The Artist (2011)

The Artist (2011) – I’ve been bemoaning the lack of new silent films for a while now, and it looks like they heard me in France. I think more than anything, The Artist proves that techniques never become obsolete as long as someone can come along to use them in a profound way. That’s why I support 2D animation even though most films use 3D now. That’s why I support films being shot in black and white if the material calls for it. That’s why I think there should be more silent films dammit. Michel Hazanavicius, best known for the spy spoof OSS 117 films, has made the first silent film to get a major release since Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie in 1976. Like the Brooks film, Hazanavicius’s movie isn’t actually silent from beginning to end but it is about 90% silent and never once did I miss the synchronized sound we’ve all become accustomed to since Al Jolson busted out his famous song in 1929.

Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, one of the world’s biggest movie stars in the late 1920s. Our introduction to him is in a spy film (not unlike OSS 117) being interrogated and screaming “I WON’T TALK!” Oh yeah, there’s a lot of that kind of humor. The Artist is not especially subtle. Anyway George meets cute with an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who slowly starts to make it in the film business. Then the inevitable happens. 1929 comes and the studios make the shift to talkies. George refuses to make the leap. Even the studio head (John Goodman) agrees that George is a “silent film star.” To George, this means making more silent films. To the studio, it means finding new stars. Stars like Peppy. With his trusty dog Jack (Uggie the dog) and his valet Clifton (James Cromwell), George sets out on his own. It’s pretty clear from his first scene with his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) that the marriage will not last until the end of the film (especially not with a young ingénue waiting in the wings). Over the course of the movie George sinks lower and lower, not unlike in a Frank Capra film. Capra’s heroes (think It’s a Wonderful Life) tend to find themselves falling lower and lower and lower until they finally get a happy ending. For George to get his happy ending, he needs to sink pretty low.

The performances from Dujardin, Bejo, and even the dog are first-rate. Hazanvicius has made a masterpiece and love letter to film. Will The Artist be the first silent film since the 1920s to win the Academy Award for Best Picture? I don’t know. The voting patterns of the Academy confound me every year (even when I agree with them) so I’m not going to make a prediction just yet. I do know you should see this movie. It is beautiful. I need to Netflix the OSS 117 films just to see more of the Hazanvicius/Dujardin collaboration. This guy is a film-maker to watch and I can’t wait to see what he makes next, and with what techniques. In a perfect world this movie would open the door for a silent film renaissance, but the world we live in is far from perfect. Maybe it’s for the best. Copycat films would almost certainly fall short of the benchmark for quality set by this film. In the meantime, we have The Artist and that is more than enough.

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2 Responses to “The Artist (2011)”
  1. CMrok93 says:

    This a very well-made flick that will definitely entertain anybody who watches it but to be honest, this is nothing too entirely special enough to win Best Picture. It’s good just not the life-changing flick that I thought I was going to get. Good review.

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