some brief dark moments in the film, the story is mostly a happy song and dance feature like the films of yore. But I do wonder how happy the ending really is. The lead character, George Valentin, is forced into early retirement due to his obstinate refusal to buy into the new trend of talking pictures and due to the ephemeral cycle of Hollywood stardom – out with the old, in with the new. Yes, he has a comeback, but the cynic in me wonders how long that wave will last. But I really shouldn’t wonder, because that last scene of the film is absolute joy, and sometimes that’s the best feeling to leave the theatre with.
Watch the trailer for The Artist:
Watch the trailer for Shame:
To also feed my Michael Fassbender obsession (have loved him since the under-appreciated Inglourious Basterds), here is a fun clip with David Letterman:
And a somewhat more serious exploration of his crazy busy past year in film, by NPR: