I have always preferred the reflection of the life to life itself.
At the dawn of the 1930’s, sound came into the world of film. All the stars who were so iconic for their roles in the silent film era, from Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to Greta Garbo and Douglas Fairbanks suddenly found their careers in jeopardy. While it was a monumental accomplishment in film history, the transition from silence to sound was not an easy one for the actors and filmmakers who were just starting to excel in the medium of film.
This time period, and this struggle in particular are the basis of Michel Hazanavicius’ Best Picture winner, The Artist.
When it was released in 2011 (nearly a full century after Al Jolson broke the sound barrier in The Jazz Singer), the film was met with nearly universal acclaim. The artist tells the story of George Valentin, a silent film star who is facing the advent of sound, and Peppy Miller, the fan who becomes famous after a chance encounter with Valentin. Over the course of the film, we are treated to innumerable old Hollywood charms, Hazanavicius’ tributes to many iconic moments in cinema and a very, very cute dog. All of these are the ingredients that made The Artist a critical and financial success and the nostalgia the film plays in to played a large role in the film practically sweeping the Oscars, but this is not what makes The Artist truly great.
In 1931, Charlie Chaplin made City Lights. In 1936, he made Modern Times. Without question these are two of his most famous works, and aside from a few moments in Modern Times, these were silent films. Nearly a decade after sound had effectively killed the silent film, Chaplin was still trying to perfect it and many would argue that he succeeded. Chaplin loved silent movies and he refused to let them die. In 2011, in an era of hundred million dollar movies, Michel Hazanvicius made silence cool again.
However, this dedication to the past and to the craft of filmmaking is not what makes The Artist such a remarkable film. Much like those timeless Chaplin classics, the best thing about The Artist is what lies beneath the surface. The core of an incredible film are relatable characters in an emotional story, and The Artist’s depiction of its artist does this to perfection. We feel pain and unending joy through this journey with Valentin. He is portrayed as a larger than life star, but he becomes so vulnerable over the course of this film without having to speak. The Artist captures the immense power of something that is pure cinema, and something we may have lost when we started to use our ears.
The Artist (2011)
Good Morning, Yasujiro Ozu’s first film shot in color, is an unexpectedly delightful and deceptively thoughtful look at Japanese life in the late 1950’s. The film focuses on two boys who are so intently focused on their parents buying them a television set that they go for days without speaking even a single word and even stretches without food. The adorable young boys are in the middle of a number of domestic dramas that reveal quite a bit about human nature.
From the spot on commentary of the platitudes exchanged by the man and the woman he is afraid to admit his love for, to the drinking fathers and bickering mothers of this small Japanese village, Ozu manages to teach us quite a lot.
The comedic nature of the film is shocking for Ozu, but it is always underlined by a harsh emotional center.
Good Morning (1959)
In 2012, there was a documentary called Room 237 that went into an insane amount of detail about the multitude of fan theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s great horror film. These theories ranged from the absurd to the mildly convincing. However, the entire basis of that film feels flawed. Kubrick himself once said, “A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”
Knowing Kubrick’s feelings on the matter, and the very basis of filmmaking, it seems ridiculous that this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel would become a vessel for conspiracies involving Native Americans or the Moon landing. The Shining does in fact, touch on all of these subjects, but this film is so much more than a simple conspiracy to be unraveled.
Above all, this film focus on Jack Torrance and his descent into madness. It’s not hard to see why Kubrick was drawn to King’s protagonist. The troubled writer would feel all too familiar to the auteur. Thankfully, Kubrick managed to take the source material and make it something all his own. Taking the outline of the novel, and injecting his own life and his own brand of cinema into the Stephen King’s least favorite adaptation.
The Shining, much like the Overlook Hotel takes on a life of its own. It’s a masterpiece, not because it’s a film about genocide or because it contains hidden information about the moon landing, nor is it a masterpiece simply because of it’s amazing story. Kubrick made this film because it’s all of those things. There are references that give way to these crazy theories, and there are things that objectively make this film a technical masterpiece of the horror genre, but the reason this film is a masterpiece is the man behind it all. Kubrick made a film like nothing else. A ridiculous, haunting film that has interpreted thousands of ways by millions of people. The Shining is cinema in its purest form, and Kubrick at the top of his game.
It’s a film that touches every person in their own way. As Kubrick himself so eloquently put it, “I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself.”
The Shining (1980)