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The Artist

So I finally got around to watching this. I was very much struck how Jean Dujardin, the "annoying" male lead seemed to be playing the same character he plays in the OSS 117 films. Neither of those seem to have been reviewed here, so a quick summary:

Imagine that after Dr. No came out, the French made a James Bond spoof. Now imagine that you are watching that spoof decades later. That is OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio. The style, camera work, story, credit sequence, etc, all scream 1960s, but the older of the two is from 2006.

OSS 117 is self-confident to the point of myopia, blatently sexist and racist, and in denial about his homosexuality. But he often interacts with more worldly people whom he tries to convince of the greatness of France. He goes on missions to exotic locations, has affairs with women there, and gets the job done without growing any.

Then at the start of The Artist, here's Dujardin again playing an international in piece that recreates an earlier period of cinema. He (the George Valentin character, not the spy he plays in "A Russian Affair" and "A German Affair") is self-confident to a fault, blind to the obvious truths of his wife, the young star, and the future of cinema. And doing all this in the cinematic style of the 20s. Dujardin is putting the same smugness, the same lack of introspection, the same blind stubbornness into George Valentin.

(Checking today, I see that both of those OSS-117 films are also directed by the same director as this one: Michel Hazanavicius. Bejo, who plays Peppy here, was also in Cairo, Nest of Spies.)

The dog is very similar to Asta in the Thin Man movies, and in some ways George Valentin is reminescent of Nick Charles, the character that owns Asta, but largely just in look.

The path of the story in The Artist is very predictable, but that's often the case with comedies. There are a lot of amusing little details such as the odd parallel between Mrs Valentin drawing all over the photos of her husband and George drawing (literally) on the face of Peppy, the young starlet. Uggie, the name of the dog that plays Jack in the movie, is listed in the credits of one of the films Peppy gets a roll in. The titles of most of the in-story films are as good as intertitles cards in some places, eg "The Thief of Her Heart" looms in the background when Peppy first visits Valentin's changing room.

One weakness of this film is that the tap dancing, which would have been top notch in a big production from the era this takes place in, is only adequate. In a few other ways the film does not feel true to silent era. The intertitles are far too briefly shown. Some of the camera movements and angles seem a bit too modern. Bejo seems too thin for Peppy. The whole movie seems too long. Vaseline is used to smear the image in places, but a circular mask to focus the attention would have been more likely.

I'd say five reels out of seven, and go see the OSS films.

Final thought: assuming a fifteen minute reel

Sarah Vowell

I've previously read Assassination Vacation, and Unfamiliar Fishes (a history of Hawaii mostly focused on the period between the visit of James Cooks and becoming the 50th State). I'm pretty sure I've read The Partly-Cloudy Patriot, but that would have been some years ago. I have not read her other three books (Wordy Shipmates, about Pilgrims; Radio On, I'm guessing about radio; and Take the Cannoli, for which I don't really know the topic).

To kids, she is problably best known as the voice of the teen daughter, Violet, in Pixar's The Incredibles.

Vowell has very engaging histories. She clearly likes this country, but she also refuses to look past it's warts. And there are so many warts that regular histories gloss over or ignore.

Final thought: Chcking imdb I see she's also in several other smaller movie roles.

Frankenweenie (2012)

This is a full-length remake of a 1984 short.

Wikipedia page about the short.

I finally got to see Frankenweenie yesterday. Besides my family, there were four other people in the theatre. And I have seen the original, although it's been a couple of years. All of the classmates's stories (science fair projects and sad song rehearsals) are new to this. The bits involving the boy and his dog, including the ending in the headlights, are very similar to the original.

I felt like the other projects stretched the suspension of disbelief a lot, starting with the fish. Even for a story about bringing a dead dog back to life. Still, I did like the classmate characters. And the science teacher.

It was something to do in Antioch, California

Beauty is Embarrassing

Beauty is Embarrassing is a documentary about artist Wayne White, perhaps best known for puppet design and work on the CBS show Pee Wee's Playhouse. The title comes from a piece White has done, and gets a thorough explanation late in the film.

Basically Wayne White is non-stop making stuff, much of it in a rough untutored style: cardboard, hot-melt glue, sticks found on the ground, scrap wood, other garbage. But some is highly skilled. And all of it comes from the radical notion that art should be fun.

One of the things he does for no apparent reason other than to have fun is make a giant carboard head / mask of Lyndon B Johnson and then wears it out in the world. He hands out cards asking people to elect him, dances, talks with passerbys.

Lots of the film is with White, but there are small snips of shows he's worked on, and several conversations with people who have worked with him, such as Paul Ruebens. Also Matt Groening even though he doesn't seem to have ever worked with White, but later in the film it is revealed that Groening has worked with White's spouse, Mimi Pond.

The showing I went to had Wayne White in the theatre to introduce the film and answer questions after. Some bits I thought interesting from the "You got Q and I've got A" section:

Will he ever get tired of it and do something else? No, he's been drawing and painting since he was three and will never stop.

Will he be taking his word-in-landscape paintings to the next level? Yes, he's in negotiations to put words in the Tennessee mountains.

What's his ideal day? Get up at 7:30, walk the dog, have breakfast at 8 (yogurt and something else), paint until 2ish, smoke some weed, then paint until 7ish.

After "Why did you learn to play banjo?" He named two musicians I'm not going to remember. Then he talked about wanting to be different and everyone else picking up guitars. Then he mentioned it was 1977 and this album called "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols" came out. According to White "Banjos are punk." He said "I don't have the banjo, but LBJ is in the lobby and will be posing for photos."

Three quarters of a Dodge Econoline van with an-all-over DNA painting.

larger than life LBJ

LBJ in the lobby.

Beauty is Embarrassing at IMDB

Wayne White at IMDB

Mimi Pond at IMDB

Final thought: film was at the Roxie in San Francisco because his wife asked them to show it