State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

The Artist’s plea for compassion

I live very rurally. Extremely rurally. I can’t see my neighbours or hear them except when they ride around on ATVs and shoot guns which has been happening a lot lately since it is ‘blood month’ up here. As of writing though hunting season has ended. Phewf. Blaze orange just isn’t my colour.

Because of where I live I never get out to movies except when I am in a city, and even then that might happen once a year. I get my movies on the small screen and usually months after the entire world has seen them and memes of them have gone viral throughout the social media universe. I am one of those people who doesn’t get a lot of topical humour because I see everything long after its due date.

Last week, as an example, I finally got to see The Artist. It’s that French film about Hollywood and it is silent. I am a really big silent film fan so I was a little wary. But I was completely won over by its charm and the acting by Jean Dujardin. He is amazing – there is more going on in one of his eyebrows than the entire film career of Ryan Gosling. I guess he totally deserved his Oscar, although I can imagine how bitter that might of felt to American icons such as George Clooney. Ouch.

What resonated for me in the film however wasn’t that it was cleverly filmed and silent and sweet and all that gooey film critic stuff, it was the underlying point being made about art and epochs of transition. In the film a very successful silent movie star gets left behind when talkies appear. His career ends suddenly and then the stock market crashes and he is wiped out financially. Most of the film is following him through loss, grief and disarray. Obviously this plot couldn’t have been more timely. Many people today have gone from seeing their income shrivel up to their careers dying and transforming in ways they are not prepared for. We live in uncertain times for sure.

The Artist goes a little deeper however. Jean Dujardin’s character may be washed up but when his protege, who has gone on to become a star, goes to see his last attempt in film making and she realizes that it is the film business who has lost something not the other way around. She is determined to save him and goes about doing so because she sees an artistry in him that does not deserve to be swept away like garbage. The message rang like a bell in my ear; we are unwise to waste human talent for the pursuit of technological innovation.

Jean Dujardin in The Artist. An astonishing ability to convey dissolution without bitterness.

Silent films, as Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin would testify are films that deserve their own place in our culture. They aren’t just primitive attempts prior to sound and colour. They exist as beautiful examples of film genius in their own right. If you haven’t seen an Eisenstein film such as Ivan the Terrible or Murnau’s Sunrise, you should. They are masterpieces that do not need sound, colour or even Hollywood stars to make them great.

I could relate to The Artist because I have been told for years now that painting is dead and a really old fashioned thing to do. I don’t believe this at all. I think what happened to painting is not dissimilar from what happened to silent film.

You can’t dismiss an art form because it doesn’t use the latest technology. You can’t dismiss an artist because they suddenly don’t seem in vogue. And you shouldn’t dismiss an art form because only white men have been celebrated for it (which is so many people’s defense as to why they think painting is dead). If you did that, then why not just roll back civilization a thousand years and be done with it.

Did these guys have to worry about new technology making their artform old hat?

Painting has been with us forever. For some reason humans like to draw pictures about the world. I’ve always thought it more of a reflex than anything else. You can sort of follow and gauge our human emotional history by the kind of paintings that have been made over time. To paint is to engage yourself with your existence and we paint probably for the very same reason the cave painters as Lascaux did thirty thousand years ago. We just do it, just like eating. You wouldn’t suddenly want to dismiss eating would you?

There is a lovely scene in The Artist when our hero gets a second chance and sound becomes part of the film near the end. We are reminded of how unfair the studios have been to him and it highlights how he stayed gracious throughout his downfall. It is a moment of pure compassion not for a man but for art itself. Adaptability can only happen when support and justice come to the forefront. Cooly negating an artist or art form because it isn’t wearing the current style is a brutal way to behave and it doesn’t advance any of our progress or best interests. The Artist is well titled because although the entire film resides in a commercial milieu, it is about art and making art in this terrible time of fear, economic uncertainty and righteousness.

Pics from Wikipedia and The Modern Allegory

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