The Artist (2011): Nouvea Old

I will freely admit that I am not completely up on recent ‘silent films‘ or even silent films that are also in “Black and White.” The last modern silent film that I watched was Mel Brooks‘ 1976 Silent Movie. Now Mel didn’t opt to film his silent comedy in back and white (he’d done that already in his 1974 Young Frankenstein).

Interestingly Young Frankenstein was actually shot entirely on black and white film stock, which was still available in 1974. By the time that The Artist hit our screens in 2011, it had to be shot in colour first and then presented in ‘black and white’ although purists will argue that the film was actually presented in Sepia as Black and White is actually crisper.

Written and directed by Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist stars  Jean DujardinBérénice BejoJohn GoodmanJames CromwellPenelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle.

Despite this being a star heavy vehicle, be rest assured that the film belongs solidly to Dujardin and Bejo (wife of Hazanavicius). Shot for 15 million dollars the film has grossed ,to date, over 133 million at the box office.

Français : Jean Dujardin au festival de Cannes

The story of The Artist is an old one. George Valentin ( Jean Dujardin) is a huge star. In the silent cinema world depicted in the film he is a cross between Douglas Fairbanks, Charley Chaplin and William Powell (as Nick Charles in the Thin Man series).

That actor  Dujardin is a more than capable actor can be evidenced by his winning the Best Actor Award in Hollywood for his work in the film.  A film that, incidentally, he only ever ‘says’ two words in and that’s at the end of the movie.

It is during a premier of his latest film that Valentin ‘bumps’ into young aspiring starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the publicity that arises from that chance occurrence helps Peppy get her career started.

As her star rises, Valentin’s is on a downward spiral after studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) tells George that ‘sound will be the next big thing’ and that the studios are going to pursue it. Valentin lets Zimmer know that there is no way that he will be working in ‘talkie’s.’ He leaves the studio and prepares his next film which will be a silent.

Français : Berenice Bejo au festival de Cannes

Just as his film is to premier, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 causes George to go bankrupt. In the meantime, Peppy’s career is going from strength to strength. I adored the look of the film and it’s faux black and white cinematography is crisp and luscious. The film ‘felt’ like the old silent films and it helped to sell the story.

But in the film just before George starts production on his first silent movie, he is sitting in front of his dressing table. He takes a sip from his glass and when he sets it down it makes a noise. He is stunned.

In George’s world there is no sound. As the sounds begin to creep in on his world, George tries to speak but nothing comes out. George panics and begins silently screaming for help. He runs outside where silence controls the world. A large feather floats down through the air and as it hits the ground a huge banging is heard. George’s eyes immediately open. he has been dreaming.

This for me was when the film surpassed being clever, well written and well acted. This moment in the film elevated it into sheer genius. It is no wonder that it received so many nominations and won so many awards.

I am not sure how it would have faired at the cinema. Audiences today are not used to actually having to ‘watch’ a film. It could be argued that they don’t even really ‘listen’ to them. With the wide spread use of soundtracks that are so loud that they drown out the actors, I can only assume that it is the explosions, gunfire and screams of the dying that tell the average movie goer where they are at in the film.

Despite the obvious success of the film upon release (just look at the box office returns) it worked better for me on the DVD player at. I could set in the privacy of my own home and listen to the ‘dramatic’ mood music provided and get really carried away in the story.

Excellently written, acted and filmed, this is one film that, if you missed it at the cinema, you’ll shoot yourself if you miss the maiden DVD run.

This film is entertainment with a capital E. Please don’t miss it.

About Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, vlogger, blogger, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, YouTube shows, Books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

9 thoughts on “The Artist (2011): Nouvea Old

  1. This movie is on our list of “must see” films. We intended to see it on the big screen, but it slipped past us, so now we have to see it at home on the not-quite-so-big screen. Film buff Garry has this one tagged for greatness based on what he has read about it and he is rarely wrong. I like movies, but he loves film. I have learned that there is a difference between these two positions … a rather large one.

  2. I saw this film in the theater and it grabbed me and took me to the world of my grandparents. What it was like for them to see a moive before The Jazz Singer.

    “Talk Talk TALK….we didn’t need words … We had Faces!” Norma Desmond says in “Sunset Blvd.” to Willima Holden. And indeed it is a differnt style of screen acting which the cast of “The Artist” captured so well.

    Some great films you might consider from the silent era are:
    Sunrise
    Wings
    The Diary of a Lost Girl
    IT
    He Who Gets Slapped
    Orphans of the Storm
    The Crowd
    The Cameraman
    The General
    Flesh and the Devil
    Ben-Hur
    Noah’s Ark
    The Lodger
    The Kiss
    Just to name a few of my favorites.
    Loved your review.

  3. Good to hear from Mike and “laniersmith”. I’m hard of hearing and have worn hearing aids most of my life. I frequently used impromptu lip reading in my professional life to “get by” in difficult situations. I can still lip read fairly well when I take my hearing aids off after a long day and I’m watching a film without closed captions. All of this to note my appreciation of silent films. The neighborhood film house of my childhood used to feature silents two or three times a week. “Sunrise” has always been a favorite. Marilyn and I, as she noted, have “The Artist”: on our list of films to see. We have great expectations. Norma Desmond would accept nothing less.

  4. It was a good film, no question about that but a Best Picture winner? I don’t know. It was a nice tribute to the silent ages though and that’s all I needed. Good review.

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