Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break.
Silent movies. Does anyone remember these? Has anyone even seen one before, let alone in a theater? The silent movie was made obsolete over a half-century ago, and with good reason. Why would you want a movie without sound effects and voices when you have the means to do so? The same goes for black and white pictures. There is only one reason left to make a silent black and white film: art. Film is an art, and most of the ideas these days to be unique are to have more CGI and explosions than the next guy, but writer/director Michel Hazanavicius went the opposite direction, by removing color and sound effects. Now if no one had heard of it before and the ratings and praise it has gotten, I don’t think very many people would think much of the idea. But one way to get a new and unique idea out into the public eye is to do whatever it is you’re doing well. And Hazanavicius did this very well.
Before watching this movie, I decided to get as much into the movie atmosphere as I could, for it’s been a long while since I’ve actually been to the theater, and this movie seems like it is a good theater movie. I made popcorn, got some movie theater style candy from the gas station, some soda, and even opened my window a small tad to get the slight chill in a theater. I have to say it made my viewing experience better, but there is nothing like an actual theater to see a movie you’d really like to see. I wish ticket prices were a bit lower, but I digress.
The Artist opens with credits, something every film used to do back then, and it uses the same textual styling and transitions. The actual silent film opens with an audience watching a silent film starring George Valentin, payed by the charismatic Jean Dujardin. Valentine, after getting a great reception for his film, is not afraid to bask in the spotlight, even forcing his co-star out of it. Outside amidst the paparazzi, a women accidentally stumbles out from the crowd onto Valentin, who plays it off with her, and they both make headlines, which Valentin’s wife does not appreciate.
The photo snapped of the mysterious woman after the movie release.
Turns out this woman is in the city to audition for a movie, which she does very well at and gets the part. “The name’s Miller. Peppy Miller” she exclaims to the casting manager. Berenice Bejo portrays this lovely young women who, it turns out, is cast into Valentin’s next movie as an extra. Al Zimmer, played by John Goodman, is the head of the studio of this new movie, and he doesn’t like that Peppy has this part, and tells her to leave. But Valentin tells her to stay, and Zimmer defers, and filming begins.
In the scene that these two film, it’s clear that they have a bond. Afterwards, Peppy finds her way into Valentin’s dressing room, where he walks in on her playing with his jacket, pretending he’s holding her. I can tell that this snippet of the scene could be extremely iconic and lasting, if/when this movie wins best picture at the Academy Awards, and since it already has won most of the others awards. It is a classic scene that fits perfectly with the stlye of the movie. They are close to having an intimate moment when Clifton, Valentin’s assistant, layed by James Cromwell, walks in on them, and they part ways.
Peppy Miller feigning George Valentin’s embrace.
Peppy Miller continues to try her hand at acting, and over time, she gets bigger and bigger roles and becomes more and more popular. Valentine is still at work as well, and one day in 1929, Zimmer says he has something to show Valentin. They are shown a film that has recorded a women singing. Valentin laughs it off, but Zimmer and others know that this, not silent films, are the future. The studio then stops production of all silent films to only produce “talkies”. Silent films and Valentin’s career seem to be over. Valentin decides to give it his all and write, direct, finance and star in his own silent film.
Things don’t pan out as he hopes. Peppy Miller’s movie opens the same weekend as his own, and Peppy’s career seems to step on Valentin’s to get higher while pushing him down. The stock market crashes and he loses all of his money, and his new movie does very poor, leaving his last chance at an income and a career are as empty as the seats in the theater. His wife asks him to leave, and he is left in despair, and the he continues to slide for several years.
This is when Dujardin’s acting really comes into focus. Not only is he great with the struggling, distressed character, but the change from his bright and delightful acting when he was on top of the world shows an impressive range. It is weird to see acting without voice being a part of it, for the voice is a powerful took in acting that can enhance and verify how one feels. In a silent film, actors must rely strictly on the physical. Every facial gesture has to be planned and done correctly, or else the message you are trying to get through might not get there. Dujardin and all of the cast do a superb job of this, and it is really impressive to see the level at which they can do it, since you don’t see it mean so much in a normal role.
They story is different than I thought it would be. It is darker than the trailers and reviews made it out to be, and I liked it. With the happy-go-lucky beginning and the more dismal middle parts allow you to see everything that silent films had to offer. The films likeness to the silent films of old is spot on and really fun: the dialogue cards for important dialogue, the fading transitions between scenes, the style of cinematography and lighting. I haven’t seen many silent films in my day, but from what I have seen, these features and remarkably similar. There is even the use of sound effects in a dream sequence that is really cool to have in there for the context. And the ending use of sound effect cards is just brilliant.
The music is another thing worth noting. Up for an Academy Award for original score, you can imagine the task at hand when you need to compose the music for an entire movie, only in this case, your music will be the only thing the audience ever hears. Ludovic Counce rises to meet this task with the music of the times, perfectly reflecting the mood of the scenes and actors. I am a big fan of movie soundtracks, and this might be the best I’ve heard, although it is hard to compare since the music is everything in this film, whereas it is usually just a helping factor in movies with sound. Regardless, I don’t see how Counce doesn’t come away with the Oscar.
Finally, the final scene of this movie, I think, is one of the best scenes of any film of the entire year. The joy in conjures inside you is grand and fulfilling. That scene alone pushes the entire film to a whole other level.
4/4 – The Artist is everything I thought it would be, and then it was a lot more. The black and white/silent factors of the movie are obviously unique and well done, but when you look past that, this is a truly great film. The acting is incredible, the story is both fun and sad, exciting and dark, funny and dramatic, surprising and fulfilling. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius and leading performers Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are all people most of the world have never heard of before, and black and white/silent films have been irrelevant for decades, but this film brings all of these things to light and we come to a realization: This is the best movie of the year, and maybe more than that.