Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why I Voted for "The Artist" as Best Picture

I have seen it three times:
January 16, 2012, 4:00pm
Landmark Theater
10580 West Pico Blvd. 
Los Angeles, 90064
January 30, 2012, 7:30pm
TV Academy
 5230 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, 91601
A screening followed by a question and answer with writer/director Michel
Hazanavicius, star Jean Dujardin, actor James Cromwell, costume designer
Mark Bridges, and production designer Laurence Bennett. 
February 7, 2012, 7:30pm
Directors Guild Theater, #1
7920 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90046
A screening followed by a question and answer with executive producer Richard
Middleton, executive producer Antoine De Cazotte, director of photography
Guillaume Schiffman, costume designer Mark Bridges and production designer
Laurence Bennett. 

"A Masterpiece" 

At the Directors Guild Theater, as I scrambled to permit a dowdy sixty year-old 
woman sitting next to me make her way to the bathroom, she murmured, "As a
member of the Academy, I see two hundred pictures a year." She returned and
we sat in silence throughout viewing "The Artist." When it ended, spontaneously
she exclaimed "A masterpiece." I buy that!

Is "The Artist" a French film or a Hollywood film?  
Because it was made in Hollywood, it qualifies as an American made film
and can be considered for Oscars; however, it clearly demonstrates French
style and sensibility. Film credits abound with American names, but no American
director could have conceived of making a silent film today. When asked why
he chose to make a silent film, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius said that
it was the logical way deal with the film's themes: the end of the silent film
era, the birth of sound movies and the consequences that ensued. Asked if
he would make another silent film, Michel Hazanavicius' reply was emphatically
negative. "The Artist" is not a tour de force nor a gimmick. Hazanavicius sought
to evoke nostalgia during a moment of crucial transition in the history of motion
pictures. Thus, a silent film in aHollywood setting.

Rather than a blunt exposition, he chose to create a credible fantasy in which
we are witness to the vicissitudes of stardom, an often told tale.  Hazanavicius
is a product of the French school of "auteur" filmmaking in which a director
is granted license (generally within the bounds of commercial viability) to
express oneself.

So what do I know about Hollywood films?  
In the 50s and 60s, I managed to have contact with some of the great directors
of that period: Vincent Minnelli, Rouben Mamoullian, George Stevens and Fred

Vincent Minnelli got Best Picture for "An American in Paris," in 1951
and " Gigi" in 1958.

George Stevens got Best Director for "A Place in Sun," in 1952
and Best Director for "Giant" in 1956.

Fred Zinnemann got Best Director
for "From Here to Eternity" in 1953

These films were grand epics, solidly produced and refined in detail. The casts
provided outstanding performances. These films continue to resonate for me as
demonstrations of some of the best that Hollywood has to offer. There is no
question that episodic changes in style occur in every creative medium. Perhaps
my taste in films is stuck in the 50s and 60s, or perhaps films of this era
demonstrate a cohesion seldom found today?

Filmmaking aside, I had a modest impact in Hollywood at this time. Returning
from a trip to Italy with a home espresso maker, I told Rouben Mamoulian's wife
about it. She wanted one. I sent one to her and can make the dubious claim that I
introduced the first home espresso maker to Hollywood.

What do I know about French films? 
I am a fan of Godard and am familiar with the films of the other directors of
Nouvelle Vague fame. Over the last forty years, I have probably seen twice as
many French and Italian films than American films. Rather than knowledge
of films, my expertise regarding France stems more from everyday experience.
While in graduate school, I would hang out in Paris, sitting in Deux Magots
on the Boulevard St. Germain with a Galoise dangling from my lip, waiting
for Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir to appear. Over the years, I got to know Paris
well enough to lead a group of New York architects, planners and city officials
around examining Paris as an evolving global city. I even wrote an article in
French that appeared in LibĂ©ration.

What do I know about French sensibility as it applied to "The Artist?" 
This has to be a personal and subjective judgement, but I am willing to take a
shot at it. I see "The Artist," not in universal terms, but as a manifestation of
French style in its ability to elevate the mundane to more "heroic" terms.
Perhaps this might explain the enduring universal appeal of Antoine de St.
ExupĂ©ry's novella The Little Prince. For me, "The Artist" resonates a similar
appeal; however, its appeal is not in fantasy. Rather than fantasy, its appeal
can be seen as a parable (success is ephemeral) for everyone.

Art Versus Commerce / Commerce Versus Art 
When the Weinstein Company enters the picture, the fine line between art
and commerce frays; however, that is not to say that is necessarily bad.
The flood of newspaper ads, the multiple screenings, the tv appearances,
and YouTube trailer all contribute to selling "the product."

My Oscar predictions
It is an irresistible masterpiece. It is going to get Best Picture and Best
Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Leading Actor (Jean Dujardin),
and possibly more.

I am not a member of The Academy nor any of the guilds. However, I fit
the LA Times' recently published demographic for Academy members. I
am Caucasian and over sixty.