20 January 2012
Comedy | Romance | Drama
Cinema has been around for over a hundred years, but for almost thirty years all movies were silent. You didn’t need an expensive soundtrack, or any for that matter. All that a movie needed was a visual story on screen, a live orchestra, and of course the audience. Still, the 1927 release of “The Jazz Singer” made way for ‘talkies”, and many silent film actors couldn’t adapt to the changing times. The 2011 film “The Artist” is a commentary on such times and people, though as dark as it is at times this is one expertly made motion picture that you won’t want to miss.
We open on a fictional silent film star George Valentin, played with gusto by Jean Dujardin (Brice de Nice; OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies). George is the hottest thing around, bringing sell-out crowds to all his films. On the night premiere of his latest film “A Russian Affair”, we discover that he is a bit of a showoff and hogs all the spotlight away from his peers, but on the whole he’s a likeable guy. He even has a pet dog he brings everywhere named Jack, played by canine superstar Uggie (Mr. Fix It, Water for Elephants). The pair are inseparable, except when George is on the red carpet hamming it up for photographers. Yet in the crowd of ladies begging for his autograph one girl happens to drop her purse in front of him. She sneaks past security to get it and raising back up meets his astonished gaze. Her name is Peppy Miller, an equally peppy Bérénice Bejo (A Knight’s Tale; OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies). She is nervous that a bigshot would be staring at her, but George laughs it off and invites her to pose for pictures with him. This makes everyone else nervous with their pictures in the newspaper, such as his wife and studio producers. She even ends up being an extra in a movie with him, but they can’t do their takes right from pheromones in the air. A few years later Peppy is getting bigger roles and the audience loves her, but with the introduction of sound in movies and the stock market crash, George is suddenly old and expired while Peppy is the new big star of Hollywoodland. Though George is selling off all his possessions for booze money, the lives of these two stars will become linked once again.
Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius is not a name you may be familiar with but that might change with this film. He presents a silent movie era film as being, well, silent. Most of the movie has no spoken dialogue, just cue card subtitles on screen. It’s even presented in Black & White and the full screen ratio of 1.33:1, just like it would have been in the 1920’s-30’s. All the same, the movie doesn’t need spoken lines to get the point across, as much of the emotion and heartache comes from mime acting, but then again so does the comic relief. The life of George seems to mimic that of real life Douglas Fairbanks who couldn’t get a sustainable career once movies talked. There are many American stars in this such as John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, and Malcolm McDowell making welcome appearances. However, the real supporting star is dog Uggie who is even smarter than his owner and despite all the hardships never gives up on him.
“The Artist” has the feel of “A Star is Born” with elements of “Singing in the Rain”. It’s more than just a gimmick movie, it’s a powerfully told story on the fall and resurrection of stardom. I can’t wait to see it a second time.