Movie Review: The Artist

The Artist

The ArtistI have to admit that quite a few people may not like The Artist (2011), and that’s really too bad.

This is a movie that has a number of issues that conspire to keep it out of the year’s “most popular” lists.  It’s first “problem” is that it is black and white.  Who wants to see a black and white movie these days?  It just feels so…old!  The next issue, no one in the States knows the lead actor or actress. Sure, there are some recognizable faces in the cast, but where is the star power?  But, perhaps its biggest issue is this: it is a silent film. Say what!? That’s right, a silent movie! Most movie-goers will be shrugging at the concept and instead plunking down their cash (more likely, their credit card) to see a big time action movie, with big time stars, than to see this film. It almost seems like a tragedy to me because I loved this movie. So much so that I thought I would break my self-imposed embargo on writing film reviews to come up with some words to describe just how much it impressed me.

I really did love everything about this film.  So many times I see movies and it’s fairly easy to nit-pick about things that I think should be changed or improved somehow, less of _this_ and more of _that_, a better way to tell the story, a better choice of actors.  Although it usually doesn’t prevent me from enjoying movies, it is a fun exercise to dream up ways to tweak things, even in great movies, just to make it better. With The Artist, I wouldn’t change a thing.

The film is not a parody, and neither is it an insolent exercise in snobbish self-importance.  It is a loving homage to the history of cinema told in the wrapper of a charming story that stands on it’s own beyond it’s tribute.  The arc of the story is familiar, as is the story’s setting of a silent film star (played by Jean Dujardin) at his peak of popularity in 1927, but perched on the verge of irrelevance in the emerging era of “talkies”. The way the director (Michel Hazanavicius) shares this familiar story, however, feels fresh and original.  He deftly uses the quintessential old-school Hollywood style, shots and techniques as tools to tell the story and not as a gimmick for laughs.  At the same time, this isn’t a film that takes itself too seriously…it is presented with a wink to the audience as if to say “Yeah I know! Isn’t this fun?”.

The Artist IS fun.  It is a lighthearted comedy that occasionally pricks your heart with a sharp pin. There are a great many laughs, but it is one of those stories where you find yourself a bit surprised at how much you connected…you really feel for the characters. Everything about this film makes you feel like you are watching a film made in the glory days of early cinema.  Even the sparse dialogue cards in the film fit right in with the overall mood, although most of the time, the cards are only required to drive home a specific point.  From start to finish this movie entertains smartly, and never treats the audience as if they need their hand held or the actions explained.  The filmmakers understand very well how the images on the screen communicate to the audience.

With an incredible eye for the beauty of black and white, the scenes are staged in a way that can only be described as art. A few scenes really stand out for their beauty, but at almost any moment you could stop the film and it would be a frame-able photo or poster. The rest of the cast are perfectly chosen (including: Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller) and I would have a difficult time imagining others in their roles. Even the music throughout the film is used in a way that compliments the film rather than telling the audience what to feel, by itself a rare accomplishment these days. It is not as easy as it sounds to have all these elements work together to create a mood or a moment in a film, yet throughout,  The Artist makes it seem like the work was effortless.

It is fairly certain that if you are not already interested in seeing this film, my words will do no more than vanish into the morass of critique and commentary that plagues the Internet and numbs brains worldwide.

And that’s OK.

In a way this is just a very wordy “Like” button to acknowledge the creativity of a great film, and a simple wish that it gets the armloads of Oscar nominations and other accolades that it deserves.

On Lyrics and Meanings

Raise your hand if you love music!

You can’t see it, but I am raising my hand.  I love music.  Music is pervasive in our culture so it is easy to say that everyone loves music to some degree.  However, I think some groups of people react very differently to music.  I’m definitely in the analytical-emotional-romanticizing group of music lovers.  Music can sometimes affect me in very interesting ways.  I can hear a clip of instrumental music or a popular song and I can have an instant emotional reaction. It can suddenly revive a long forgotten memory, it can make me happy and content or it can unflinchingly break my heart.  As important as it is to me to have that connection to the music itself, I find it is even much more profound when combined with lyrics that have real substance.

