I am taking a blogging vacation this week but not leaving you high and dry without any postings or with reruns. I have invited a different guest blogger for each day, so please welcome them. Thirza Vallois, author of the popular guidebook series Around and About Paris, has written about the silent film The Artist, which has received accolades since it opened last year and is nominated for 10 Oscars. Read her impassioned review of why she thinks this little film should win the Oscar this year.
On 28 December 1895, the Lumière Brothers, Auguste and Louis, summoned Paris to the first public film screening in the Salon Indien, in the basement of the Grand Café, at 14 boulevard des Capucines, now the site of the Hôtel Scribe. Tickets went for 1 franc. The 20-minute show consisted of ten films which lasted roughly two minutes each, including the brothers' first movie La Sortie des usines Lumière. The 33 spectators present were at once thrilled and incredulous: no sooner was the show over than they rushed behind the screen to look for the actors! But the press didn't even bother to give it a mention, let alone turn up. Yet, when the brothers repeated the experience three weeks later, the takings rocketed to 2,000 francs!
Things picked up fast, for among those attending the premiere was the theatre illusionist Georges Meliès who within months carried his tricks to the screen, using the revolutionary technology of the cinema to create special effects that carried the spectator to a world of dreams and fantasy hitherto unknown, making him the first "cinemagician" and the pioneer of science fiction movies, most famously remembered for his Voyage sur la lune (1902). Optimism reigned supreme as the new technology marched forward with its new "usines à rêves" (dream factories) which sprang up all over Paris, often on the converted premises of once beloved music-halls, the very world Meliès came from, trampling whilst they were about it many a career. Such is life in general, the old must make room for the new, and such is the storyline of the award-loaded French movie The Artist, the much favoured contender for this year's Oscars.
The plot is simple: the fall of a dashing silent-movie idol, George Valentin, in the aftermath of the arrival of the talkies. This was the sad reality prevailing in Hollywood back in the early 1930s, which left many on the roadside. Not only did director Michel Hazanavicius risk his way into a topic which one wouldn't expect to resonate with today's wide public, he pushed the challenge further by reverting to the technology and format of the silent movie, shooting it in black and white, keeping the storyline simple, the dialogue minimal and the emotions basic, hardly the stuff you would risk dishing to today's insatiable and oversatiated audiences. The film also had to make do with a modest $ 12M budget, as against the $150 - 170M budget of Martin Scorsese's Hugo, one of The Artist's competing contenders for the Oscars, which also travels to the early days of the cinema and pays homage to the above-mentioned Meliès. Yet, whereas Hugo failed to impress me despite its 3D cutting-edge technology, The Artist swept me off my feet right away and kept me emotionally hooked and involved at all moments thanks to the brisk, lively pace, the exciting twists and turns, the impeccable build-up of the tight plot towards the climax, all packed into no more than 100 minutes. At times funny, at times sad, The Artist has all the ingredients of an old-fashioned melodrama, making us oscillate between tears and laughter, up to the final humorous twist that brings the film to a close with a fairytale happy ending.
The awards should go to the entire team, each of whom was brilliant in his or her own way. Hazanavicius for a start, who removed the dust from the obsolete genre and brought it alive, instilling in us, bored audiences of the 21st century, the same intense pleasure experienced by our fellow predecessors of nearly a century ago; Guillaume Schiffman, who stirred us with the warmth, sharpness and contrasting shades of black-and-white photography, the actors, all of them, the lead roles obviously, dashing Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and adorable Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller, equally delightful when sparkling with mischief and when earnestly in love and compassionate; but all the others too, John Goodman as Al Zimmer, the Hollywood producer, or James Cromwell as the old loyal driver, Clifton, not to mention Uggie, the once wayward Jack Russell who was destined possibly for the pound or worse, but was fortunate to be spotted by an animal trainer who detected in him some talent. On the Golden Globe night, which won The Artist three awards, Uggie clearly stole the show on the red carpet. That being said, owing to his canine condition, he has been barred the way to any of Hollywood's nominations.
