Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Artist, Movie Preview

There is a new film coming out called "The Artist" written and directed by Michel Hazanavicious (who I must admit I am not familiar with as most of his work has been in his native France) slated to be in theaters November 23rd, 2011.

It tells a story from the classic silver screen era of 1927 Hollywood. A silent movie star, George Valentin, is faced with the arrival of the "talkies" and what that means for his life when he meets Peppy Miller, a young dancer looking for a big break. It's supposed to have romance, comedy, and drama and in all respects sounds like an interesting story.

It has made it's way around the Film Festival circuit picking up several awards, including Best Actor at Cannes and even the little dog "sidekick" has won some awards for his work, so it should be well acted as well.

(There is a coat rack scene in the trailer that is absolutely hilarious and sweet. 
Hopefully that is an indication of the rest of the acting quality.)
The Artist is itself isn't just a love letter of sorts to silent film, it is itself a silent movie. Filmed entirely in black and white, in 4:3 ratio and there is no sound or spoken dialogue in the film other than the music score that accompanies the action. Dialogue is in the classic "text slide between movie scenes" style. It's a Silent movie in all respects, completely new (not something remastered and re-released) and so it should look absolutely beautiful.

This has me entirely intrigued. It was filmed this way on purpose so the movie is artistically forced to carry itself entirely on the story, the acting, and the visuals (oh, and the music). It's the anti-thesis of the current big budget 3D movies with CGI actors. Based on the reception it has gotten at festivals and the praise from reviewers, it sounds like is succeeded. The visuals and cinematography have been described as almost sensual and captivating and that should be a nice change, because lets face it, Avatar and Transformers just weren't that good as movies (and I love Sci-Fi!) and even the enhanced, modern CGI visuals just weren't that captivating. Did I mention this movie was made for an estimated $12 million, not hundreds of millions?

Now, I love silent films so I am biased from the onset here, I'll admit that. I grew up watching every Chaplin production I could get my hands on from the local library and I often watched other classic silent era movies as well. Is that weird for a 10 year old boy in the 80's? Maybe, but the movies were great. So, yeah, this interests me just based on the premise, but why talk about it here on "Hears No Evil," a blog about hearing issues?

Because, this might be the first movie released in years that the Deaf community can go see and understand in it's entirety and on the same level and at the same time as everyone else, just as it is meant to be experienced. (There are some foreign films with subtitles that I adore, but they weren't intended for their original audience that way.) I won't have to ask about plot points after the film and even those lucky enough to have theaters with captioning devices won't have to be distracted by them. In fact, since silent movies sell so much of the story based on acting and body language we might even catch more than you do. Deaf and HH people make a lifetime study out of non-verbal communication, so it should be a real treat. (I do apologize to my friends and family with low vision, I am not sure how the visually impaired community will handle this movie, but that doesn't stop me from being excited for those of us with hearing issues. Maybe theaters will have a special audio track that translates the text to voice.)

I have an ulterior motive as well. CBS just released a news article which included interviews with some of the cast. Especially surprising was this part:

John Goodman plays Valentin's boss, the studio executive desperate to modernize by branching into talkies instead.

What was it about the role that attracted him? "Playing a big shot, without lines!" he replied.

Since there was no scripted dialogue, he (and ALL the actors) just made it up, acting out loud, even though the audience would never hear a word.

"If I screwed up the dialogue that I was improvising, who cares?" said Goodman.

"You didn't have to memorize a thing!" said Cowan.

Seriously? They said that? Yup. I was a bit surprised at this as I often forget that a lot of people still think that just because you can't hear them, that no one knows what they are saying (actors are no exception it seems). They completely forgot about the millions of people around the world (like me) who can read lips. I'll admit, I am rather curious to sit and "listen to" what they are actually saying, and then compare it to the official dialogue that pops up on the captions screen following the lines. Hopefully it won't draw me out of the movie too much, but it might prove to be entertaining. Like the Native American who watches old westerns just to crack up every time a cowboy is insulted in their native tongue. Maybe the Deaf community should even get together and write an official script of the spoken dialogue. I doubt that will happen but you see why this both amuses and annoys me. Also, old movies did have a script and the actors did memorize the lines.

I do plan on watching this. Maybe it will do for silent film what Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge did for musicals. Reminding us of how fun and powerful they can be and re-energizing the genre (unfortunately, nothing that came after Moulin Rouge was nearly as good). At the very least it will remind people that a movie needs good acting and that comedy doesn't have to be raunchy to make us laugh. Unfortunately, I can't take my kids as it is PG-13, but as one reviewer wrote, "The Artist conjures a bygone age of Hollywood that reminds us why we love cinema." I can't wait.

Want to know More?
The Official Movie Site
The Artist on IMDB
The Artist on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this post it is 94% fresh, we'll see how that changes after it is actually released)
The Wiki page
A CBS article you really should read
The Artist Official Trailer hosted by Apple (The new trailer is entirely silent with just music, to reflect the film. It works well, it's beautiful and funny.)

The movie has been out for a few weeks and getting lots of press and Oscar buzz, but I still haven't seen it. I am holding out for the local art theater to get it, but it looks like the release has been a lot slimmer than I hoped for. Fingers Crossed.... will see it on blu-ray for sure and the local art theater says they will play it when they can get a hold of it. Anyone have any feedback on the movie from a Deaf perspective? All I can find is the main stream reviews.

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