Because I'm the kind of guy who wants to be an informed voter, I tend to rush right out and gather all the information I can before I cast my ballot. I am referring to the Academy Awards. I am happy to have a vacation from the presidential rhetoric that is being flung around by the chimpanzees in their erstwhile campaign. Instead I choose to focus on the arts, something to give me solace in this time of uncertainty. To that end, I went to see "The Artist," one of the most lovingly reviewed films in recent memory.
Words like "fresh" and "original" abound in all the press that this tale of old Hollywood. Many have praised it for its vision and imagination. It's in black and white. Didn't we get tired of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese making black and white movies about thirty years ago? I have heard that there have been a number of movie-goers who have gone out tot he box office to ask for their money back when they discover they are watching a silent film. I noticed that the director, Michel Hazanavicius, chose to use a small-screen aspect ratio to heighten the nostalgia factor. I'm sure there were probably some patrons who wanted a refund on the portion of the screen that went unused.
All that technical stuff aside, I went to see what all the fuss was about. Spoiler alert! "A sweeping melodrama about a young actress, discovered by a major male studio star, who becomes enamored of her and helps her rise to the top. She does but his career begins to hit the skids as hers continues to rise." Actually, not much of a spoiler at all, since it is the synopsis of "A Star Is Born," which has been made in America no fewer than three times already, with another version, directed by Clint Eastwood, on the way in 2013. And that's what I sat and watched, in black and white, on part of the screen, for an hour and forty minutes.
For an hour, I waited for the twist on this tired show-biz fable. I enjoyed the period decor and costumes. I loved the dog. I enjoyed the performances. And I waited for the thing that made it different from the original. Barbara Streisand did hers as a rock star with Kris Kristofferson. I was watching the silent version. Some might wonder why Babs and Kris couldn't have done theirs the same way.
When it was over, I thought of all the movies that "The Artist" recalled. There are plenty of people who have never seen Frederic March or Judy Garland or even Barbara Streisand in a movie. There are plenty of people who have never seen "Singin' in the Rain." There are plenty of people who would ask for their money back if they found out the movie they were about to see was a silent film. That didn't keep Mel Brooks from making a silent movie about trying to make a silent movie back in 1976. Critical reaction to that one was less than stellar.
Maybe we all wish for a simpler time. A black and white time. A smaller aspect ratio time. But would it be too much to ask for a new story?