Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Majesty of the Human Condition in The Artist

The Artist is about George Valentin. A silent film star who is at the top of his career. The side effect of this is that he is vain. Vain of how handsome he is, vain of how successful he is, and vain of his position as a superstar. Then comes the invention of sound, and just like yesterday's garbage, he is out with the trash.

The studio replaces him with a young woman who the world wants to hear speak. And her career starts to take off even as George blows most of his money on one last silent film that tanks at the box office. Why does he do this? Vanity/pride. He thinks that all that he has accomplished is because he has something that others don't have. I draw this conclusion from one specific line in the film that George says as he anoints Peppy Miller (the young starlet) with a single beauty mark that seems to make all the difference.

But maybe that's just it. Maybe that's all the difference there is between a nobody and someone that is a star. A single beauty mark drawn in with a makeup pencil to distinguish her from other girls. Would Suzanne Collins be the star that she is if Scholastic hadn't made her one? I sometimes wonder.
George ends up going broke and drinks himself almost to death. The film ends when he almost commits suicide and Peppy saves him.  "Why won't you let me help you, George?" she asks him. And then it just clicks. She understands that she needs to work around his pride, his vanity, which is suffocating him. So they invent a dancing vaudeville act and become a smashing success together. "Out with the old in with the new" becomes "the new reinvents and gives purpose to the old", which is probably a much better saying, and one that we can take to heart.

I left the theater after having seen this movie and thought to myself how closely this movie is a reflection of our society. I know that in the gay community in particular, many older gay men become invisible to younger men simply because they are the old black and white silent pictures, and now everyone wants "sound". The same can be said for the straight community.

I also see this in ebooks. Printed books are under siege from the onslaught of e-readers, iPads, Nooks, Kindles, and tablets galore (the new). But just like in The Artist, there is still value in the old. You just need to know how to find it with an appreciative eye.

The Artist is an expose of the overall human condition that I see everywhere in America right now. The old get put into nursing homes seemingly at younger and younger ages because families don't want to care for them. I've seen many parents reach an age where there children dismiss them as a bother and probably secretly wish that they'd just die off because they've gotten so busy with their lives that they just can't spare the time. Fade to black. Invisible. When at one time you ruled the world or at least your family. one cares.
What a remarkable film. To capture all of that about our society in a short silent black and white movie.

The Artist is you. The Artist is me. The Artist is a film that is for anyone that is an artist or who fancies themselves to be creative. As writers, we DO fit into this category. How many of you out there are so proud that you will only accept being traditionally published by the Big Six? How many of you desire the fame and adulation of Stephanie Meyer and keep it hidden just under the surface so that no one can tell how much you feel you deserve to be a star? How many of you are vain? That secretly think that your writing is so much better than another authors when you haven't even read what they've written? You just visit their website, look at their book, and think, "Someday I'll be famous and there's no way this person would have ever gotten signed to an agent's good they self-published." How many of you feel contempt for another person as you walk or drive by them on the street just because they are fat, a different race, or smelly?
The Artist is a film that warns against vanity. At the end of the film, George finally loses his vanity and is saved. He achieves happiness and love. I think that's the key. If you depend on the adulation of others to give your life meaning, then you are going to crash and burn.

I haven't seen all the best picture nominees. But The Artist blows Hugo away. Martin Scorsese, in my opinion, doesn't stand a chance.


  1. I think it works both ways. The young dismiss the old, but the old do likewise.

    Each new cultural movement seems to rise up to usurp a stade and unfair establishment, and once it replaces it, immediately becomes just as reactionary and uncompromising. Hippies turn into Wall Street traders.

    It's cyclical i think. When you're young you think it's unfair older people have the power. When you're old you feel it's unfair younger people dismiss your views.


  2. Love the post. Now I want to see the movie.

  3. I haven't heard about this movie. It sounds like a good one. Thanks for the review and insight.

  4. That was so sad, but you have a point. Our society does view caring for their elder parents as a problem. In some societies, it's an honor. I worked in nursing homes, and some were great because they gave the residents more freedom and a better quality of life, but others were sad and lonely.

  5. Bravo Michael!

    I just want to say that I don't think of myself better than anyone--be it writer or artist. I often think of myself as less in comparison. People always say otherwise but I just don't see it.

    I haven't seen the Artist yet but I will, now more than ever thanks to your review.

    But I am guilty, however, of coveting publication by the Big 6. For me, it's simply a pat on the back and proof that I actually can write. It's not about the big advance or free publicity (although I surely wouldn't mind the help), it's more the fact that I am a writer and I am good enough to be backed by such a prestigious institution. The Big 6 is our Oscar, and I think the majority of us feel that way.

    I sure do want that Academy Award! :D

  6. Ciara's right - in some countries, the elderly are still honored, but somehow we've messed that up here.
    Isn't The Artist itself a silent film?

  7. I much prefer my daughters to think me adventurous living here in Mexico, than addle in the Midwest. And trust me...kid's view of their parents turn, no matter how much they love you.

