The resounding impact of “The Artist” is the perception of how retro it is in its personification. Similar in some tones to some other films using pure score, the film here works its magic by simply playing at many times to the metaphor of the silent films in terms of the mindset and psychology that manipulated their production. With a magnificent and inherently English/American supporting cast including John Goodman and James Cromwell, the brunt of the film rests of the shoulders of Jean Dujardin who plays the silent matinee idol George Valentin.
The film uses the notion of silence as an emotional barometer. The score itself seems purely built as sort of an emotional soundwave of what is going on. This is not necessarily different from the perspective of modern cinema to be sure but because it approaches the film from the stylistic perspective of that era and barely strays is what gives it its charm. It never oversteps its boundaries using the parlance of the day against it (which in many ways haunted a little bit of “Melancholia” later in the day because of its intrinsic use of metaphors in dialogue). The emotions never feel forced because they are real for what they are. The narrative itself follows the fading of a star and the rising of another one (again not unlike the literal narrative of “Melancholia”) but is done so with a texture that a star’s life is only reflective of their popularity and the choices they make.
The decision to shoot the film in the 16mm framing format from the early days of film is a very specific one and is used to great perspective especially during a stair scene that is purely and wonderfully structured, written and composed. While many of the narrative devices used are expected in their consequence, it still brings about a sense of nostalgia. John Goodman playing the Louis B. Mayer (or would-be Harvey Weinstein for that matter) has a jovial persona with a business mind that understands the mainstream for better or for worse which here reflects in the transgression of silent films to the talkies. Bernice Bejo (also seemingly a French actor like Jean) has a definitive look that defines a bygone era. With ours such a fast cutting world, the notion of a look held or a moment raised sometimes goes unoptioned in the current film vocabulary.
Returning to Dujardin, he modulates the tone through his character’s up and downs using some genre underpinnings in terms of montage and would-be hallucinations of the character to provide a point. The subtleties exist and play against the structure but the film works because it has reference for its genre, love for modern perception but also a balance of nostalgia which never becomes overplayed. The final moments optimizing the one bit of film score that is recognizable fits the occasion if you know where the music comes from.
“The Artist” is a wonderful experiment that knows exactly what its purpose is. The next step becomes a notion of engaging an audience beyond the film lovers and festivalgoers who truly understand the homage that is being made and how well it has been done. The challenge of cross-engaging the consumer always depends on the emotional connection which the film has in spades.
Using their presumption for accurate and relevant perceptions while still highlighting the genre crossing that always begets an audience, HBO, with the growing intensity of “True Blood”, is playing through into the game balancing both films and new outlays of series and miniseries allowing for the ability to truly play the field.
“Temple Grandin”, which follows the life of a mentally challenged woman whose autistic tendencies gave her the edge to become one of the most successful businesswomen in her arena of ranching, comes on the perception of director Mick Jackson, best known for his 90s tomes “L.A. Story” and “The Bodyguard”.
Jackson says that the script interested him from the get-go though, from the title, he thought it was something based in religion. When he looked closer he saw that it was indeed “not the subject of everyday life”. Claire Danes, who took on the role of this woman who was constantly at her shoulder, says that “autism” as a condition “manifests itself differently” in every person “as it does through Temple”. She said that the performance had to be broken down into two major chapters of life and took much time and practice. The risk, she says is always of getting it wrong or underplaying it. Danes said that she felt protected in her approach but knew she had to be very specific which she usually achieved through music on her headphones.
Temple herself found the entire experience surreal at times. She described it as “like going into a weird time machine” where she would ask Clare “do you think that is you?”. She describes autism as “a big spectrum” in that the more and more you learn, the less you act “autistic”. In terms of what allowed her to make her way in the beginning when no one wanted to talk to her, she said she just whipped our her schematics on how to make the machines that now are essential to her business proudly admitting that the drawings in the movie are hers.
Next, “Treme” from the creators of “The Wire” is a motley vision of the residents of New Orleans, mere months after Katrina told from a dramatic point of view as a narrative series.
David Simon, who previous exec credits also include “Generation Kill” and “Homicide”, says “Treme” is about New Orleans but they are using the music as a hook and something to be valued. In terms of the marketing which shows the funeral procession, he admits that there is an undercurrent of darkness. What makes Orleans great in one sense, can make it problematic in others, hence the irony of making a funeral resounding and fun. The aspect of shooting of course begets insurance issues for sure in The Big Easy especially during incumbent hurricane season. What interested him in terms of behavior was that, in terms of the aftermath and consequences, the vestiges of crime started in 2006 but got worse by 2007. The question becomes what the lack of response did or how it perpetrated itself.
