2011’s Tributes To The Classics

Well dear readers, I’m afraid I have faulted at my post. Not only have I neglected to update Backlots for a period of more than 2 weeks (my general rule is at least one update per week), but I have been so caught up with returning to work after the holiday break that I haven’t even had time to read my other favorite blogs–something I try to do every day. My apologies, and I hope to catch up very soon!

My topic today is one that I have foolishly neglected until now, but its analysis seems imminent as the movie awards season has kicked off and the Oscars are just a little over a month away. I want to discuss the current films that address classic Hollywood themes, and we are so lucky this year to have not one, but three prominent movies that do just that. I’ve had the good fortune to see all three of them, and I will analyze them here for your consideration.


The story of Hugo, an orphan who lives in the walls of Gare du Nord in Paris, his only real possession being an automaton that his father was fixing when he died. He often steals toys from a shop in the train station, and one day Hugo befriends the goddaughter of the owner, discovering that not only does this owner hold the secret to the automaton, but many years before he was a pioneer of the art of cinema…..by the name of George Méliès.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, this is an absolutely stunning tribute to early film, and it really passes as a love poem to the art that has given Scorsese so much success. Peppered with clips from well-known Buster Keaton and Hal Roach films, it is truly a pleasure and magnificent to watch. It also gives nods to the stories that have become classic Hollywood legends, such as an audience getting so scared at the sight of a train barreling toward the camera that they ran out of the theater in droves. Also, if you go with a friend who is not as versed in classic Hollywood, prepare to be asked a lot of questions about George Méliès at the end of the film. I saw it with my mom, and she was fascinated that Méliès was a real person, so I was bombarded with questions about his life and career. I highly recommend Hugo, and please, bring the children you know, as well.


A peek into the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl through the eyes of Colin Clark, a third director on the film who develops a friendship with Marilyn Monroe. It is a true story whose release was much-anticipated by the crew at the “A Weekend With the Oliviers” event in London last year, as two of the prominent characters in the film are, as you might imagine, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

I am a REALLY tough customer when it comes to Marilyn Monroe. I feel that she was massively misunderstood, horribly underestimated, and misused and abused within the system, her vulnerability, insecurity and naïvete taken for granted. Even now, 50 years after her death, she is not rid of the gross stereotype that dominated her life–the vast majority of portrayals of her have been camp and inaccurate, leading to a perpetuation of her myth that was her destruction. Though I had heard great things about Michelle Williams’ performance, I had very little hope that it would do her justice.

Boy, was I wrong.

Michelle Williams has done her homework. Her Marilyn was childishly coquettish, sensitive, sweet, unsure of herself and a damned pain in the ass–all things that Marilyn certainly was. I was entranced by her all the way through the film, and admired her ability to show all sides of Marilyn. There were explanations given for her erratic behavior, but she was not portrayed as a martyr, someone who was excused of all responsibility for her actions, as tends to be the general rule in films about Marilyn. It shows HER, and the audience is left to take her as it will.

The portrayals of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were REALLY AWFUL. I will illustrate with pictures, for they are worth 1,000 words.

That’s supposed to be Vivien Leigh.

Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier is really overdone and someone unfamiliar with Olivier might walk away from the film thinking that Laurence Olivier had no teeth.

The movie itself is good. Nicely written and researched (though those familiar with Marilyn, the Oliviers, or classic Hollywood in general might have some trouble with some obvious references. I was able to spot many of the reference books they used simply by listening to the lines), and the kid who plays Colin Clark does a good job. If you can suffer through Julia Ormond and Kenneth Branagh, you’ll enjoy it.


A masterpiece by director Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist tells the story of one silent movie star’s decline at the end of the silent era. He begins a downward spiral into obscurity and alcoholism, until a young woman to whom he had once shown a kindness rescues him from himself. The beautiful story unfolds almost like a fairy tale, with the lack of sound an almost welcome respite from the world of too much noise at the movie theaters nowadays.

I saw this movie twice–the first time, I had tears in my eyes. Finally, I thought to myself, finally someone brave enough to make a movie about silent films–and have it be SILENT! My faith in modern filmmaking was singlehandedly restored.

The second time, I still had the faith in modern filmmaking, but after the film was over, my faith in humanity had been demolished. One one side of me were two young women–laughing at all the inappropriate parts and talking through the title cards. The rest of the audience was not so great either–it seemed as though they thought that since the movie had no sound, they had free rein to talk whenever they wanted to. Silent film etiquette, people! On my other side was my mother….asleep. (Granted, she had had a long day at work.)

Anyway, if you can go and ignore people’s inherent crassness about silent film and simply watch the movie for what it is, you will have a marvelous time, and see one of the few real masterpieces made in recent years. If it doesn’t win Best Picture, I am going to have to have a serious talk with the Academy.

I hope that these reviews sum it up! I am so thrilled that classic film seems to be the theme for this year, and let’s hope that they keep it up!


3 responses to “2011’s Tributes To The Classics

  1. See, your encounter with rudeness while watching The Artist is why I don’t go to the movies–and the really excessive prices. I look forward to seeing all of these films when they make it to DVD.

  2. Lara, I really enjoyed your reviews of the latest films in the Oscar-contender race! In particular, having recently written a post about NIAGARA at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED, I was especially interested in what you had to say about MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, and your affection for the film and Monroe herself has me even more interested in catching up with it!

    Your understandable complaints about the idiots you had to contend with in THE ARTIST (which I’m also very eager to see) brought to mind, of all things, SOMEBODY KILLED HER HUSBAND, the 1978 CHARADE wanna-be co-starring Farrah Fawcett (-Majors, as she was then billed) and Jeff Bridges. They go to NYC’s Museum of Modern Art to enjoy a silent movie. Bridges brought a plush caterpiller toy festooned with jingling bells as a gift to Farrah’s baby son, and the bells seem to jingle more every time they try to keep quiet, to the audience’s consternation. Bridges replies along the lines of, “It’s a silent movie! There’s nothing to hear!” Needless to say, their fellow patrons are neither amused nor impressed! 🙂

  3. This has been a good season for us classic movie fans, hasn’t it? Hugo and The Artist are both wonderful, and My Week with Marilyn is pretty good. Your experience the second time seeing The Artist sounds horrible, though. I’ve only seen it once (and am dying to see it again), but I saw it with a fantastic audience who reacted at all the right moments. The audience can really make or break the movie experience.

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