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February 23, 2012

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jbryant

Actually, wouldn't THE ARTIST be the kind of mythic history FRANCE tells Hollywood about itself in order to promote its own survival in times of trouble? Or something?

Peter Labuza

great piece Glenn. I think Longworth got it right on saying "The Artist" is a love story to Hollywood without any cynicism whatsoever (even "Entourage," Dear Lord, is more cynical about the business), but the comparison to "Rain" (by her and everyone else) has irked me from day one. "Rain," behind all of its fun and delightful numbers and dances, is much more sly than just another love letter to Hollywood. Besides the many excellent points you have, I always think about the radio interview Don gives talking about dignity, and then we see how he actually got his start as a pool haul junkie--Hardly the fairy tale story that PhotoPlay published all the time.

Steve Macfarlane

Man, if you think THE ARTIST lives in a state of total alienation from silent cinema, you should see ACT OF VALOR!

But seriously: I am one of those ARTIST boosters (I call myself a moderate) of whom you speak, but I appreciate that Freed/Comden's sense of tradition yields something that Hazavinicius clearly ain't got. Inevitably, though, I also have to factor in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's much closer proximity in time/space to the movies it's satirizing, which is a big part of why it clearly turned out much less alienating than, say, HOT SHOTS. or the ARTIST. (Which is NOT to say that Hazavinicius would've made SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, or even come close, had he been operating 60 years ago.)

So for me it becomes a question of: is it better that Hazavinicius et al made the attempt, however badly, or should they have left it alone entirely? The most fervent debates surrounding this film suggest that it is not OK, at least in 2012, for cinema to spoof its own history. But I can't imagine so much browbeating would ever materialize around a HOT SHOTS movie unless it, too, were perilously close to clinching an Academy Award.

(Which leads to yet another question: since when have so many hardcore cineastes given quite such a shit about the Oscars? The Vertigo thing remains much more troublesome....)

Glenn Kenny

I have to again reiterate (and I should have made this clearer to begin with): When I say I think "The Artist" is "nice," I mean it's "nice." Peter L. is right about Karina L. being right about the movie's lack of cynicism, which is commendable. And no, Steve, I'm NOT sorry that the filmmakers made the attempt. And I am taking your question about giving such a shit about the Oscars fairly seriously. But I wrote this up because the question of "Singin' In The Rain"'s relation to silent movies intrigued me, and I appreciate Peter L.'s point about the temporal proximity between "Singin'" and the silent age.

Josh Z

It's perfectly possible to like, even love, both of these movies for what each is individually. There's no need (for anyone) to pit them against one another, either favorably or unfavorably. After all, they are (as was just demonstrated) *different* movies.

This all seems a little defensive to me. The existence of The Artist, and even its likely Oscar victory this weekend, does nothing to besmirch the accomplishment or legacy of Singin' in the Rain.

Glenn Kenny

"Seems a little defensive to me."

Maybe so, but I wasn't the one making all the goddamn "Singin' in the Rain" comparisons. BE SENSIBLE, people, and then you can enjoy your pastiches without irritating people who are actually interested in well-reasoned comparisons that actually can hold some goddamn water.

Steve Macfarlane

Twould be nice if people mentally arranged their cinema more on the grounds of formal/tonal similarities than "hey, here's a movie about the same thing as this other movie!" I think we're getting there, albeit slower than molasses flowing uphill in wintertime....

Stephen Winer

We should also remember that Betty Comden and Adolph Green were major movie buffs before and after they got into the business. (My father was in a film course with them in their early days, taught by Arthur Knight -- he even remembered making a short film with them in Central Park. Oh, how I wish that survived!) Adolph, particularly, was, to quote a quite different film: "One of us! One of us!" and could go on about old movies of all kinds with accuracy and love. It's that spirit that, to me, informs "Singin' in the Rain".

D

Glenn: I think you downplay the difference between self-parody and pastiche in your fine piece: it is a key understanding. SITR is an institution examining its own roots. TA is a film that gathers up signs and symbols from across the spectrum of Classical Hollywood and assembles them into a movie. What is lacking in THE ARTIST, however, is the history/historical memory from which these signifiers emerged. Just as Gertrude Stein could not find her childhood home, THE ARTIST cannot find its history: there is no there there. The film is so deracinated that all it can be is "nice."

rcjohnso

Totally agree that The Artist and SITR are night and day in more ways than one, but (and I'll tread lightly here and try not to make a habit of this) it seems pretty clear that Karina wasn't making any claims as to Freed's original creative motivation. Her comparison is just that Singin' is a story explicitly about Hollywood overcoming the challenge of a difficult transition and coming through shining like a new penny, and that it came out in a time when the industry was facing exactly that. The Robe (though its shooting format is a technical example of what Hollywood was doing to try to combat its current challenge) isn't that at all. Unless I missed some subtext, in which case I really really need to re-watch The Robe. Maybe I do anyway.

