Elitists and How to Reconcile With 'The Artist'


As you might have guessed if you read our list of the 12 best movies of 2011, we finally got around to seeing The Artist this week. The film is a bit of sensation -- at least critically -- and the reasons for that are obvious. Its director and principal stars are French, it's shot in black and white and, oh, yes, it's silent. We said it once already, but the fact that The Artist even exists -- that it has John Goodman and James Cromwell and it is playing in indie movie houses across America -- is an incredible triumph in its own right. That the movie also happens to be a delight is icing on the cake.

Yes, The Artist is a terrific film. You might be attached to "talkies" (no one blames you, and believe us, we feel the same way), but if you go see it, you can and probably will enjoy it, even sans dialogue.

Still, as we were sitting there and taking in this wonderful film, we couldn't help but be a little bit annoyed -- not with anything about The Artist, but with many of the folks around us and with our perception of the elitist perception of it. The Artist is the nearly perfect movie for effete snobs.

Again, it is foreign, shot in black and white and silent. It is the living, breathing personification of some post-hipster's wet dream. It is playing on a limited number of screens around the country. It is non-traditional in every sense. Your $11.50 ticket doesn't just get you into the movie, it also buys entre into a special little club.

"Oh, they just don't make movies like that anymore," you can say at cocktail parties once you've seen it.

This prospect ruined a tiny little part of The Artist for us, and lest you think we're imagining things, consider that a majority of the moviegoers in the audience with us clapped when the credits rolled as if to announce their pride in gaining entry to the aforementioned special little club.

The Artist was very good, but it was light and, yes, fluffy. It is an achievement, but it does not have great depth beyond that. There are no layers to be peeled back. It didn't really leave us thinking about it hours and days after we first saw it. All that is a long way of saying that it didn't deserve applause, at least not if The Descendants or Hugo didn't merit the same response.

We've been over and over The Artist in our head. We've even spilled some digital ink on how conflicted we feel about the way other folks will trumpet it as deserving of the Best Picture, not because of the movie itself, but because of what it can represent -- what it can be for people whose taste is dictated by what they think will make them sound the smartest, not by what they actually like.

It reminds us of the way we felt about Dave Matthews Band about a decade ago when their lyrics seemed to pepper every sorority girl's AIM profile. (Sorry for the dated reference, younger readers.) It drove us to distraction at the time because the prevalence of those lyrics seemed to so outweigh the relative value and importance of them. Anyway, eventually we got over it. We learned to like Dave Matthews Band for Dave Matthews Band and not worry about how other people perceived them -- or our casual fandom of them. And maybe The Artist will be the same -- maybe that tiny voice in the back of our heads that ruined a small part of the movie will fade into white noise.

Or maybe not.

We can't help but notice one big difference between the sorority girls quoting Dave Matthews Band a decade ago and the snobs clapping at the end of The Artist this week -- the former group was being much more genuine than the latter is now. It's a shame that a movie that's so ultimately pure (in the sense of movie history) would attract such a crowd of posers. But we can't -- we mustn't -- let that ruin it for us, tall as that task might seem from time to time.