I understand that everyone's kind of sick of yammering on about the relative assets and liabilities of The Artist, but I have to admit that one not-unpleasant sidebar of all the yammering is that Singin' in the Rain tends to get brought up a lot. And if there's one thing I enjoy thinking about, it's the 1952 film co-directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and scripted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
However. What is actually kind of weird, if not actually unpleasant, about this sidebar is that, aside from one single solitary thematic point of comparison, I'm largely convinced that the two films have, if you'll pardon the vulgar turn of phrase, sweet fuckall to do with each other. Yes, The Artist and Singin' in the Rain are "about" the transitional phase from silent to sound in Hollywood history. And. That. Is. It. I consider the point so not-open-to-debate that I don't intend to dwell on it, and anybody who wants to take issue with me might want to wait until The Artist comes out on DVD, and watch it on a double feature with Singin' in the Rain, and then report back to me on The Direct Experience of such a viewing.(My conviction is that most viewers will recognize Singin' in the Rain as the complete multifaceted masterpiece of a Composed Film that it actually is, and The Artist as, at best, "nice.") What I will dwell on, briefly, is an odd thing I've heard from some Artist boosters, which is that the Michel Hazanavicius film is actually more "respectful" of silent cinema than was/is Singin' in the Rain.
After all—I've heard the argument go—Singin' itself depicts silent-film acting as broad, exaggerated, hammy, and the makers of the films as ego-and-revenue obsessive near-hacks, not artists. This is in fact largely the case, and so what. There's a big aspect to Singin' in the Rain that partakes of self-parody, which is somewhat distinct from pastiche. Comden and Green, we may recall, got their start in at least semi-satirical sketch comedy; they, with Judy Holliday and Leonard Bernstein and others, were founders of The Revuers, a troupe that sent up the show biz of their day and before, in a tradition that was followed by outfits as diverse as the SCTVers and the creators of Forbidden Broadway. That is to say, the mockery of tradition/convention was entirely within the bounds of another, not unrelated tradition/convention. While the movie has a great deal of fun not just with silent cinema tropes but also the technical difficulties involved with the transition to sound, it also (unselfconsciously) situates itself within a particular continuum. Most of the comic stylings provided by the almost-literally-born-in-a-trunk former vaudvillean Donald O'Conner in the Kelly/Donen film would not be at all out of place in any non-talking Sennett or Roach short. The joking on silent cinema in Singin' in the Rain is "inside" in the very best sense of the term, while the condition of The Artist is one of near-complete alienation from silent cinema.
One more thing, unfortunately. In a piece about The Artist for the L.A. Weekly, Karina Longworth writes: "Like Singin' in the Rain, a film to which it's often compared, The Artist is an example of the kind of mythic history Hollywood tells about itself in order to promote its own survival in times of trouble." This, despite the quasi-ass-covering qualification "an example," is a bit of an overreach, I'm afraid. Singin' in the Rain came into being because Arthur Freed thought, for reasons I'm disinclined to speculate on, that it would be swell to have a bunch of songs he wrote a couple of decades before to be featured in a brand new feature film. That a masterpiece in the form of an Old Hollywood fable happened to coalesce around that notion is, I believe, merely some sort of a happy accident. "When Rain was released in 1952," Longworth continues, "studios were struggling to adapt to both a 1948 court order that forced the studios to give up ownership and management of movie theaters, and the growing lure of television." Yes, while I look for a copy editor, I shall allow that the assertion there is sort of true, but I think the movie you're thinking of is The Robe, which is a slightly different mythic history. In CinemaScope.