The Artist/Hugo

Shut up. No, really, just be quiet for a minute. The cacophony that surrounds us in our daily lives is so out of control that we’re all going to end up like Pete Townshend, muttering “What?” everytime someone asks him about his generation. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t tell the difference between a real estate agent who’s on the phone closing a deal and the batshit crazy dude who’s walking down the street talking smack to himself, because the decibel level is about the same. We all need to just shut up for awhile.

Perhaps that is the reason that Hollywood came out this year with not one but two homages to the silent film. Hugo is a big budget, Martin Scorcese directed 3D extravaganza that starts out with an orphan who lives in a train station and ends up as a tribute to Georges Méliés, one of the first influential silent filmmakers. The other is not so much an homage as a complete recreation of the era; The Artist was on the top of many critic’s Top Ten Lists and just won a Golden Globe for Best Movie (Comedy or Musical).

Seeing a film after it has garnered rave reviews can be problematic, because your expectations are pretty high. I wanted to love The Artist; I expected to be blown away by it. And I did think it was an amazing accomplishment, as a loving tribute to a golden era of film. But that’s all it was for me. Why take all the talent and expertise involved in recreating this type of film and then have the script be a mashup of Singing in the Rain and A Star is Born? Why not apply the technique to something that not only pays homage to the period but also adds something new to the conversation, taking it to a whole new level? Yes, the performances were good and the sets spot on, but I found my attention wandering and I kept wondering when it was going to stop being a cliché. The final tap number was fun but frankly, the dog was the best thing about the movie. (Although in the category of Best Performance by a Jack Russell terrier, I’m going to have to give the award to Arthur, the little dog from Beginners. Now there was a performance!)

On the other hand, Hugo got my attention immediately with a gorgeous tracking shot that zoomed its way through the inner workings of a clock tower and left me gasping for breath at the sheer magnificence of the production design. I was a little worried because the swooping camerawork immediately made me queasy, but it was so beautiful that I decided I would keep my eyes open even if it meant sacrificing my lunch. Fortunately, things calmed down and I didn’t have to miss a minute of this gorgeous film. Loyal readers know that I am not a big fan of 3D, but this one was worth the headache that usually follows. (This must have been a long film, because I noticed that the glasses left a dent in the bridge of my nose. Hopefully it’s not permanent.)

The plot is your typical orphan boy on his own tries to find a place where he belongs, but at some point the whole movie swerves in a different direction and becomes a love letter to filmmaker George Méliés. The recreations of Méliés’s early films are just as authentic as the period reproduced in The Artist, yet Hugo approached these silents with a fresh sense of joy and wonder. Everything about this movie delighted me, from the sly Harold Lloyd references as Hugo hangs from the hands of the clock to the recurring image of out of control trains crashing into things. It also contains a truly hilarious 3D joke, as Sasha Baron Cohen’s gigantic nose pokes out into the audience as he is investigating a crime. Who knew that Martin Scorcese could direct a film this good without a bloody murder in a single frame? After it was over, I stood up in the theatre and shouted “Fuck” several times, just as a way of honoring him.

Now that these films are encouraging us not to talk in theaters, I’m hoping there will be a movie coming along that will get people to stop texting as well. Maybe Scorcese could direct that one, too, although it would be more effective if he went back to the style he used in The Departed or Goodfellas. Joe Pesci wants to know if you think texting is “funny”, and not funny like a clown, either.

Barf Bag Rating for The Artist: ZERO BAGS
Barf Bag Rating for Hugo: ONE BAGS

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