Dec 6, 2011

A Gallant Nod to the Gauls

Anthony Lane's pans can be a joy to read, though I think they leave him open to the common charge of shallowness and snark. I much prefer his raves and appreciations, because they require him to apply his formidable linguistic and descriptive skills to the film or artist at hand in a way his pans don't; I suppose one could argue that, from his point of view, the films and artists he dislikes are less worthy of his consideration, and so why not make the review more about his performance than about the work he surveys? (Off the top of my head, I recall relishing this review and this one, which my wife has actually used in an NYU writing class.)

And catching up with recent New Yorkers, I came across Lane's rave for Michel Hazanavicius' new black-and-white silent film, The Artist. Not only are the film's cinematic allusions in expert hands with Lane, whom I once heard deliver a delicious if supererogative encomium to Ava Gardner, but I was extra-gratified to find, at the end of his review, a spot-on summary of a national trait I've come to admire myself, and in a people not typically lauded by those of Lane's own sceptered isle:
What Hazanavicius has wrought is damnably clever, but not cute; less like an arch conceit and more like the needle-sharp recollection of a dream. It is, above all, a Gallic specialty—the intellectual caprice that applies a surprising emotional jolt.
And almost as quickly as I could think, "Ravel!", Lane goes there:
One finds the same mixture in Cocteau’s Orphée, which transmitted Greek myths as if in a live broadcast, and in Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” which sought not so much to mimic Baroque musical form as to uncover a vitalizing force within the act of homage. When challenged over the seeming levity of the piece, Ravel replied, “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence,” and that will stand as a motto for The Artist—a spry monochrome comedy that is tinted with regret for the rackety noise and color, as far as we can hope to imagine them, of lost time. Make way for the old!
Guess I have to try to see that movie, but more important for the moment is to celebrate what criticism passes by.

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