Posts Tagged ‘art’

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 🙂

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