Silence is Golden – ‘The Artist’

27 01 2012

‘I love silent cinema but don’t hold it sacred. Like any branch of film there are some very boring films alongside the masterpieces. These films are old because of the era they’re from, not specifically the format they’re made in. It was important not to think of ‘The Artist’ as an ‘old movie’. It’s now, it’s new. But you have the benefit of this neglected format which gives you some exciting options as a storyteller.’

Michel Hazanavicius (Film writer/director)

 

Yesterday Chris and I enjoyed a quiet afternoon at the cinema watching Golden Globe winning silent rom-com, ‘The Artist’, which, I have to say, totally lived up to its recent hype.

In short, French film writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has successfully recreated the big screen black and white cinematography experience, of over 80 years ago, with such style that it is captivating modern audiences accustomed to much more colourful fare.  

‘The Artist’ is novel, nostalgic and an extremely accomplished production.

Set in Hollywood, 1927-32, it’s a simple ‘love story’ played out at as the golden era of silent flicks is rapidly receding, to be replaced by thoroughly modern futuristic ‘talkies’.

It is a movie about the demise of Hollywood’s silent age, which is its self in black and white, and silent – or almost silent. There is a continuous orchestral score, by Ludovic Bource, but just a few spoken words, which when they arrive do so with dramatic effect.

Traditional written ‘intertitles’ are used, but sparingly, and cleverly, only where they can add a touch of humour or heighten the tension. 

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) dashing, handsome, moustachioed, charmingly narcissistic – Rudolph Valentino meets Douglas Fairbanks meets Gene Kelly – a fading silent movie ‘artist’, career spiralling into free-fall, with the advent of the ‘talkies’, meets  vivacious ‘extra’ Peppy Miller (Bèrènice Bejo).

Peppy, an ambitious wide-eyed dancing girl – all cloche hats, provocative shimmy and winning smile – at Valentin’s suggestion, adopts a trademark beauty spot, and before she can bat a flirtatious eyelid is the new face of ‘Variety Magazine’, a ‘talkie’ star sensation, very much in the ascendancy.   

Their unspoken silent love, a product of fate and changing fortunes, is laced with comedy, pathos and occasional melodrama, before a high resolution –  tip-top, tap-dancing finale by our hero and heroine.        

Headline grabbing performances by Dujardin and Bejo are well  supported by John Goodman as puffed up, no-nonsense, cigar chewing, Al Zimmer – ‘Kinograph Studios’ boss, and Jack Russell ‘Uggy’, George’s on stage sidekick, off stage buddy – ‘the dog’ – damn near steals the show. The dog deserves a Golden Bone – or perhaps a ‘Winalot’ Award!  

‘The Artist’ premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where Jean Dujardin won the best actor award. He has since followed that up with a best actor Golden Globe. Golden Globes were also awarded for best musical/comedy motion picture and best original musical score – which just goes to show that silence is golden!  

The movie has also received 12 BAFTA and 10 Academy Award nominations. I have a sneaking suspicion that ‘the Artist’ might just quietly upstage some of its more colourful and noisy rivals. 

 

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