I have been a rather avid movie watcher at late. The latest that come to mind are The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Titanic, How to Marry a Millionaire, Thor, and The Artist. Most have been quite good, some have been exceptionally good, and one was downright awful. Out of all of those, though, the one I really want to talk about today is The Artist because there is a very good reason why it one five Oscars (best picture, best director, best actor, best costume design, and best original score).
The movie itself is set up like a silent picture from the 20s. In fact, it is about silent film star and what becomes of him as pictures transition from silents to talkies, and as the stock market crashes in ’29. I simply adore silent films, so it’s no wonder that The Artist was quick to steal my heart. Unlike most silent films, though, there wasn’t a terribly large amount to text to read. The text is certainly kept to a minimum and it is only present when absolutely necessary. As a whole, the viewer is left to speculate what the characters are saying, which isn’t terribly hard since each actor and actress was certainly profound. Their actions and facial expressions clearly show how they’re feeling, but it isn’t like stiff and unnatural mugging (which is typical of silent films and certainly has its place). Now, of course, there is exaggerated mugging when George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) is shown playing roles in his wildly popular silents, but offstage George and Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo) are natural and fluid.
Acting in a silent film strips an actor to his bare bones, and the actor either shines or falls. Jean Dujardin shines. He is an exceptional actor and I am certainly going to be hunting down other films he has acted in. In many ways, Dujardin’s style reminds me of Vincent Price’s. Each facial expression, each gesture, is there for a reason. Everything has a purpose, but even though that is the case, his acting loses none of the fluidity that it might have. Nothing is forced but everything is purposeful. His solemn state of ennui at the bar, his lighthearted competitiveness with Miss Miller’s dancing, his outburst of madness when tearing apart reels and then his panicked desperation when searching for the reel of he and Peppy’s first screen time together, his bruised pride at finding exactly how much Peppy has been looking after him. All are beautifully portrayed.
The fact that Michel Hazanavicius won best director is an absolute no brainer. Like Dujardin’s acting, all aspects of the movie were natural and purposeful. His storyline (Hazanavicius was the writer as well) was gorgeous and dramatic, it was sweet and romantic, and comedic and tragic all at once. It was substantial without being overbearing. It was the story of a man’s life without being dull or unrealistic.
One of the most striking elements of the film was the incredible cinematography. Guillame Schiffman did spectacularly. His sometimes skewed angles and unique perspective elements served to add yet another layer of depth to an intricate picture. Out of all of the shots, the two that I found most striking were the angles shot when George is leaving Kinograph because of talkies and he meets Peppy on the stairs. As the two conversed, the angles shot elevate George’s mixed emotions at being tossed aside while Peppy, the girl whom he made way for and the girl whom he undoubtedly harbors feelings for, is rushed into stardom as “fresh meat.” The second shot was that when George repulsively stares at his reflection on the table and then proceeds to pour his bourbon on the image. The skew of the shot coupled with the unique perspective of the mirrored table makes that image stand out.
The costumes, of course, were fabulous. Bridges costumes were the epitome of the 20s and 30s without being overly flamboyant a la Great Gatsby (which I love deeply, but it was refreshing to see a slightly more subdued 2os). I also liked the lack of flamboyant head pieces, which I still love. As I said earlier, though, it was just refreshing to see a 20s film that lacked those elements.
Finally, the score was nothing short of amazing. Being a silent film, it was absolutely necessary that the score be able to speak since the actors couldn’t. The music was jazzy, sensual, dramatic, and peppy. It was everything that a silent film needed and excellently topped off this magnificence of a film.
In closing, you should go watch this now. It is on Netflix (and I’m sure Hulu as well), so there really is no excuse not to. It is a film that touches a part of your soul that can rarely be reached. And, while you’re watching it, I recommend you eat some of this lemon soufflé, because it is sweet and spongy/creamy and perfectly jazzy and not at all to be underestimated.
Recipe from the marvelous Joy Wilson.
- 200 grams / 1 cup unrefined cane sugar, divided
- 40 grams / 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
- 3 large eggs, divided
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 50 grams / 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- rounded 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 80 mL / 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 240 mL / 1 cup whole milk
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- crème fraiche, to serve
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and place rack in the center of the oven. Butter 6 1-cup ramekins or a 9-inch pie pan (what I did). Pull out a large roasting pan to later place your ramekins or pie pan in and set aside. Begin heating up a kettle of water on your stove.
In the large bowl of your stand mixer, dump in your sugar. Remove two tablespoons and set aside in a small dish. To the sugar in the large bowl add in the lemon zest. Using your fingers, work the zest into the sugar until it is pale yellow and intoxicatingly fragrant. Set the bowl in your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and add in the butter and cream together. Add in the 3 egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating thoroughly after each addition. Add in the vanilla and mix. Then add in the flour and salt and mix until smooth. With the mixer on low, slowly beat in the lemon juice and milk, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to create a homogenous batter. Set aside.
With your stand mixer fixed with the whisk attachment, add your egg whites into a medium sized bowl. Beat on high until frothy. Add in the cream of tartar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Slowly add in the sugar and stop beating.
Add your beaten egg whites into the lemon batter in three additions, folding in each one until just combined. Then, using a ladle or by carefully pouring, divvy up your batter among the six ramekins (or dump all of it into the pie pan). The batter won’t rise much, so fill them up pretty full.
Place your ramekins or pie pan into the large roasting dish and set in the oven. Pull the rack out slightly and pour in the boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the ramekins or pan. If you don’t have quite enough water, just add in some hot tap water to make up the difference. Slide the unit back into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is barely golden, being sure not to peak on it for the first 40 minutes. The soufflé will be done when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, just be sure not to stick it in too far or it will touch the pudding on the bottom.
Cool the soufflé on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of crème fraiche.