Monday, February 06, 2012

Hugo and the Artist

I suspect that this year's Best Picture Oscar will go to either Hugo or The Artist. Both are good movies. They also play to one of the Academy's weaknesses - both of them are about the early history of film and both of them take place around the same time.

Spoilers are likely from here on. You were warned.

Hugo starts as a movie about a young boy who services the clocks in a train station and, on the side, is trying to finish restoring an automaton that is his last connection with his father. Along the way he discovers that the old man who runs a toy counter is George Melies who was a major film maker prior to WWI. Through Hugo's efforts, Melies is recognized and his films recovered.

Although the character of Hugo is fictional, most of the events in the movie really happened.

The Artist is about a silent film star who is left behind when talkies come out. Although the transition killed many careers, this is a fictional story. The artist is also unusual for being shot in black and white and as a (mainly) silent movie.

It would not surprise me if the Artist wins but it has some problems, mainly because it is a silent film.

Keep in mind that in the 1920s, movies were silent for technical reasons - they didn't have the technology to add sound. Actors had to go to extra effort to make their performance visual because their voices could not be heard. The Artist recreates this but it puts a barrier between the movie and the audience. I didn't really care for the characters the same why that I did the ones in Hugo. They also come across as one-dimensional.

Keep in mind that The Artist is not really a silent movie. There are times when it has sound. Possibly the most effective scene is when the main character, George Valentine, suddenly becomes aware of sound. He, and the audience, spends time just listening to various natural sounds. But Valentine is unable to make any sounds himself.

One of the least effective scenes comes when George is asked to the screening of some rushes. It turns out that this is test footage with sound but the effect is completely lost. We see the director entranced and George laughing but we can only imagine what they are reacting to.

Hugo left me wanting to watch the movies of Milies (many are available on YouTube). The Artist did not make me want to see any other silent movies.

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