Home > Film > Films: The Artist, The Iron Lady, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Films: The Artist, The Iron Lady, Martha Marcy May Marlene

I’ve had a bit of a cinema splurge lately, so as I’m sure my opinion is worth much more than the countless others available on the internet, here are my thoughts.

The Artist

Here’s the thing… I didn’t love it.

I’ll just give you a moment to recover from that revelation…..

That’s not to say I didn’t like it and enjoy it. I’m not even saying I don’t think it should have won the Oscar for Best Film, largely because I can’t think of a better candidate off the top of my head while I type this quickly on a drizzly Sunday evening eating leftover lasagne. I just wasn’t as blown away as almost everyone else was.

I suspect this largely comes down to the expectation/anti-climax issue. As David Mitchell (who I want to be when I grow up) recently remarked upon, when anything is built up with excessive praise the result can only be disappointment. I went into The Artist wanting to see an excellent film, which happened to be silent and shot in 4:3 black and white. What I got was a fairly mediocre film which was all about being silent and being shot in 4:3. The plot was predictable, the characters (the dog aside) thin and largely unlikeable… I just didn’t care. There was some nice cinematography, the dream sequence is worthy of note, and as a modern day novelty it held my attention for the refreshingly short running time. But for me, novelty was the bulk of it. Even ignoring the shark jumping conclusion, if this had been released in the era it was meant to be taking us back to it would barely have registered.

Some have pondered whether the success of The Artist would usher in a flurry of look-a-like/lack of sound-a-likes… I doubt it. This was about a silent film being released in the 21st century. Now it has been done, the point has been made. It is nonetheless enormously uplifting that The Artist could be a popular triumph, once again proving that audiences are willing to embrace fare that doesn’t conform to the regular Hollywood formula. There may be hope after all.

The Iron Lady

Back when I was a producer at a talk radio station, there were certain topics that would make the phones ring. Abortion. Parking tickets. Benefits. If it was 3 in the morning on a quiet news day and your desperate presenter was stuck doing a monologue and approaching an on air breakdown, you could throw one of these out and the switchboard would light up. Granted the people on the other end were generally over-opinionated and under-informed, but not every hour could be Sony award winning.

One such topic was our beloved/despised former PM Margaret Thatcher. Since at the age of 9 I hadn’t really developed an interest in politics (contrary to popular belief I wasn’t born reading The Guardian) I have always struggled to understand the magnitude of emotions surrounding Mrs T. Sure, I got that depending on your leaning you either loved or loathed her policies, probably more so than with most governments. But could she really be so bad that people, and not just the afore-mentioned over-opinionated and under-informed, looked forward to celebrating her death?

Realistically I didn’t expect The Iron Lady to massively realign my understanding of the emotions surrounding 80’s politics, which is good because this wasn’t a film about Thatcher’s politics. In fact it was barely about Thatcher at all… it was a cleverly executed and beautifully acted exploration of dementia, ageing, and losing power. Clearly for the latter aspect it’s hard to imagine anyone for whom the contrast could be so extreme, but otherwise the protagonist could have been anyone.

This explains why the film drew the criticism it did from many sides. For those who agree with Thatcher’s politics, reducing her life to her heartbreaking final years is an insult. For those that found her abhorrent, attempting to rouse any kind of sympathy is an outrage. The great controversies of her career were given moments of exploration which would have left even Daily Express writers thinking “now it’s a bit more complicated than that…”. This was never going to change anyone’s opinion, but I don’t think it intended to. If I want to learn about the complexities of the politics I guess I’m going to have to read some books, because it probably can’t be done in two hours of cinema.

Before I move on, Meryl Streep was thoroughly deserving of her Oscar for this role – haunting, moving and an impersonation that was pitched just the right side of cliché. Although I still struggle to take her seriously after Death Becomes Her. Also more than worthy of note was Olivia Coleman playing Thatcher’s daughter Carol, easily the most overlooked supporting actress performance of the year.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

This wasn’t the kind of film I would normally see. I would see the trailer and read about in the paper, then have no intention of going to see. It shrieked depth and intelligence, and while I wouldn’t class myself as shallow and thick (hush at the back) it just wasn’t for me. But when Claudia and Danny on Film 2012 and the good Dr Kermode all raved about it, I thought maybe I should broaden my horizons. So off I trundled…

I’m hesitant to say anything about the plot as I would agree with the many critics who have said the less you know in advance the better. In fact for the purpose of this “review” it doesn’t really matter, because even now, several weeks later, I don’t know what I made of it. All I can say is that I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone, as it’s rare for a film to make me think for as long as this did and continues to do.

My viewing in fact doubled as a second date – yeah, weird choice of date movie. To add to the fun the chap I was with seemed to be something of film buff so I was rather concerned about being found out when I couldn’t proffer some deep and meaningful analysis. After a few minutes of us both attempting to sound intellectually moved, we both cottoned on the fact that neither of us had a clue *. But it definitely needed to be seen with someone, as this one really did need to be dissected afterwards.

I find myself now staring at the blinking cursor asking what my point is…. I guess on this film I don’t have one. But it does make the point that I should try films I otherwise wouldn’t more often, so I would advise you do the same.

* No, I didn’t see him again. Maybe I was found out after all.

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