Glenn Kenny

@Rcj: I still think, even speaking strictly in terms of semiotics, there's an overreach. Two discrete films do not, to my mind, equal a Hollywood tendency to tell comforting fairy tales about/to itself. And while things DO end well for the studio in "Rain," the audience is much happier that things work out for Don and Kathy. I cite "The Robe," yes, because format-wise it is a very specific response to the television problem, so don't go rewatching it for subtext. (The Blu-ray IS awful nice, though.)

Also worth considering with respect to attitudes to silents is the reverent treatment accorded "Queen Kelly" in the otherwise gimlet-eyed "Sunset Blvd" (I owe the Self-Styled Siren for that observation). In the response-to-television category, various and sundry Tashlins, Wilder's "The Apartment," etc. I honestly don't, appearances to the contrary, take issue with every pronouncement KL makes, but seeing a film I revere held up against something far less...well, good, and in a questionable analogy at that, does ruffle my argumentative feathers.

rcjohnso

It's funny, I really have to replay Sunset in detail in my head to see anything but a rich romantic adoration for silents - which is crazy I know, but a helluva testament to the tone Wilder bakes under all that cruel sharpness. Anyway, I'm much more inclined to get my dander up at folks who actually hold The Artist up to Singin as a movie. But then again, I'm clearly averse to feeling good.

warren oates

When Godard changes his favorite film of all time to THE ARTIST, then maybe I'll see it. Until then, I'm good with SINGN' IN THE RAIN. Where's the Blu-ray of this anywho? Not that I want them to rush the restoration and botch it, just so somebody out there is doing it.

Jim Emerson wrote about how people who love THE ARTIST praise it as "charming and delightful" and that this description couldn't be a bigger turn-off for him. Though I suppose you could accurately describe SINGN' IN THE RAIN the same way. Just that it's not merely "charming and delightful" but oh so much more.

@Steve, I admit that I want to see ACT OF VALOR... which may end up being a strange weekend double feature for me with the Austrian pedophile film MICHAEL.

Glenn Kenny

The reverence for the art is evident in every frame od "Sunset;" its depiction of an industry that chews up its artists is (depiction of nice-guy-but-still-company-man C.B. DeMille notwithstanding) unsparing. The divine Siren also reminded me in conversation that the film's "waxworks" were in point of actual fact still reasonably active.

jbryant

warren: I shouldn't think SINGIN' would need much restoration. Didn't WB do one of those Super Duper Electro Vision 3000 DVD editions, or whatever they're called? They should get on that now, if they haven't, because this year is the 60th anniversary of its release.

Joel Bocko

Well, they do share a similarity in the opening scene, what with the actor shunting the actress offstage and not letting her speak much (or at all, can't remember). In fact I expected her to play a bigger role in the film - but I guess ultimately it was just a somewhat superfluous 50s homage (like the Novak-violating Hermann sample, if sample is the right word for something that went on way too long...)

Actually, I think Longworth is right but wrong. Right because, whether or not the Hollywood framework was accidental Singin' in the Rain says quite a lot about the film industry's perception of itself at a time when it's classical period was falling away. However, I don't think it says what Longworth seems to think it does: the "myth" is not reverential but, as you note, wry and self-deprecating.

Singin' in the Rain posits the backbone of Hollywood as being not the quasi-mythic screen icons (who are shown to be buffoons) nor the supposedly all-powering moguls (who are shown to be quivering cowards) but the ordinary yet talented, hard-working folks like Donald and Debbie, who save the day. In the spectrum of early 50s films casting a cynical eye on Hollywood (Bad and the Beautiful, In a Lonely Place, The Barefoot Contessa, Sunset Blvd.) I'd say it's the most light-hearted but also the least self-serious.

David Ehrenstein

SINGIN IN THE RAIN was the very first movie I ever saw

at Radio City Music Hall

in 1952

I was five years old.

I thought ALL movies would be this great.

Boy Howdy was I ever wrong!

(Extra-personal note: The last time I was in new York in 1999 I ran into Adolph Green at a concert of John Corigliano chamber music featuring Joshua Bell. At the recpetion afterwards I went up to him and told him "You made me who I am today." His response? "You're welcome!")

What Karina Longworth cites is the fact that SINGIN' IN TH RAIN is at heart what was known as a "catalogue musical." The Freed unit at MGM was famous for this -- creating revue-style movies aroudn the songs of composers or teams, eg. WORD AND MUSIC, THREE LITTLE WORDS, TIL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY. As Freed and Nacio Herb Brown were a team it was only logical to do their "catalogue." Comden and Green decided to create a story set in the time most of those songs were writeen -- hence one of the greatest "books" ever written for a movie musical.

I daresay I'm not the first person to point out that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN could have been done as a straight comed without music and still have been a hit.

