Now that The Artist has joined the pantheon of bores, Glenn Kenny tries to destroy a popular canard:
I understand that everyone’s kind of sick of yammering on about the relative assets and liabilities of The Artist, but I have to admit that one not-unpleasant sidebar of all the yammering is that Singin’ in the Rain tends to get brought up a lot. And if there’s one thing I enjoy thinking about, it’s the 1952 film co-directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and scripted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
However. What is actually kind of weird, if not actually unpleasant, about this sidebar is that, aside from one single solitary thematic point of comparison, I’m largely convinced that the two films have, if you’ll pardon the vulgar turn of phrase, sweet fuckall to do with each other…
After all—I’ve heard the argument go—Singin‘ itself depicts silent-film acting as broad, exaggerated, hammy, and the makers of the films as ego-and-revenue obsessive near-hacks, not artists. This is in fact largely the case, and so what. There’s a big aspect to Singin’ in the Rain that partakes of self-parody, which is somewhat distinct from pastiche. Comden and Green, we may recall, got their start in at least semi-satirical sketch comedy; they, with Judy Holliday and Leonard Bernstein and others, were founders of The Revuers, a troupe that sent up the show biz of their day and before, in a tradition that was followed by outfits as diverse as the SCTVers and the creators of Forbidden Broadway. That is to say, the mockery of tradition/convention was entirely within the bounds of another, not unrelated tradition/convention. While the movie has a great deal of fun not just with silent cinema tropes but also the technical difficulties involved with the transition to sound, it also (unselfconsciously) situates itself within a particular continuum. Most of the comic stylings provided by the almost-literally-born-in-a-trunk former vaudvillean Donald O’Connor in the Kelly/Donen film would not be at all out of place in any non-talking Sennett or Roach short. The joking on silent cinema in Singin’ in the Rain is “inside” in the very best sense of the term, while the condition of The Artist is one of near-complete alienation from silent cinema.
The Artist boasts no lunacy comparable to one of Donald O’Connor’s muggings.