Monday, January 16, 2012

Nostalgia and "The Artist"

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist" 
I've been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. Maybe it's because our culture is so obsessed with rehashing and reusing and recycling the good ole days or maybe it's because our technology makes it so much easier to share, resample and comment on things already made than it is in helping us to clear enough space in our time/brains to think up and MAKE new things....

It strikes me as very significant that the Belgian film "The Artist" is capturing so much Hollywood attention this year.


I personally loved the film and do think it was one of the 'best pictures' of the year.... BUT I find it fascinating to think that the American film industry would be ready to concede its big prize to this small, b/w arty silent-ish Belgian film which is so completely about nostalgia for a long gone American past.  Does this herald a concession by Hollywood that it's own best times are the past?  Or just a new found willingness to embrace, rather than obliterate, its long past glories?

And, of course, 'The Artist" is a film about how technology can shift the balance of power and create instant winners and losers: an all too apt metaphor for our current cultural condition: where new media/the internet and computer/web technology is on top and swiftly forcing the publishing, film and broadcast industries to radically change or get blown away.  I guess this is the logical followup to "The Social Network" - last year's big winner....

And, interestingly enough - dovetailing with the current obsession with "feminism" (I'm thinking about Young Jean Lee's "Untitled Feminist Show" as well as the proliferation of 70's feminism nostalgia art shows in the museums recently) --  "The Artist" is also about a newly powerful woman trying to save a man who has lost his power and his way in the new world. Lest you think this is some kind of feminist fairy tale, her female power is defined only as her appeal to the public. Her power in the world of the film is tempered by the fact that She is in love with Him and her love for her chosen man and his glamorous yet outdated past is what propels her desire to try and save him. (Her power is also carefully defined by the man at the head of the studio - lest you think that she has any power over her what we assume to be her temporary situation.) This power dynamic of the woman on top of her man and trying to make amends so that he can love her fully and restore the rightful place of the powerful man with his glamorous chosen gal is a familiar one.

Enter the dog. To save the day and upend the power struggle between male and female, and demonstrating for us that animals really are smarter and more essential than we would otherwise give them credit for.... Charming, amazing, magical -- the dog is really the man's best friend, not the well-intentioned, beautiful but meddling woman....  the dog is the one to restore man's true place.  Interestingly enough, Susan Orleans' new book about Rin Tin Tin highlights the primacy of dogs as important leading characters in the silent film oeuvre.

The real story behind 'The Artist' isn't so much that the dog will save the day, but that in order to survive, the old dogs have to learn new tricks... George Valentin's problem is his stubborn refusal to change with the times. It strikes me as brilliantly, ironically apt that this 'silent' black and white film carries this all too contemporary message - a kind of ribbing at the very industry starring down the barrel at their own diminished relevancy (if not outright obsolescence).

And then there's "Hugo" which is an American film thinking about the history of French magical cinema ala Georges Melies. Of course, a kind of metaphor for the new tech wonders of 3D....

Nostalgia for a simplier, more magical, more mysterious time when film was giant, flickering apparitions and we were in the dark.

1 comment:

culture spy said...

I finally figured out what all that nostalgia stuff is about.... the Hulu Plus TV ad made me realize this... Oh right, the past is for sale! All the entertainment economic models are based on selling stuff that was made in the past.... old TV, last decades hits... old movies... history -- you can now BUY it, online.