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Cinema is a narcissistic art and we love it for that. Somehow, some of the best films in history have been films on films. That's also the case with this year’s Academy Award winning (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design) "The Artist."
Michel Hazanavicius is known for his talent for remakes and reinterpretations such as his spy movie parody series "OSS 117" or "La classe americaine" - a TV movie made entirely from extracts from old Warner Bros. films. In his newest production the French director boldly approached the silent cinema genre. The film, based on the well-known theme of fading silent movie stars and the rise of talkie celebrities (see: "A Star is Born", "Sunset Boulevard", "All about Eve" and "Singing in the Rain") is full of references and quotations from classic cinema. At the same time, it's far from being a hermetic homage to cinema meant for movie freaks.
The success of "The Artist" seems especially spectacular if we take into account that this season the big screens hosted two films referring to early cinema history. "The Artist"'s rival was Scorsese's "Hugo"; a 3D production set in Paris at the times of Méliès. Both building on the enchantment of old cinema, the films opted for entirely different types of narration to create an image of silent cinematography's charm. While Scorsese's film assumes and makes use of all the benefits of film technology and special effects in order to revive and visualise the magic of cinema, "The Artist"'s minimalist form praises cinema for its ability to generate poetry through realism.
The success of "The Artist" lies precisely in the fact that the film is not what it seems to be; it's not an imitation. Making a classic silent black and white movie in the era of 3D would simply be a pretentious anachronism. But "The Artist" is not a silent movie, it's a pastiche, and a very intelligent one. Pastiche variations on earlier works can serve as creative platforms for writers and artists to confront the past and the present in intertextual games; in "The Artist" this confrontation occurs in the particularly paradoxal construction of a silent film on the rise of sound films.