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The Artist: movie review

A clever throwback, ‘The Artist’ captures the swashbuckling antics of silent movie heroes.

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Still, despite its sweetness and its adherence to period authenticity, the silent-film conceit here began to wear on me. Hazanavicius is content to simply replay silent-movie tropes rather than refresh or rework them. Yes, the film is projected in the correct aspect ratio of the silent era, with occasional title cards inserted. It was shot on Warner Bros. sound stages and filmed at 22 instead of 24 frames per second, for that slightly jerky effect. But its black-and-white look is too glossy for that era. (It's more redolent of the swankier 1940s and early '50s movies.) Hazanavicius also makes the mistake of piping in swelling music from Hitchcock's imperially doomy "Vertigo," of all films, at a crucial point in the romance.

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"The Artist" is full of homages to many other films. I suppose it will be fun for cinéastes to pick out the references, but not all of them – like the ones from "Citizen Kane" or "Sunset Boulevard" – are especially germane.

My larger problem with "The Artist" is its essence. Hazanavicius has stated that silent films are all about music and feeling and sensations. The notion that silent movies are movies in their "purest" form – and therefore more "artistic" than movies encumbered by all that dialogue – is not one that I subscribe to. (For one thing, too many of my favorite films have people talking in them.) But even if you agree with Hazanavicius, what is there in "The Artist" that is so artistic? The film offers up a vision of the silent-film past that is essentially a stroll down memory lane. Those memories are concocted for audiences who regard the silent era, if they regard it at all, as a quaint precinct of bedewed sentimentality.

So, to return to my original question, will this movie make people want to see the real deal? Will there now be a revival of Fairbanks classics? Will audiences seek out Chaplin, Keaton, and D.W. Griffith films? Will they clamor to see "Sunrise" and "Greed" and all the other great silents? If they do, they might discover that there was a lot more to silent films at their height than you would ever guess from this amiable little homage that evaporates as you're watching it. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.)


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