Hooray for The Artist and good for The Academy!
I just attended film for the second time. I first agreed to see it at the behest of my theatrically inclined granddaughter. Black and white? No dialogue? What kind of gimmick was this?
What a delightful surprise! Always intrigued by the past, I especially love vintage cinema. I remember watching “Sunset Boulevard” for the first time as a teenager. I was captivated by silent screen idol, Norma Desmond, watching silent movies which captured her as a nubile young siren. No wonder growing old drove her crazy—with such a tantalizing visual reminder of everything she had lost.
The roaring twenties was my era. I love everything—the campy art deco, the elegant cars, the sylph-like women with bobbed hair, and the leading men with bedroom eyes and pencil mustaches. They reveled in their youth, their beauty, and their disdain for convention. The writers, artists, and actors inhabited a realm apart from us mere mortals and were idolized for it.
The women were vamps, their lives surrounded by mystery. Precious few contemporary actresses will become icons like Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Loretta Young, or Katherine Hepburn to name a few. It was not a “tell all” world back then. A star was expected uphold a public image. I, for one, prefer not to know every sordid detail of their private lives. It ruins the magic.
Yes, glamour is mostly an illusion, but that is what creates the magic. I know Fitzgerald was a notorious alcoholic and Hemingway ended his life with a shotgun. But the tragic details don’t negate their towering talent and the burning desire to live life to the hilt. This is what made them legends.
The Artist, captures the magic and excitement of an age when cinema was young and movies served as a primary escape from the great depression. We have DVDs now and every manner of electronic device to entertain ourselves, yet nothing matches sitting in a dark theatre waiting for a movie to begin. For a few hours, we hope to suspend reality without interruptions.
An allegory for every great story, The Artist depicts George Valentin’s fall from the pinnacle of Hollywood silent films. He is brought down by the new “talkies.” Sound is his enemy, so it is banished from the movie. Words are not needed. His chance encounter with the lovely Peppy Miller is classic. They are struck by the thunderbolt, and their lives will never be the same. Dialogue would be a distraction.
Uggie the dog understands that. Indeed, he is the star of the show. His biography states that he narrowly escaped the pound. This makes him perfect for the role. The little guy is all heart. He saves his master from self-destruction so Valentin lives to dance his way into the dawn of talking films. Corny, but satisfying. Like watching Charlie Chaplin duck-walk off into the horizon at the end of a film. He adjusts his bowler, twirls his cane, and you know he is smiling.
I am old enough to dread the inevitable changes I see coming. My children are already lamenting the vanished world of their childhood—which really makes me feel ancient. Maybe nostalgia is wired into the human psyche.
I hear rumors that books and newspapers will disappear, replaced by electronic media. I can’t imagine a world without books so I hoard mine, just in case. My dream house has floor to ceiling walls of books. Then again, maybe that’s heaven…
I hope I can survive a transition to the brave new world as gracefully as Valentin. My motto is: treasure the past, anticipate the future, and relish the present.
When all else fails—dance!