Perhaps the most phenomenal aspect of the movie is the way it handles sound, its witty interaction with the overall silence. Not to mention the first scene when the camera closes up on the agonising motions and contortions of Valentin's mute lips as, with ears zapped by electrodes, he is ordered to speak, a scene inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis but to me also evocative of Modern Times, when Charlie Chaplin is force-fed by a newly invented time-saving machine. Above all, Ludovic Bource's brilliant score that runs through the film in different modes, reproducing the live orchestras, sometimes pianists, that amply made up for the shortcomings of the technology. Having attended several such revivals, I can vouch that their emotional impact is no less effective than the spoken dialogue. With all due respect to Kim Novak and my admiration for Hitchcock's Vertigo and Bernard Hermann's scores, Bource "raped" no one, to quote Kim Novak, quite the contrary. In coherence with every aspect of the movie, he was inspired by the great masters but plagiarised none, as was Hazanavicius.
Only one far-sighted journalist was aware of the historic event he had attended in the basement of the Grand Café, on 28 December 1895. His report went as follows: "When all are able to photograph their dear ones in motion, in action, in their everyday gestures, with words on the tips of their tongues, death will cease to be absolute." What the reporter failed to foresee was that the familiarity he had rightly anticipated, would put an end to the magic and dreams. How can it be otherwise when videos and DVDs are piled up in our living rooms and when each new technology is devoured by the next one? Yet we still crave the simple and sincere emotions of yore, it would seem, judging by the immense success of The Artist. Without diminishing its loveliness, and the well deserved praise it has received from all quarters, doesn't the public's response tell us that big-money blockbusters don't always have the final word and don't necessarily win people’s hearts? I am confident that many like myself hope The Artist will be an Academy Award winner. Wouldn't that be the ultimate recognition for a small-budget French movie in black and white? A just return for its love affair with Hollywood and its celebration of its great legacy.
Thirza Vallois is the author of the internationally acclaimed Around and About Paris series, Romantic Paris and Aveyron, A Bridge to French Arcadia. A long-time Parisian, Thirza is a Sorbonne post-graduate and also holds the prestigious French Agrégation. Thirza is an expert on all things Parisian and has also written the Paris entry for the Encarta Encyclopaedia. She has appeared on PBS, BBC, the Travel Channel, the French Cultural Channel, Discovery and CNN, has worked as a consultant for the BBC, has spoken on BBC Radio 4, NPR in the US, and had her own programme "postcard from Paris" on one of London's radios.
Thirza also lectures to art societies and educational organisations throughout the world and writes for the international press. Her award-winning Three Perfect Days in Paris story, published in United Airlines' Hemispheres, was aired on their international flights and travel channels.
Besides Paris, Thirza has been travelling and writing about other areas of France. Many of her stories can be found on line. Her joy to help visitors travel off the beaten track has led to her devoting several years and an entire book to the Aveyron, a beautiful, little-known hidden corner of rural France.
Around and About Paris, volume 1, covering the centre of the city, is now available as an ebook, making it the ideal companion for the reader on the move. This new and entirely revised edition is now available in print in Paris. It can also be purchased through Thirza's website.
"There are all sorts of guidebooks on Paris... and then there are Thirza Vallois's extraordinary Around and
About Paris! "
The Sunday Times, London
"An astonishingly informative companion."
The Times Literary Supplement, London
"I think we can safely toss all other Paris guidebooks aside."
William Boyd, The Spectator, London
"Treat yourself to this treasure!/Booklist, The Library Journal, US
In addition to my Eye Prefer Paris Tours, we now offer Eye Prefer New York Tours, 3-hour walking tours of New York's best neighborhoods including Soho, Meatpacking/West Village & Tribeca. Tours cost $195 for up to 3 people and $65 for each additional person.Come take a bit of the Big Apple on an Eye Prefer New York Tour!
Come experience my blog ìliveî with my Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I lead. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.Tours cost 195 euros for up to 3 people, and 65 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris. www.eyepreferparistours.com
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotteís professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.