Why The Artist Keeps Winning

I love and hate awards season.  Deep down, I hate the opulence, the millions spent on famous and over-paid people congratulating other famous and over-paid people with expensive gifts and trophies.  Our culture inflates the statuses of actors to god-like levels for being able to portray a false sense of reality that often has very few similarities with actual reality.

Stepping off soapbox now.

I’m a hypocrite, though, because I watch every awards show I can.  It’s a compulsion.  I love the pomp and circumstance: the fancy dresses, the red carpet, the return to an Old Hollywood feel.  Awards season contains glamour that our culture values but does not perpetuate.

I do love Old Hollywood, a time when people didn’t know what famous people ate for lunch each day due to Twitter.  There was a mystery, a beauty, an other-worldly quality portrayed in the days of black-and-white.  Part of the reason I love the past because I get overwhelmed with where the future is taking us.  With changes in technology and little change in the economy, sometimes it’s just easier to look backwards and dream of the days of Marilyn and James Dean.

This nostalgia is exactly why The Artist is sweeping so many of the big awards.  It’s why the movie will likely win a bunch of Oscars tomorrow.  And it’s part of why you should see The Artist in a movie theater if you can.

I meant to write this six weeks ago, when I actually saw the movie.  I would like to take this moment and hipster-brag by saying, I saw The Artist before it won any awards.  Okay?  I loved it before it was cool.  Street cred.

Hold on a minute.  You know The Artist, right?  The black and white silent film made in France that’s taking the country by storm?  A lot of people are wondering what is the big deal.  They obviously haven’t seen it yet.

For one, it’s an entirely new movie-watching experience.  There are few of those left.  We’re used to 3D, booming sound, feeling like the action is right in front of us.  And if you’re anything like me, we’re critical of it.  We take it for granted.  We berate the special effects for not looking real enough.  Never mind the fact that people don’t see explosions take out half of a bridge on a regular basis.  We all think we know what it looks like, and we’re disgusted by films that obviously have no idea.

The Artist flies in the face of all of that.  By reverting back to the most basic movie-going experience, the audience is extremely aware that they are watching a film.  There’s no pretense about it being reality.  The actors are not speaking, for goodness sake.  But I found that when the verbal words were eliminated, my perception was sharpened.  I paid more attention to the details of the scene, the setting and the props.  I read the lips of the actors, straining to understand what they were saying without hearing a word.  The facial expressions of the actors were exaggerated in order to convey emotion, and somehow that made the emotions more pure.  When we laughed aloud, it may have been partially at the surprise of understanding the humor in a situation without hearing anything.  For someone like myself who values wit, it was a stretching experience.

Just because they do not speak doesn’t mean you are sitting in a theater in utter silence.  Music is playing behind the scenes, enhancing the action on stage.  And just because it’s in black and white doesn’t mean you can’t feel the colors.

The story itself, though, is phenomenal.  It covers so many issues that we are still dealing with in our culture.  It asks questions about the nature of art and the artist.  What happens if the art one creates is no longer cutting-edge, or even relevant?  Do you hold to that vision, or do you change it?  Is an artist still an artist if he doesn’t create?

Just as the medium reverted us from talkies to silent films, the main character of the story, George, is going through a transition from silent films into talkies.  He asks the question we all ask in this rapidly changing age: how do we move into the next phase when we are so used to life in this one?  George is holding onto the old way of doing things, trusting that his star will continue to rise even while the industry is changing irreparably.

It’s a story about letting go and modifying and finding yourself over and over again.

It’s also about the rise and fall of fame, the dangers of defining yourself by that status.  Because even more now than ever, fame is so fleeting.  George struggles with seeing his star falling while his friend’s star rises.  He loses it all, everything he has, because he is not able to change with the new direction of the movie business.

He falls very hard indeed, but there is hope.

I won’t tell you what happens to George, but know that there is hope.  This world is spinning so quickly we can barely hang on.  There’s something new that emerges onto the global market daily, and jobs are constantly in transition given the economy, technological advances, and new business strategies.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, but it’s also frightening.  And we’re not the first to say or feel that – the generations before us had to deal with unbelievable change as well.

Change is inevitable.  The real story is how we react to the change.

Just ask George.  He won’t respond, but you’ll understand him anyway.


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