IN this age of digital revolutions Hollywood retains a nostalgic fascination for the early years of movies. Mel Brooks reminded us of the pleasures of those years in Silent Movie, and Martin Scorsese, in his charming fantasy Hugo, released two years ago, gave us a dazzling celebration of the invention of the cinema. In the same year French director Michel Hazanavicius captivated international audiences with The Artist (Monday, 10.15am, M Masterpiece), about a silent movie star coming to terms with the age of sound.
There were obvious reminders of Singin’ in the Rain, Stanley Donen’s classic musical with Gene Kelly; but while Donen’s film had the benefit of Technicolor and a great musical score, The Artist was a silent movie, shot in black and white and projected in the old-fashioned Academy ratio on a near square screen, its occasional lines of dialogue printed on title cards. Yet audiences loved it as much as the critics, and it won the best picture Oscar in 2012 — the first silent film to do so since Wings in 1928.
Jean Dujardin plays a Twenties movie idol challenged by the sound era while his young protege and co-star (Berenice Bejo) thrives in the new medium. Funny and touching, packed with brilliant sight gags and movie in-jokes, and with a Jack Russell called Uggie who almost steals the show, The Artist is a constant delight.
Following his triumph with The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola surprised everyone with The Conversation (Saturday. 8.30pm, M Masterpiece), a small, intimate and brilliantly crafted film exploring the implications of indiscriminate eavesdropping (or, as we now call it, bugging). I once rated it the best American film of the 70s, and nothing has changed my mind. Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, a seedy San Francisco surveillance expert trapped in a web of corporate intrigue.
(M) ★★★★★ Saturday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece
(PG) ★★★★ Monday, 10.15am, M Masterpiece
(M) ★★★★★ Thursday, 10am, M Drama/Romance
It’s a commonplace to say The Conversation anticipated Watergate; while it appeared a year after the scandal broke, Coppola had written the screenplay years earlier. We begin with a long forward tracking shot from a rooftop as the camera moves towards a man and a woman in a city square. Fragments of their conversation are picked up by hidden microphones, the sounds replayed and manipulated to reveal increasingly sinister meanings. The Conversation works both as an ingenious thriller and as a metaphor for the destruction of liberal values in a world without privacy.
When Rob Marshall’s Chicago (Thursday, 10am, M Drama/Romance) won the Oscar in 2003 it was the first musical to do so since Oliver! in 1969. This is a stunning blend of choreographed elegance and vulgarity, with some great songs (by John Kander and Fred Ebb) and gorgeous performances from Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Renee Zellweger in