The Artist

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in "The Artist"


Could it be that in the same way that 3-D movies have had a resurgence, so too has silent cinema?  While examples of current 3-D abound in every multiplex, what might be the start of a silent cinema renaissance is not as obvious.  Consider the following examples.

In last week’s column I wrote about Martin Scorsese’s new movie “Hugo” which, while not a silent movie, concerns the early days of film and cinema pioneer George Melies.  An interesting side note is that “Hugo” was shot in 3-D, merging past and present in the process.  In the same column I wrote about Film Forum’s Monday night silent movie series, “The Silent Roar,” featuring films made at MGM studios between 1924 and 1929.  The series runs through February 6.

For further evidence of a silent movie renaissance I went to Angelika Film Center to see “The Artist,” a new movie, which is a black and white silent film.  “The Artist” concerns the time period when movies made the transition from silents to talkies.

The main character in “The Artist” is fictional movie star George Valentin.  Valentin does not want to become involved with the new medium of talking pictures.  Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, is an actor known for his action adventure films and is clearly based on silent movie star Douglas Fairbanks, while his name certainly suggests another silent movie star, Rudolph Valentino.  The film co-stars Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller a rising star of talkies whose successful career has been helped by Valentin.

Director and writer Michael Hazanavicius displays confidence that basic and iconic story elements still have the power to interest audiences.  The story of “The Artist” is one we have seen before.  The film’s framework has been borrowed from  “A Star is Born” in addition to the ultimate story about the transition from silents to talkies, “Singin’ in the Rain.”  However, I will bet that current audiences will still be drawn into this story of two movie stars, one on the way up and the other on the way down.  What makes “The Artist” unique and fun is that it honors silent movie conventions that still connect with audiences.  For example a sequence of a dog trying to get help when a building is on fire is visual and exciting.

“The Artist” has a music soundtrack (silent movies were never actually silent) as well as a few scenes involving synchronized sound.  The costuming, photography, make up, sets, period dressed locations and over all look are dead on for a both a silent movie and a 1920s period piece.  In addition the film is presented in the square shaped 1:1.33 aspect ratio of the time.

In addition to Bejo and Dujardin, who create a charismatic screen couple, “The Artist” has a game cast that includes John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Malcolm McDowell.   The real find here though is Bejo.  She displays mega-bright silent movie star wattage, is adorable and can dance, as can Dujardin. However, the two leads are nearly upstaged though by a brilliant new talent, Uggi.  Uggi plays Valentin’s ever faithful, charming and perfectly trained dog.

While “The Artist” does not break new ground in terms of story it brings home the power, humor and uniqueness of visual story telling.  I think that its performances and originality in resurrecting and having fun with an older art form make “The Artist” well worth seeing and will distinguish it among the current crop of new movies.

The Artist, Director Michael Hazanavicius, 2011, Weinstein Company, 100 minutes, PG-13



About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on December 6, 2011, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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