Thanks Dan.

What got me started on this train of thought was posts by Dan Hasletine from Jars of Clay.  I have been following him on Twitter for some time and he just started posting on his blog about lyrics he has written and is re-visiting their meaning or, what they have come to mean.  He asked his fans to come up with lyrics they are interested in knowing about and I was very excited to post a reply.  I started to mind-scroll through the Jars of Clay songs that I admired and I kept getting stuck.  I couldn’t pick one!  But what I found more interesting is that I did not really consider any whole song, instead I focused on bits of lyrics that paint a picture.

Click here for more images

One of the shots from my Lyrical Imagery Project on Flickr

Grasping the meaning in an entire song is sometimes easier for me than in a specific subset of its words, which is probably why I find small parts of songs so intriguing.   (A whole photography project of mine is based on of small portions of lyrics — blatant plug-in the photo to the right).  I kept focusing on some of those brilliant bits of writing from Jars of Clay songs and visualizing the scene.  Imagining the event that inspired the eloquence, I get very distinct pictures, sometimes without knowing  exactly what they mean.  Sometimes I just don’t care about their exact meaning because I know I feel a very specific way when I read or hear words like these:

  • They don’t see behind the lights, or the painted backgrounds, they just like to see you fall.
  • If I was not so weak. If I was not so cold. If I was not so scared of being broken…growing old.
  • A flower for your vanity, a penny for your thoughts.
  • This picture I’ve painted…it looks like my heart or what still remains.
  • You feel a lot like the good guy, but do you know why, everything’s so blue?
  • Fearful tears are running down, the pain you’ve laid don’t speak a sound.
  • I have no fear of drowning, it’s the breathing that’s taking all this work.
  • Trying to jump away from rock that keeps on spreading, for solace in the shift of the sinking sand
  • It takes more than your saline eyes…to make things right.
  • Flowers through the asphalt, diamonds in the pockets of your eyes…turn your face and hide.
  • If the wind should shake this house apart, the cradle hits the ground with a broken heart.
  • Weddings, boats and alibis, all drift away….and a mother cries.
  • Said and done I stand alone amongst remains of a life I should not own.

These are just some lyrics that I love from Jars of Clay.  Lyrics where I would love to know, not so much the meaning, but the source of inspiration, the story behind the moment of vision.   I haven’t used a Jars  song as a photo inspiration yet…but I certainly plan on it!  Even without knowing the story or inspiration behind these and other lyrics, there is no denying the power the words have and the images and emotions that they can stir.   Music is amazing.

Thanks for the stories and inspirations, the words that paint the pictures in our heads, and for the great music that stirs emotion.

P.S. – Memorable Jars Event

I had several opportunities to see Jars of Clay in concert but somehow missed them, or was not able to go.  It disappointed me, but good things do come!  My first Jars concert was at Twin City Bible Church in Urbana IL in December of 2000.  My brother was a student at the University of Illinois and he got one ticket to a special unplugged concert but didn’t know the band, so he offered it to me.  There couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred seats available and was it an amazing acoustic concert with audience requests, and great stories.  One of those events I’ll always remember.  I even got to talk with Dan at the end of the show.  I didn’t have anything for him to sign but stood in line anyway just to say something (and somehow that ended up including mentioning U2 in concert).  All around, it was very inspiring and hearing their music in that type of venue was all the more memorable.  Thanks again 🙂

We Aren’t as Stupid as You Think.

Sometimes I think you must really believe we are idiots.  The way you behave, your actions and your words all make the assumption that we are stupid.  In a small way, I do understand that you have to be that way.  When it comes down to work in life, I really don’t expect that many people really want to have your jobs.  It is very tough to please everyone…in reality, it is actually impossible, even though that seems to be what gets placed in your job descriptions.  But, having a tough job is not a good enough excuse to treat everyone else as if they are only tools to enable your power.