  8. That sounds like too much of a Happily Ever After ending for this Grumpy Bulldog. Really you could probably just stay home and watch "Chaplin."

    Incidentally that "silent star who loses it all when the talkies come around" is so dated they used the same premise in "Family Guy" when Peter relates the stories of some of his famous relatives.

  9. I'm glad you found a movie that touched you. I don't think I'm too guilty of judging the quality of my own stuff as superior to anyone else's though, but you're right that it is easy to be dismissive of other people for very shallow reasons. I don't want to be that way. I have found myself doing it without realizing it before. Just have to stay aware.

  10. In the Asian community, our elders are revered. When my grandfather was alive, he was the center of my family. I wanted to hear his stories of WWII, of having to walk in the Death March in Bataan, and how the Japanese soldiers tortured him. Our elders have SO MUCH to teach us, and it's so sad that so many discard them when they need help the most.

    I loved The Artist. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to see the errors of your ways. And Valentin, in the end, had to have the humility to accept help in order to heal.

  11. Great post and lots of food for thought. Now I want to see this movie.

  12. I -wish- Hugo didn't stand a chance. Not that I've seen either movie. But most of what I've read about Hugo is that the nomination is political and not based on the value of the film. It may win for that reason, too.

    I need to see The Artist.
    (US)America is vain. Some people are already saying we're being replaced by the new talkie that is China.

  13. Um... spoiler alert?

    I probably won't watch this movie, but that's not a knock against it. I don't watch almost every movie.

    But your points about vanity are fairly raised. I'm one of those people who really is very humble, as you probably guessed. In fact, I'm probably the humblest person you'll ever meet. There's not many people that are better than me at being humble.

    So to avoid getting a swelled head, I make sure to try to prop up other people -- especially artistically. One thing I believe is true above all is that there is an infinite amount of room at the top for creative types: Success in creativity is not a zero-sum game. The fact that Stephanie Meyers is wildly successful shouldn't lead to jealousy, because it leads more people to want to read, which creates a market for MY books and YOUR books and even other Stephanie Meyer books.

    That's why I try to help out others -- not so they'll help me back, but because if someone reads YOUR book, after they're done reading it, they might want to read more and maybe they'll read mine.

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm not just humble, I'm also a wonderful person.

  14. Wow. Sounds like a wonderful look at the trouble that vanity causes & what's happening to society as a whole. It's sad to see so few people taking care of their parents or anyone else for that matter. Everyone is self absorbed these days. Kinda sad. :(

  15. @Moody: Thanks for pointing that out, Mood. I agree with you now that you've shed some light on that.

    @N.Scott: It's a great show.

    @CAMB: Thank you.

    @Brinda: It is a good movie. Definitely "Pure Art"

    @Ciara: I agree.

    @T.D.: It's okay T.D. I know you're vain but I still like you ;P. Now go stare at yourself in the mirror.

    @Alex: Yep. We've messed it up.

    @EM: I want to visit Mexico.

    @Grumpy: I can't believe you compared "The Artist" to Family Guy

    @Rusty: It did touch me. It found profound meaning within me and I spent many hours reflecting upon it.

    @Jay: I agree. The Asian community is very supportive of the elderly.

    @Julie: Huzzah

    @Andrew: Not a fan of Hugo? I thought it was pretty decent. I don't think it has a chance vs. The Artist.

    @Briane P: You are vain. And I didn't feel a spoiler was necessary. One doesn't go to this movie because of a story of a washed up movie career. One goes to see the amazing artistic achievement in film. Asking for a spoiler is akin to me being asked to not spoil The Mona Lisa for you. Everyone already knows what it looks like. You go because something in the painting touches something inside you.

  16. I'd go see this movie if I still went out to see movies. It seems like it's about my speed.

    The best movies reflect our world back to us. We get out of them what we put into them. Same with books and art, et al. That's the point, isn't it?

  17. I haven't seen it, but you're right about society.

  18. Very good points, Michael. Although, I'm not sure it's a good idea to never desire what others have, particularly for artist/authors. Regardless of what the Bible says on the subject of coveting, (though I'm not talking about wives, oxen, etc. in this instance) I think a healthy dose of it is what drives many people to reach for success.

    And you do have to reach for it; it doesn't fall in anyone's lap, no matter how it appears. Suzanne Collins wrote a badass book. Steph Meyer tapped the collective emotional vein of females the world over. Yes, they had help from the marketing machine, but I've no doubt they paid their dues along the way.

    Not that you're saying they didn't, as I realize you were using them to illustrate a point. Actually, either way, I'm cool with it. :)

    There's nothing wrong with wanting to be famous to the extent it doesn't fundamentally change who you are. Maybe that's what the movie is all about? Maybe it isn't so much about losing relevance/importance as it is losing sight of what makes us, US. For better or worse, we are individuals. You come into the world that way, you leave it that way.