Wendell Pierce, who is one of the series leads as Baptiste, a local musician looking to make his way, says that, as a New Orleanian, he was very concerned about the authenticity of the series. The area is very unique and the more specific you are, the more universal it becomes. He knew that David and co-creator Eric Overmeyer had the ability to find the specificity of the culture. The possibility was of making a cathartic moment with life imitating art. He says that someone from “The Wire” told him excitedly that they get to go back to shoot there but Pierce admits that New Orleans still “hasn’t gotten it back together” and that “it is like pulling teeth to get back on your feet”.
Eric Overmeyer follows up these thoughts saying that when they first started talking about doing this series, alot of shows were being shot in New Orleans but never got it right. For example, they initially thought about not introducing John Goodman’s character until the second episode but said they needed someone who could comment in a bigger sense on the political situation that was being explored. This is why they integrated that character immediately. Goodman was a natural choice because he lives in Orleans.
In terms of the naming of show, Overmeyer defines that “Treme” is a neighborhood near the French Quarter where, he says, American music and culture were born. He makes clear that the show is not about that neighborhood but more about the spirit of the town stating that they “figured people would catch up with the title sooner or later”. He sees the New Orleans that they are showing as “the same city but not” because “you can see the scars from the storm” yet “it it is still standing”.
Coming back to the film arena, “You Don’t Know Jack” tells the story of Dr. Jack Kevorkian with only the kind of intensity that Al Pacino can bring to a role.
When asked about moving into this area of cable, Al, in signature style, says “It’s television. It’s HBO” monikering the line. He does state though that television has been doing a lot more in a short period of time. In terms of his character, he says that the film’s title is apt because this is a man who is more than meets the eye which is part of his appeal. Pacino says that not alot of people can say that they know Kevorkian, He himself did not meet Jack when doing the role. He said that there are some characters you do that with. He mentions “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon”. If there are possibilities to meet, it can make for great fodder. Other times not.
Susan Sarandon, who plays Janet Good, a social worker who helped advocate for Dr. Kevorkian in his assisted suicides, says that moving into the HBO arena for this role made sense because “their demographic is different” adding that sometimes “feature work gets watered down”. What truly drew her is that she found the character” mesmerizing”.
Following on the trail blazing between the two worlds of series and films is Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ epic miniseries “The Pacific” which, beyond one of the bigger productions of its kind, has a distinct challenge in distilling the essence of a combat theater so huge that many people were unaware of in its vastness.
Hanks approaches the thought of the mini-series first saying that “the main difference is our source material” calling it “almost a piece of scholarship”. He calls Eugene Sledge’s “Helmet For My Pillow” “about as great a memoir that has ever been published” perceiving it more as a “prose poem”. He calls the difference between “The Pacific” and “Band Of Brothers” as distinctive as the two theaters of war themselves. He sees The Pacific War like the ones we have been involved with since. The idea in “The Pacific” was to “take human beings through hell”. He says that there were some people (probably at the development level) who thought “that this context would be a waste of time”. He agrees that “it doesn’t bend to a graceful narrative”. When talking about World War II, the emphasis is that the war in Europe liberated Paris. The Pacific conflict does not fall into the same structure, in his mind, making the story much more individiualized and not as essential in the actual location they were stationed. Hanks doesn’t see World War II as a “finite open-and-close story” but “more as an aspect as the human condition” where “fate and serendipity” come into play. He comments that “there are great moments of face and great moments of despair”. What he finds key is taking these stories of these young men and figuring it out. He distinctifies that if you look at The Pacific as a museum piece, the difference between what 17-year-olds did then versus what they do today is mind boggling. The best they, as the lead creatives, can do is “show the vastness of the horizon reflected in the eyes of these characters”. He says that the nomenclature of “hero” can be branded about easily or as a catch-all phrase but anyone who said “I do” to service is a “hero”
Spielberg’s view works in congruence. He says that he had a sense when they were making “Saving Private Ryan” of some of the aspects of what these soldiers experience. Much of this was informed by the photographs these men saved. He wanted to find “the 24-frame equivalent of the reality without being elegant”. He also points to the fact that “The Pacific” has a very different look than “Band Of Brothers” which had a desaturated tinge to it. “The Pacific” is what he calls “a blue sky war”. What he and Hanks wanted to most to capture “in essence” was “what happens to the human soul through these engagements”. The way the soldiers in the Pacific Theater fought was in a very different way than the European Theater fought the Axis Forces. The view of “when evil and nature conspire against the individual” creates a different intersection of emotional claustrophobia. As a person who has never been in a war, Spielberg’s perception is that from his perspective “you don’t look at a war as a geopolitical endeavor…you look at it more in small pods”.
Ashton Holmes, who plays Private Sydney Phillips, summarizes the vision from the ground up saying that in terms of the character he was playing “the marine corp was all about discipline”. He pontificates that these men “were trained and trained and trained” so that by that perception “everyone would do their job to the best of their ability” and “be ready”.