Sunday, June 15, 2014

Battle Of The Oscar Stars: Silent Double Feature

At this time over four years ago I was a gal freshly out of college, woefully unemployed, and busily attempting to begin a new phase of "adulthood".

Eventually part time work was getting me to pay expenses, but was not fulfilling by any other means. Of course beyond befriending a gaggle of peeps and gaining many horror filled/ hilariously insane retail stories that will live on in tales for years.

Trying to write as much as possible in my free time was where Cronicles In Frame was born. It was supposed to force me into productivity and out of spending every afternoon drooling over Coach and Riggins on Friday Night Lights. Often struggling to find something to write about left me all bewildered - I needed a mission.

Just one light bulb moment sparked a challenge that I am only now, years later, getting within a few paces of the finish line - 86 movies, one girl with an opinion, a couch, and a laptop. Voila! The "Best Picture Or Bust Challenge" was born!

It's been a long haul. Some of these flicks I was NOT excited about watching and months would go by in between Best Picture recipients.  Now with only three movies left to review, I'm prolonging it just because I don't want to see it end.

Well, make that four movies left to review. When I began the very first best picture winner was not available to rent. In that sense, this challenge started off on a lie. How dare I!

About two years ago, the said film, Wings [A movie from 1929, not to be confused with the TV show starring Tony Shalhoub.], was finally released on DVD/Blu-Ray. For good reason I decided to hold off watching it until I got to 2011, a year when old was made new again.

Two silent movies - one truly authentic for its time, the other a brilliant homage. Get ready for a double feature.

Confession - seeing The Artist in the theater, the night before the Oscars was my introduction to silent movies. "They really don't talk for the whole time? Won't that be boring?" I thought.  How quickly I was proved wrong.

The Artist was as authentic as it could be, but now that Wings was finally released I was excited to sit down and watch the real honest to goodness deal. It is definitely an experience brimming with historical significance.

Wings tells the tale of two guys who are rivals fighting to win the affection of the same girl. They are then sent off together to be pilots during WWI, and initially their hometown antics cause tension, but under the extreme circumstances they are forced to work together and become confidants.

Silently pining away for one of the pilots is the cutesy girl next door, played wide eyed and animated by the quintessential silent movie gal, Clara Bow. She is cast off as merely his best friend with no romantic potential, but to the audience she is perfection and I wanted to instantly run out and tie my scarves differently. Wanting to take part in the war effort herself, she gets work assisting in the medical field and all three end up overseas.

Wings lives up to its title as the film specializes in shooting extended aerial sequences - definitely a terrific feat for the era. It is extraordinary to watch and wonder how this remarkable work was accomplished and it's obvious that the director wanted to show off the advances in filming technique, but some of the sequences feel like they drag on too long, especially when it looks like the same footage on repeat.

At least 1/4 of the film is watching planes getting shot down, panicking pilots faces, and looking over the land from above. Movies today are no different. It is equivalent to all the smashy, smashy, blow-up action blockbusters. With every new technological improvement, filmmakers need to go bigger and better. It's like Stewart would say, "Look what I can do!!!" For Wings though, it would still have the same wondrous effect with half the time spent up in the air.

There is also a severely extended sequence (about 20 minutes) involving an intoxicated cadet and a ton of animated bubbles. This bit probably killed in 1929, but now, not so much.

All the bubbles aside, the rest of the story will still be seen as rather exciting and enjoyable to any film fans of today. You cross your fingers hoping that the equally cute and tough Clara Bow gets her man (something audiences are still doing over 80 years later), you cheer for the U.S soldiers,  and then let out a gasp and a tear for a truly tragic turn of events. For some reason, I always expect that old movies won't be shocking, and my expectations were wrong again.

Watching the real thing, made for interesting comparison while watching The Artist for a second time. Is it a signature for silent movies to cause audiences to run the gamut of emotions? Here's another movie that starts out on wonderful highs and leads to dramatic lows. Wings is about war, so that would be expected, but this one is off the battlefield and tackles the battles we each have with ourselves about everyday worries, like failure, relationships, and success.

The Artist is a silent movie about - wait for it - the making of silent movies! Jean Dujardin's smile and charm rockets off the screen as if he was already an established Hollywood movie star, instead of a somewhat unknown from France. This wit no doubt  influenced him earning the Best Actor Oscar (making him the Prom King to Meryl Streep's Queen that year, with glorious pictures to boot).

No question, Dujardin convincingly plays the worlds most famous silent movie actor, George Valentin. With a doggie by his side, he does it all - romance, action, a little swashbuckling, and the audience can't get enough. Including adoring fan Peppy Miller (beyond THE best character name ever), a background dancer/extra with the bright lights of Hollywood shining in her eyes. She gets a few bit parts in Valentin's movies and woefully believes that's all she'll ever accomplish.

That is until the revolution of the talkies, an advancement in technology that utterly slays the general public, and they never want to turn back. Valentin on the other hand is not convinced and fights against the change. Quickly actors willing to support the future of films (good ole gals like Peppy) rise to the top and Valentin struggles to stay relevant.

As difficult as it is to deal with, nothing stays the same forever, and we have to be accepting of change. Valentin gets stuck avoiding this realization, which delves into the more serious scenes of the film. Much like in Wings, these darker plot points were unexpected, especially after all the jazzy music and soft shoe, but these moments push the movie farther - taking it from a simple homage, to a notable classic in its own right.

All the extreme details will make any fan of musicals weak at the knees - there are elaborate costumes, dance numbers, and jaunty orchestral music that fills the speaking void, as well as moving the scenes along. Not to mention there's a dog doing tricks - what else do you need?   

The Artist really is admirable. For being made in the early 2010's, it is quite amazing how all the people involved were able to accomplish such a completely immersive throwback.  I have no complaints whatsoever.

Have you always wanted to watch a silent movie, but for some reason ran away from them with fear in your eyes?  Give these two a chance and there is a limited chance of being disappointed.

Not to bastardize classic film, but you could probably fast forward through part of all those flying sequences in Wings. Just a suggestion, you could do whatever you want, but don't give up before the end!

Until next time.

Next Up: "Argo f*** yourself." Yeah, you guessed it, we're watching Argo.

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