Daring 'Artist' a glorious ode to the silent-film era

Daring 'Artist' a glorious ode to the silent-film era

Daring 'Artist' a glorious ode to the silent-film era

It took some courage on Michael Hazanavicius’ part to make his latest film “The Artist” in the style of an old-fashioned, silent film: You wouldn’t think there would be a huge audience for it. However, considering this film is about the rise and fall of an aging silent-movie star, this is the only way Hazanavicius could have done it.  

The silent style gives the movie its sense of identity and without it, “The Artist” would probably be another run-of-the-mill, tragedy/love storie about a famous person’s decline. 

The film is straightforward, easy to follow, not too long and, for how sad it is, it maintains an overall playful and vaudevillian tone. It shows you that a movie doesn’t need to have sound for it to be convincing. 

Hazanavicius captures every aspect of a silent movie. In addition to the use of black-and-white and dialogue cards, there’s Ludovic Bource’s silent-movie-esque instrumental soundtrack that mirrors every mood and action in the film perfectly. There are also a few small touches that further the overall experience, like the slight overacting in the performances and portions of the film that are sped up.

Sounding out loud

The movie opens in 1927 with silent-movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) at the top of his game. He and his producer, Al Zimmer (John Goodman), have made a number of successful movies, and he’s still going strong. After a packed screening of his latest film, he and his faithful Jack Russell terrier (played by Uggi the dog), do some more performing and posing for a crowd of onlookers and press outside the theater. 

He has a beautiful wife, a loyal audience and a big house — he’s living in a dream world. However, all of that changes with the birth of “the talkies.” George is suddenly cast aside to make way for the younger talent, including rising Hollywood starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who takes a liking to George.

George thinks the whole idea of talkies is silly and doesn’t think they’ll last. As he says, “People come to see me; they don’t need to see me speak.” 

He tries to make his own silent movie, but it flops at the box office. Then his wife leaves him and he loses his house and possessions, but he still won’t budge. 

He wants to keep living his caricature dream, making movies and posing for crowds. But change is the future, and it will go on with or without George.

A modern silent film

Despite being set in the silent-movie era, “The Artist” is still a very contemporary film. Just as cinema was going through a revolution back then, cinema is going through a revolution now, with the rising popularity of 3D and even digital film. 

Although Hazanavicius isn’t trying to preach, by any means, there is still a well-paced, compelling and amusing story to keep our attention. And the picture isn’t totally against talkies or changes either, but, in the end, it’s about compromise: Silent movies are out, but that doesn’t mean a silent-movie star can’t still find his place in the new era.

And all the actors in the movie look like they’re having the time of their lives. Since there was no sound, silent-movie actors had to work harder, mugging for the camera and making themselves more animated. 

With his black tuxedo and top hat, his pencil-thin mustache, slicked-back hair and million-dollar smile, you can’t take your eyes off Dujardin. His fluid movements are almost hypnotizing, and partnered with Bejo’s charms, the two have some of the best screen chemistry of the year. They do all this without sound, which spares us the sappy, cliché-ridden “rom-com” dialogue. 

And as for Uggi? The scenes he and George share are some of the most memorable and touching in the movie, which is how it usually goes with dogs in a movie.

Hopefully, audiences will see that Hazanavicius has crafted a rare, once-in-a-decade movie, that both reminds us of a magical time in cinema and of where we are today.

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