Sunday, January 22, 2012

New ageism

Like so many others, I was utterly charmed, moved and delighted by Michel Hazanavicius' black and white 'silent' film The Artist, and quite bowled over by its cleverness, and have little to add to Peter Bradshaw's rave review in the Guardian beyond this:

Bradshaw's review stresses the love story angle, which is truly engaging, but it's also a deeply political film with searing contemporary relevance. Not only is its central issue that of old technology needing to make way for the new (here silent films having to make way for the talkies) and the effects on the careers and lives of artists, but embedded in that is a significant theme of ageism. 'I'm all washed up,' says ex-silent-movie idol George Valentin (his speech shown in an intertitle), after Peppy Miller, with whom he fell in love when she was a young hopeful and helped towards her stellar talkies career, announces in an interview that the old must make way for the young. George and the audience witness this interview taking place in a restaurant: it's comic and well as painful. All those old silent movie stars mugging for the camera, Peppy comments to the interviewer, a statement undercut not just by the fact that the nature of this film requires its actors to mug in the same way as those silent movie actors, but, hilariously, by her particularly exaggerated mugging as she makes the comment.

And the film undercuts the ageism in other, dynamic ways. As I walked out of the cinema afterwards it struck me how few older faces we ever see now on the screen. In The Artist, all the retainers and servants are old, which would never happen, I believe, in a contemporary film, and they aren't treated like background props, but play significant parts in the plot. Even the woman who tells the (getting on in years) policeman that George's dog wants him to follow, is on the wrong side of middle age and ordinary-looking, yet the camera lingers on her and makes us relish her, whereas nowadays, you feel, such a character would be both more summarily dismissed and picked for ease on the contemporary youth-and-beauty-obsessed eye.

This film is about invisibility and well as silence. And yet it wears it all with such a light touch; it's so enjoyable, and it really does touch your heart. As Peter Bradshaw says, it has it all.
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