Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Artist


I haven't seen a movie at the theater for the past two years. At least since I've been home in Austin. Ongoing money problems, plus most theaters in town are up north or down south and involve an hour-or-more bus ride (and are all multiplexes, which I don't like). Today, though, I finally had a bit of spare cash, AND I wanted to see "The Artist," AND I finally figured out that there's a relatively new theater downtown (the Violet Crown, which opened in April 2011) that shows art films and is only a 15-minute bus ride away.

Spent $20 on a ticket, popcorn, and Coke -- too much! -- but it was a nice thing to do on a sunny Saturday! I really like walking around downtown Austin, and hadn't yet been able to explore the newly renovated W. 2nd Street. The area used to be kind of junky and warehouse-y, with one music venue (Liberty Lunch) that I used to go to 15-20 years ago before it closed in '99. Now, though, the area's kind of SoHo-y: lots of boutique shops and eateries. A bit too yuppie for me (for instance, it would have more character if it had maybe a book store, a record store, some more funky rather than upscale bars/cafes), but the area was hopping and interestingly landscaped, which made it fun to walk around there. It was like being in a real city!

The movie itself: Eh. I hate being a naysayer since it's a unique film (silent, black-and-white, gentle) amid today's generic mass-marketed stuff. But... There wasn't much to it. Seems like people that rave about it might be doing so to congratulate themselves for going to a silent, black-and-white film! I first read about it before Christmas, in an online interview with the director, who said his leading lady watched Joan Crawford silent films to help prepare her for her character. Being a huge Joan fan, that of course initially piqued my interest. And I was then excited to see the film garnering more and more praise and awards as the months went on. But... it was pretty cliched, actually. "Singin' in the Rain" and the first "A Star Is Born" were skillful, clever, emotionally moving tales of the coming of sound to Hollywood and of the stars who were destroyed, and created, in the process. The plot of "The Artist" was the same story, but done in a very rudimentary, by-the-numbers fashion. Nothing very surprising or interesting, other than the reactions of the cute little dog and the period-echoing facial expressions of the leading man.

And it got nominated for 10 Oscars! (Second only to Scorsese's "Hugo"'s 11.) I can see "The Artist" getting nominated for Art Direction and Cinematography (barely, but not even, Best Score -- I could have come up with those 4 or 5 songs myself). But Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, and Director??? Worst of all, BEST SCREENPLAY??! Not because it's SILENT (screenplays are still responsible for who does what where and when), but because the plot was extremely trite. I HATE knowing exactly what's going to happen 10 steps ahead of time. The argument for the film is that it's an "homage" to the Silent Era. I haven't seen that many silent films, maybe 8 Joan silents, plus 10 or so others. But even the lighter silent films I have seen were much more interesting, full of unexpected quirks and/or humor. (Not to mention completely off-the-wall, freakily dark psychological stuff like Tod Browning's "The Unknown.") "The Artist" was good-natured and pleasant, but just not very interesting, other than the interest that came with seeing a silent/black-and-white film done today!

Still, glad I went! Like I said earlier, fun to go to a movie on a Saturday afternoon and stroll around downtown before and after. Fun to break the movie-going drought and learn about this new downtown theater and 'hood.

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