Dear Jay and Vinny,
I agree that much of The Artist‘s charms rely on its novelty as a silent film, a gimmick that wears off easily once the dragging melodrama sets in and you realize that you’d rather sit through the silent-films-within-the-film (which are far more faithful to the look and feel of silent films than The Artist itself). I feel that its charms are similar to what made Ang Babae sa Septic Tank appeal to a broader audience. Both films are preening for approval while making the audiences feel that they are watching a film whose subject is both timely and familiar enough to let them feel intellectually superior. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but Septic Tank and The Artist use cheap laughs and sentimentality to hide the reed-thin script that relies too much on the lead star’s performance.
I haven’t seen a lot of silent films, at least the classic and well regarded ones but what The Artist forgets is another batch of silent films that have made an indelible mark in film history. The Artist‘s larger perspective of silent films is that they are vehicles to construct movie stars, born out of a demand from the clamoring public who seems to have short-term memory loss when their once favorite star fades into B-movie obscurity. What The Artist thinks little of is that silent films can be a medium to courageously delve in into greater cinematic depths. A good example that I can remember is Raya Martin’s A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, a movie which opens with a talkie prologue but then proceeds to weave a mesmerizing tapestry of Spanish colonial era-Philippines via a vignette of silent films. Sure it can be deathly boring sometimes but its fascinating use of the medium makes the novelty of The Artist look like a Cris Pablo gay exploitation film.
I’d also like to agree on what Jay said about last year being a strong year for women in cinema. Particularly here in the Philippines, three of the best films I saw were directed by women: Six Degrees of Separation from Lila Cuntapay by Antoinette Jadaone, Tundong Magiliw by Jewel Maranan and Big Boy by Shireen Seno. There were also quite a lot of strong performances by actresses in local films such as Eugene Domingo in Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, Shamaine Buencamino and Fides Cuyugan-Asensio in Niño, Lilia Cuntapay in Six Degrees and Maricar Reyes in Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon. Philippine cinema always had a tradition that leaned towards big actresses, to be sure, but the emergence of these filmmakers and actresses are encouraging and foretells a future direction for Philippine Cinema.
Like you guys, I’m disappointed with this year’s nominees for best picture. The Descendants and The Tree of Life are the better films of the batch but I feel that there are more significant films that deserve the other six other slots. But like Jay said, this is the Academy’s show and they are not critics. Their votes will reflect who they are as an organization and how they will establish the film industry’s viewpoint from here on.
I’m still excited to watch some of the films that have slipped off the Academy’s radar like Margaret, Take Shelter, and Tuesday, After Christmas. But one thing I’m glad about is the inclusion of Wim Wenders’s Pina in the documentary category. I failed to watch it in 3D when it premiered in Cinemanila last year but what I saw was enough to mesmerize the fuck out of me.