Let me elaborate a little, just in case you don’t know who you are yet:

You are elected politicians.  We are the people you serve.  I think I may need to re-emphasize that.   You serve us.   Your job is designed to be one that deals with the unpleasantness of leading a group of people that do not always agree on the best course of action.   Your job is not a vehicle to expand your power, establish manipulative influence or  build a platform for personal gain.  Yet time after time, this is what we see.  We hear your promises, and we want to believe them.  We want things better, and we want you to help us.  We believe you, we vote for you, and time after time we feel lied to.   This should not be interpreted as me saying that I think all politicians are liars.   Actually, quite to the contrary.  I believe quite a number of politicians really do want to help and do not intentionally lie in ads or in their message.  The key word in that last sentence is “intentionally”.  The unfortunate reality is that despite intent, after the flurry of  campaigning is over, people inevitably feel let down.

The cycle right now is beginning again.  Election day has come and gone, and suddenly my phone is quiet.  Over the past several weeks, my phone would ring eight times a night with “urgent” (recorded) messages about how important it was to vote for fill-in-the-blank candidate.  “Your vote is important!”.  This does not make me feel like you care about me, the voter.  Honestly, it feels like winning is the only objective, and that is why my vote is important to you.  With winning as the only objective, ceaseless intensely personal negative attack ads flood the airwaves to convince voters how evil the opponent is.   This is where I really get upset with you.  You obviously think we are all dumb enough to believe these petty attacks and that we will change our allegiance  because you call someone a name, or scare us about loosing something we know.  It’s deemed OK to say almost anything you want, even if it is speculation, because you think we believe it.

You obviously think of us all in the same way.  We are the dumb masses and you have to trick us in order to win.  Then, you wonder why people are upset!  Obviously, some people are affected by the mean attacks, or the “reminders” to vote, but certainly not all of us.  The problem with people in your jobs is that you treat us as “them” and not as “us”.  STOP putting us into categories of friend or foe.  We are all Americans, and we want honest people we can trust.   Currently, we do not trust you.  And we will not trust you until you stop thinking of us as stupid masses…as demographics, and start thinking of us…ALL of us, as “the people”.  Not only as “the people” that are looking to you for guidance, but as “the people” who give you your jobs, and pay for all that you spend.

We really aren’t as stupid as you think, and no matter what, you do still work for us.

Who cares what YOU think?

Who cares what YOU think?

Think about that for a moment.  I’m not referring to the sarcastic, kiss-off version of that statement.  I’m referring to people in your life that really value your opinion.  People that look to you for advice or input on something that is important to them.  Or, how many people just care to hear what is on your mind or read your Twitter feed, your Facebook status, your random emails from late at night.  Think of all of the people that you know, are acquainted with or e-know…who of these people care what YOU think?

I don’t care what other people think!

Or…do you?  Do you really mean that when you say it?  It seems that most people that go out of their way to say they don’t care what others think are usually reacting to something that indicates their own thoughts or feelings were not taken into consideration.  Someone most likely implied to them “I don’t care what you think!”  Naturally, the reaction is to return the favor.  The simple fact is that everyone wants to feel important to someone else.  People want their thoughts to matter…to someone.  And when they don’t matter, it hurts.

Everyone is a critic.

Have you ever noticed that everyone reviews movies these days?  Everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to share it.  Just look at comments on movies at IMDB.  I’ve never seen so many essays that assume they have the only “correct” interpretation.  I’ve never seen so many people being judged for their opinion…hold on…yes I have seen that before!  Try looking through the comments on YouTube I find it actually quite frustrating to see so much negativity and grand-standing! Perhaps it’s an American thing, perhaps it’s a human thing, but it sure seems to me that everyone thinks their opinion is the right one and there is no tolerance for other opinions. (Let’s not even get started on politics!)
Maybe all the naysayers are looking for is a little attention for themselves. And you know what? That isn’t so bad.  We all can relate…right?  Yes, I think so…just think about your response for a minute or two, maybe hold some of the profanity…and perhaps consider using lowercase letters as well as uppercase!

So, where is this going?

I’m not sure it’s going anywhere really.  And that may be part of my point I guess.  Who REALLY cares what you write in your blog?  I am not making the assumption that anyone really cares about reading these words right now!
But I can assume that everyone can think of someone who values their opinion and thoughts…and maybe you should just take a moment and think about those people…thanks guys, you rock!

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