Saturday, March 31, 2012

"The Artist" Reinvents Silent Pictures

O.K. I didn't want to like "The Artist." I've had it up to here with Hollywood remakes. Even Broadway is adapting Hollywood blockbusters for the stage. Is there an original idea out there! At the last Screenwriting Expo, more than one manager insisted that to break into the biz, you should take an old story and put a new twist on it. And to be honest, it worked reasonably well for the Cinderella remake, "Enchanted." (Though the over the top Alladin climax was a mess.)

So I should be morally opposed to, "The Artist," because it puts two old stories together – the over done, "A Star is Born" and "Singing in the Rain." Bigger-than-life movie star George Valentin (Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujarin) fades into oblivion with the decline of silent pictures as his young love interest, Peppy Miller, (the lovely Bérénice Bejohe) rises to stardom with the talkies.

French director (Best Director winner) Michel Hazanavicius chose to make a black and white silent picture. I'll admit here that I'm not a big fan of silent movies because I can't stand the fake, theatrical posturing and mugging. But, "The Artist" transcends the limitations of the silent form. Michel reinvents silent pictures by using a naturalistic acting style, exquisite cinematography, and modern storytelling devices such as opening with a silent film within a silent film. But what really makes it stand out are the clever, charming moments. In one touching moment, Peppy snuggles up to Valentin's jacket on the coat rack as if she is embracing the man. The actress is so totally invested in the hug that when Valentin catches her, he flashes a surprised, then amused grin that lights up his whole face. Sigh. Did I mention the incredible chemistry between these two charismatic actors?

A Facebook friend complained that Dujarin won best actor without uttering a word of dialogue. (Did he actually see the film?) But, as they taught us in Film 101, a movie is moving pictures. You should be able to understand the story with the sound turned off. Jean Dujarin, as George Valentin, goes through a full character arch from arrogance to falling in love to hitting rock bottom without the crutch of dialogue. And he kept me engaged in every scene. And he can tap dance! I'd say the Oscar was well deserved.

"The Artist" is more than a homage to the silent film era, it transcends the form. It presents a universal theme: When the old ways no longer work, ego may hinder us from adapting to the new ways, but in the end love conquers all.

It's not hard to see why it won Best Picture. You can see the love in every frame.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal


Lisabeth said...

Great review, Jana. I too, was skeptical of appreciating this film. While in Ann Arbor, my father insisted that Sophia and I go see it at the old State Theater. We loved it! Every frame was exquisite.

Janet Riehl said...


"The Artist" is exquisitely made and acted. It's currently on my top ten favorite movie list.

There aren't that many themes, really, in the world. It's all how it's executed, as you say so well in your review.

Janet Riehl

Janet Riehl said...

Of last year's movies, "The Artist" was the one that caught my heart and mind. And, frame-by-frame the cuts and everything were exquisite.

At the level of craft alone, "The Artist" was extraordinary.

The way color and sound were used as punctuation marks was masterful. I'm still in awe. This is real movie making!

Janet Riehl