The Experience of The Artist

Where to begin with a film like The Artist?

If you know me personally, you already know that I love to explore oft-forgotten forms of entertainment–magic shows, vaudeville/cabaret, radio theater–so naturally, I was interested in this movie from the beginning. I was also terribly afraid that people would hate it, while secretly hoping they’d be thrilled. After all, I didn’t want to be the only one who liked to go back in time and savor the simpler days of entertainment, before Hollywood decided their audiences were populated by idiots who only liked sex and explosions. Possibly at the same time.

At my last visit to the Art Theater here in Champaign, the owner told me I really must come back and see The Artist–knowing, as he does, the kinds of entertainment which catch my interest. That was the last bit of incentive I needed; if it had been a terrible film, Sanford would definitely have told me. So this past Friday, my husband and I headed out to the theater.

The first good sign was that there was a line out the door for patrons wanting tickets, despite ridiculously cold temperatures and the threat of snow. The theater wasn’t quite filled to capacity, but it was very close. This was definitely encouraging. Then the lights went down, and the magic began.

I could go on and on about the care taken in writing this story to accommodate the silent film style, or the nuances in cinematography that enhanced the experience. I could tell you how entirely charming Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin was, from literally his first moment on screen. I could tell you how funny it was that every time I saw John Goodman saying something, I still heard his voice in my head.

But what made seeing this film really special was…the audience.

Maybe a movie like this draws a more respectful crowd, or a more attentive and appreciative crowd. I’m not really sure. But there was no chatting, no texting, and only very quiet snacking going on around me. And what’s more, without the noisy dialogue and without the need for explosions or rock-style soundtracks, I was able to make a new discovery. I LIKE hearing the audience react to the movie I’m watching! We laughed together, sighed together, and truly enjoyed this experience together, as one group. It was lovely. I’m certain the only way it could have been more enjoyable would have been if I’d had a hand in making this film.

I’m going to give you a slight spoiler here: this film does “cheat” a little bit, and use sound in a couple of places (other than the accompanying soundtrack, of course). In both cases, it’s done very purposefully and creatively, in a way that doesn’t detract from the style they’re working to achieve. In fact, the sparse use of sound is used very well at the end of the film, to resolve the plot dilemma of how George is supposed to fit into this new world of “talkies”. And as the last scene faded to black, the entire audience erupted into applause.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this beautiful movie. Sometimes the simplest stories are the most enjoyable to discover. And given my own preferences in old-fashioned entertainment choices, I am extra thrilled that The Artist is getting the accolades it is receiving. Maybe there is still some hope for our culture, after all.

P.S.: For the local readers, word from the Art is that they will continue to play The Artist almost daily throughout the month of February, and possibly into March, particularly if it comes away with an Oscar or six. Go see it, take your friends, and go see it again!

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