Having grown up glued to black and white Hollywood masterpieces from the Golden Age every Sunday afternoon - at the time, it was that, football in the street, or homework - The Artist draws on references that are almost every one entirely familiar. And of course, like almost everyone, I love it.
It's funny - in a sneaky, better-than sort of way - to hear about the poor punters who demanded money back when they found the movie is - well, 99% of it - really silent. And all black and white.
Take a little Singin' In the Rain - well, OK, rather a lot of it - throw in the better Astaire and Rogers masterpieces and a generous sprinkle of the Pickfair silent dramas of pre-1929, when as we know The Jazz Singer blew silence away forever, and, aside from the genuinely glorious acting that features in every minute of The Artist (and how good to see the great Malcolm McDowell, in a tasty cameo role that surely he'll treasure more than much of his later work) you've got a good summary of the tone and structure of the movie.
There's been - if only prompted by the Academy Award nominations that the movie has earned - a certain amount of soul-searching Way Out West about THE MEANING of The Artist. At a time when the major studios are scrambling to differentiate their still-potent output from the millions of frat-party fart-lighting and cute kitten clips on offer to the less discerning audience via the usual sources, any film this quiet, this unswashbuckling, this unstarridden, and, well, this small, is going to get folks a-talkin'. And a-worryin'.
It strikes me - not that I know much - that THE POINT of this lovely film is to remind us that magic - and Hollywood was always about magic - only works hand-in-hand with severe restriction. An empowered, choice-spoilt audience with all the magic they'll ever need in the palm of their hand, will paradoxically find magic almost nowhere. (Magic is also about the things that you could never imagine yoursself doing. Not just special effects. It's more about writing, in the end, than CGI.)
But put them (well, me, and many thousands of others, anyway) in front of a black and white, silent film for 100 minutes on a cold, wet afternoon, and The Artist returns magic, along with romance, compassion, tragedy, comedy, pathos, cuteness, in spades.
I keep telling anyone who'll listen - for reasons I'll explain below - that in 1929, 95,000,000 Americans went to the movies every week. Of course, like my Sunday afternoons with Busby Berkeley and friends, they had nothing better to do. As the every-tiggerish Umair Haque pointed out some years ago, before moving on to larger econonomic matters, there was a time when attention was infinitely plentiful, and media - stuff to watch - was rare, to the point of being god-given.
And this - actually rather brief, in the grander scheme - Golden Age of the screen was very much built on the profoundly humble, often mundane, rarely privileged, and perhaps above all, physically grounded lives of its audience.
Which brings me to my conclusion.
Any nostalgia that I felt on seeing The Artist was, in the end, little to do with a hankering for the age of the silent movie - those Sunday afternoons weren't THAT much fun, believe me - and all to do with a pang of the loss of a simpler age in the much more recent past ...
One where our infinite connectedness, power to choose, limitless access to channels for self-expression, and our regal bestowing of attention on media objects on the merest whim (with disenfranchised consumer brands creeping around the edges of Facebook, Twitter and the rest, beckoning and gurning like the dancing dads at your 18th) had not yet made us like cranky, jaded children after far too many sweets, allowed to stay up far too late for our own good.
Is The Artist, therefore, one last longing look back, or a sneak peek forward, with perhaps a promise of happier times for moviemakers, beyond today's gruelling battle for the attention of these spoiled, rather unattractive children?
I'll say it's neither, not for me anyway. It's a glorious example - reminder in fact - of what occasionally happens when storytelling and acting talent is left alone to do what it does well, which is not merely to give us yet another expensive, instantly-forgettable chunk of content (I love blockbusters as well as the next bloke, by the way) but to touch our hearts deeply, with a far smaller, more daring, more caring slice of real magic.
Dedicated to the late Jonathan Cecil, who cared enough to dig out and bring me hard-to-find, connoisseur's books about the great silent movie stars when I was a silly South London boy, and who would have adored - and written far more insightfully and lovingly about - this film. R.I.P.