Comden and Green were great movie fans. Their very favorte was THE SOUNDREL -- a Hect-MacArthur confection starring Noel Coward. it was a "film a clef" about legendary theatrical impressario Jed Harris. Comden and Green memorized the entire film. It's influence shows up more in thier scrept for THE BANDWAGON but it peeps out of SINGIN' too.

As I have said on many forums many times THE ARTIST takes its cue from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN only in relation to Debbie Reynolds dissing of silent film acting in her first big scene with Gene Kelly. "It's all dumb show" -- whereupon she begins to mug in gestures jean Dujardin replicates throughout the destined Oscar winner (this year's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE)

I'd like to say more but as I'm sure you all know my motto: DIGNITY -- ALWAYS DIGNITY!

Milano

"The Artist" is, pardon the expression, a mash-up of both "Singin' in the Rain" and "A Star is Born." It uses the major plot points from both films (including, of course, the "Singin'" ending, where going musical saves the day). Jean Dujardin even obviously imitates Gene Kelly for much of it.

That would be okay if it was funny like "Singin' in the Rain" or touching like (the original and first remake of) "A Star is Born." "The Artist" is just mediocre and tedious.

Gordon Cameron

>Until then, I'm good with SINGN' IN THE RAIN. Where's the Blu-ray of this anywho? Not that I want them to rush the restoration and botch it, just so somebody out there is doing it.

Yes, please. This and Lawrence of Arabia are the two blu-rays I cannot goddamn wait for.

Vidor

I probably shouldn't comment here, because I loved "The Artist" and I thought "Singin' in the Rain" was the most overrated film I ever saw. Maybe it's because I hate musicals. When you find yourself praying for Donald O'Connor's death during the "Make 'em Laugh" sequence and fast-forwarding through the interminable music/dance sequence towards the end, you know that "Singin' in the Rain" is not for you.

But I DID manage to slog through that movie, and I have to say that I think Kenny is off base and the column he links to is accurate. "Singin' in the Rain" treats silent film with an attitude that can only be described as contempt. That's another reason I didn't like it, other than the whole, you know, musical that made me pray for the death of Donald O'Connor angle. That said, Kenny IS right about "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Artist" essentially having nothing to do with each other.

Glenn Kenny

For some reason right now I'm imagining Karina Longworth sighing "With friends like these..."

I know. Not fair.

Vidor

William Everson calls it "simplistic satirization" in his book "American Silent Film", and he liked the movie.

Glenn Kenny

Not for anything (and I'll likely be made to regret it), but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I knew William K. Everson, I worked with William K. Everson, etc. ...

Brandon

The "importance" of THE ARTIST is really lessened for me in seeing its similarities to the OSS 117 films that Hazanavicius and Dujardin previously collaborated on. I really do think it's just a reverance for the period setting and subject that makes people think it's some sort of greater piece of work than it is. The critical difference seems to be in how one identifies with the pastiche. I see it as more gimmicky than apt homage. Even Scott King's TREASURE ISLAND or THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA have a kind of depth or subtext to them that has something to say about what it is showing (whether you think it does it well or not). Maybe THE ARTIST isn't trying to be post-modern like that, but I don't see how it couldn't be...

Josh Z

Wait a second. The "importance" of The Artist? Why does this movie (or any movie, really) have to be IMPORTANT? I think some of you seem to have missed the fact that this is a comedy.

[Insert snide joke about not finding the movie funny here.]

"[P]eople think it's some sort of greater piece of work than it is."

Some of us just enjoyed the movie, and didn't trouble ourselves with worry over what an important piece of work it's supposed to be.

With all the publicity about this being the first silent film likely to win a Best Picture Oscar since Wings, what's been overlooked is that comedies winning that award are almost as rare. What was the last comedy to win Best Picture? Annie Hall?

Gordon Cameron

>Maybe it's because I hate musicals.

Yep, that'll put a dent in the experience.

Asher

I don't like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN much, but I do love THE BAND WAGON, which to me is the masterpiece people have mistaken SINGIN' for. To quote Joe McElhaney:

Repeat viewings of Singin’ in the Rain merely confirm its initial pleasures. Repeat viewings of The Band Wagon bring forth a work of an increasingly apparent formal, thematic and emotional richness which the Kelly/Donen film never approaches.

Tom Block

Thank goodness we don't actually have to choose between them.

Asher

We don't, but I don't think that the one is anywhere close to the other, and the two are related films.

The Fanciful Norwegian

A "60th anniversary restoration" of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is premiering in April at the TCM Classic Film Festival. The DVD master, though good by 2001 standards, was done digitally at 1080i and isn't really suitable for Blu-ray, much less a theatrical presentation. I haven't seen any details of the new master yet, so I don't know if they're actually doing a photochemical restoration or if it's just a new (4K? 8K?) transfer of existing elements (which I understand are in pretty good shape, even though the negative is lost).

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