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Some Ramblings - The Artist
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Jack Horner was a successful filmmaker, even if his films were aimed for a specific segment of viewing public. That he made his films on <i>celluloid</i> was his badge of honor that he thought put him on par with the mainstream makers, who also catered to what the market demanded. The period was late 70's, the industry, adult films, and the setting, San Fernando Valley, California, and the going was great till it lasted. He earned what every filmmaker yearned for - money, fame, success, and importantly, respect. And then the technological tidal wave swept through the industry, when video tape rose through the ranks, challenged and finally displaced celluloid, as the economically viable medium for adult films, replacing it with an immediate urgency. And suddenly, the industry no longer needed Jack Horners, it had no use for 'filmmakers', and anybody who could hold a video camera steadily with bare minimum lighting knowledge, accompanied by a boom mike assistant suddenly became 'directors' in their own right. P.T.Anderson's 'Boogie Nights' is an exploration of that transitory period, when many lives slipped through the cracks caused by the seismic changes in the industry brought upon by advancements in film making technology. And the squeeze applied to the pockets, not so much of the performers, but of these 'filmmakers' makes the period an interesting study on the unforeseen effects of technology on the livelihoods of these people. Hollywood went through these great upheavals twice before - the 'Blacklist' period during the McCarthy era witch hunt in the 50s, and the period in question - the late 20's, when the biggest change of all, the shift from silent era to talking times, happened to the industry. 'The Artist' is the life of one such performer in the silent era washed away by the biggest technological wave that visited upon Hollywood.

That said, the movie is not a psychological or a sociological study on the fallout of the revolution on its unwitting participants. Instead it is a homage to the period, a glowing recreation of atmosphere that was awash in melodrama and swelling scores. During the 90s, Gus Van Sant, the darling director of the indies, made a shot for shot reproduction of Hitchcock's 'Psycho', in color, for no other reason but to observe the impact of that path breaking movie on a different generation. 'The Artist' is one more such attempt. Though it doesn't break any new ground (like Woody Allen's 'Zelig', which was a technological marvel in immersion process in the old time black and white documentary footage), this movie is merely a fond reconstruction of the period, working principally on the simplicity of the themes and great wattage of its lead pair. Though the underlying theme, the loss of an era, is a downer, where the end result had to be a tragic one, the movie, in the typical tradition of old Hollywood family fare, has one last trick up its sleeve to leave the audience with a smile. The movie primarily rests on the broad shoulders and the bright smiles of its leading actor, who looks every bit an star of that bygone era. The acting is never melodramatic (or as the heroine quips, 'mugged up') as it was in those films, and is in fact decidedly subtle and suitable to the new age. The black and white lighting is subdued and never stylized or attention seeking (as in the black and white fares attempted by the modern era makers - the Coen's in 'The man who wasn't there' or Soderbergh in 'A Good German'). If there is one word to describe the movie (in the spirit of the current Presidential campaigns), it would be 'charming' - actors, making and finally of the era. (A nice touch is filming it in the old time aspect ratio (the old time TV ratio, 1.33:1), probably the only one in recent times in the mainstream, after Speilberg's 'Jurassic Park') Not bad for a movie that managed it all without any speaking parts.

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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