  19. There must be something wrong with me and Mrs. Chatterbox because we hated this movie, and I've spent most of my life as a professional artist. I just didn't get it. George has a French accent, so what? Many great French actors made it big over here, although a few German actors couldn't convert to talkies. In the beginning George has no trouble conversing with the reporters in the segment where he first meets Peppy. In fact George never has trouble speaking to anyone in the film. But this is a minor flaw. Mostly, I just couldn't keep awake during it. I never have this problem with real silent movies.

  20. The key, I think, with books is that it's still about the story. People want their stories, regardless of the way it's delivered.

  21. Deep subject today.

    Vanity and all the other vices are there to remind us that excess is bad.

    A little bit of vanity? Ah, yes. *G*

    The Artist looks okay but very serious.

  22. I gave up on NY publishers as soon as I realized I'd have to do my own advertising even with them.

  23. Interesting points--and it is true that older people are frequently ignored or shoved aside, at least in American culture.

  24. The story about George reminded me of Mark Madoff, son of Bernie who ripped everyone off. Mark killed himself because he felt his reputation was in ruins and people thought he was guilty because his father was. I just finished reading his wife's story about what happened. If only he didn't have all that pride he would still be alive for his children and wife.

    This sounds like a wonderful film, and one I would like to see. My own pride gets in the way sometimes.

  25. Wonderful, insightful review, but I skipped a few sentences that maybe should've been labeled SPOILER ALERT. I love how you've pointed out that this seemingly very old-fashioned movie is so relevant to us today. I sadly see invisible people all the time, especially among the poor and old.

  26. Wow this movie sounds like one I have to go watch.

    I agree that people are forgetting the old more and more, and that sometimes that isn't the wisest way to live.

  27. I try not be the "artist".
    My parents died when I was not around them. Sadly they buried my father without me being there, ( I landed in India a day after the funeral .) I was able to attend my mother's funeral and even took care of her rituals (last minute details of handling her body to make sure it was cleansed). That one was a harsh reality and a moving experience. I will write in my will not to let my kids have to do that for me. My siblings were there for my father until he took his last breath. With my Mom only my sister was there near her on her death bed. The thing is they were not that old ( fifty nine and sixty five). I would have loved to take care of them if they lived longer.
    I do not know about most gay people but one of my gay friends is taking care of his partner who has a severe illness that people dread of. He wrote to Rosie O' Donald and she sent him an Elmo.

  28. I definitely can see your points in this. And The Artist looks like an amazing film.

  29. Shame on me for not having seen this yet. I will be shocked if this doesn't pick up the Oscar for best film - I've seen so many reviews like yours.

  30. The Artist sounds like a movie I need to go see. You made some great points re publishing too.

  31. Wow, I loved this and now I need to see this movie. I'm glad George was saved.

  32. i still snigger at the meyer types, no skills... just another pretty face and a lot of hype...

    do i want her fame? not a chance... a bit of her money? ... sure

    as for 'the artist', am too old, have witnessed and/or lived much of it, so find it tiresome... yawn - been there, done that - as they say - not as a 'star', just another guy, so my perspective is skewed...

    i've always detested those pencil thin mustaches, and the egos behind them, so have no sympathy for george

    i don't CARE that he was a 'somebody', and gets to be one again... i look at all the 'celebs', making gazillions [not just in film]... can't relate... don't give a rat's ass when they stumble and fall... many do... none influence my life

    king, being hit by a van while out walking, i can relate to, and sympathize... i celebrate his survival and continued successes... but then, he CAN write

  33. Great review. I want to see this movie too! And I think what you had to say was very relevant. The old might dismiss the young in a small way but Youth is god in the U.S. There is a lot of age discrimination that no one really wants to talk about. I feel badly for my coworkers who are trying to get librarian positions but probably won't because they aren't young (and cool) enough. All that money they spent on the Masters gone to waste. yup, youth is god and the only thing standing between you and I and being irrelevant is the Great Spinner (Time).

  34. I haven't seen The Artist yet, so I skipped over certain plot points you mentioned. I had hoped to see more award contending films before the Oscars.
    The creative process is very isolating. It isn't surprising that writers and artists seek validation - and for writers, that may mean holding out for a contract with a conventional publisher.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  35. What a fantastic review. I should really be getting dressed right now and going to work, but I'm reading and commenting here instead... oops!

    I haven't seen The Artist yet, but now I'm going to make sure I do. Even for those that would say that there's no vanity going on, there's always a little bit in there somewhere. I can see I'm going to be thinking about this one all day.

    Thanks for the read
    Laura x

  36. Wow. I hadn't heard of it, but I must see it after this review. I love your thoughts... and they're something I think on often. I hate how we've become a throw-away society... just getting something new instead of fixing what's broken.
    And I think even with all that starpower we often watch and maybe even sometimes dream about... we have to remember the negative is there to balance it out. Would we really want that kind of life if we knew exactly what it entails? I'm not sure I would. Anonymity is quite comfortable.

  37. This movie is vintage i'll check it out!:D

  38. Now I know, I want to see The Artist.

    I think the key is our willingness to change. Nothing ever stays the same. At the same time we do need to appreciate those that paved the way before us and make way for those who come after. We learn from our past and becomes the teachers of the future. (Hugs)Indigo