Christopher Hawtree

the pillowbook of Christopher Hawtree, writer and Green Party councillor for Central Hove

Silence is Golden

Posted on | January 17, 2012 | No Comments

It’s on elsewhere of course, but it is more than fitting to go and see The Artist at the Duke of York’s in Brighton. After all, more than a century old, this is a cinema much as it was when silent movies were the stock-in-trade and now, as then, there has been a palpable camaraderie in the audiences for it (selling out every evening).

Has it tapped into that angst-escaping mood which made Woody Allen’s equally Twenties-set Midnight in Paris his biggest box-office hit? Perhaps, but there is no doubt that The Artist is much the better work, more sure of itself, pacier, an organic work in tune with now and then, far droller in coping with coincidence.

From the welcome fact of the opening credits being so fast – unlike today’s protracted acknowledgments of all and sundry -, it cuts to the chase, and many a chase there is – whether of woman for man, man for woman, or, even better, dog for policeman. And is has to be said that Uggi (as he is known in real life) is the best movie dog since Asta in The Thin Man.

Just as people have always done, there were audience murmurings – and there was semi-silent satisfaction on all sides – that the driver/factotum was the elderly lover from Six Feet Under, that the likes of Malcolm McDowell are happy with glorious cameos, and indeed the very point is that most in the audience could not put a name to those playing the glorious leads. Any more than they could to the cinematographer who made this such a wonderfully visual piece of work, as assured in the sunlit scenes as in those veritably depth-of-field interiors which found their ultimate expression in Citizen Kane.

There are so many elements of parody and allusion, not least in its pace and its building to a happy ending, that it warms the heart while setting the brain racing as much as any of its turbulent chases.

This only slows for the rewarding minutes of the post-film credits, which go by at the usual pace (including a reference to somebody in charge of “greens”, whatever they might be in film-making terms). One has to watch to see which pieces of music were used, and, to my surprise, great credit is given to a Belgian orchestra – an overture to the fact that this masterpiece was funded by the Belgians.

Well, let’s hope that such astute parlaying of available loot bodes as well for economic recovery in the EC as those films which saw swathes of the population through the Depression.

This film gives you that tingle between the shoulder-blades which Nabokov deemed the highest accolade of anything which aspires to be a work of art. See it on a big screen, with others. A DVD can only be a souvenir of a magical experience (though the extras will be surely – sorely – tempting).

These glorious ninety minutes could bring a renewed taste for silent film (Murnau, anybody?) or, if not that, then Uggi could prompt a relish of that dialogue which animates The Thin Man. Close to that comes Julie Delpy’s Two Days in Paris, to which she has recently completed a Manhattan-set sequel which must make us live in hope of glory.

I saw The Artist on my own – and it was as if, for those ninety minutes , I knew everybody around me as well as I did those on the screen.


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    Christopher Hawtree is the Green Party Councillor for Central Hove but items are posted here in a personal capacity as an individual.

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