The Artist (2011) (runtime 100 min) is the new silent picture currently getting Oscar buzz. It won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical, and Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. As I've enjoyed lots of old silent movies, and in the past reviewed several silent movies for this blog, I had to see this one. I'm glad I did.
The Artist is the story of George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin), a silent movie star in the late 1920s. His latest silent film with his cute little dog is a hit with the crowd. But soon status quo in Hollywood will be rocked by the advent of sound.
This is also the story of Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo). Photographers take her picture with George at the film premiere (photo shown is from that scene), and she parlays the exposure into bit parts in the movies, first as a dancer then in small credited roles. She thanks George for her big break.
When sound comes to the movies, instead of embracing it, George Valentin laughs it off as a fad. He won't speak. Peppy on the other hand, gets into the talkies and becomes one of the studio's fresh new faces. George's star fades while Peppy's star ascends. By the early 1930s, Peppy Miller is a glamorous star and George is a washed-up has-been. But fortunately for George, there are those who still care for him, such as Peppy and that cute little dog, and he gets a second chance.
Actor Jean Dujardin wonderfully captures the looks of a dashing, silent film star. His emotions play skillfully across his face. Actress Bérénice Bejo is perky and energetic.
The French director, Michel Hazanavicius, daringly chose to make this new film as a silent movie, except for several artful uses of sound. The Artist is shown in black-and-white, although interestingly, it was shot in color. The Artist uses old techniques and shows they can work beautifully, that silent movies can be, and many of the old ones were, much more than the cliché of scratchy-looking comedies projected at the wrong speed.
The Artist is set in Hollywood during the transition from silents to talkies, when a number of silent movie stars found themselves no longer employable, not only because of bad speaking voices or thick accents, but also because of studio politics. With sound, in addition, came the popularity of musicals. The film career and decline of major silent movie star, John Gilbert, was part of the inspiration for The Artist.
By the way, The Artist is rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.