It is French, black & white, silent and makes Kim Novak feel violated.
I first heard about The Artist in 2011. As an avid listener to Jason Solomons on the Film Weekly podcast from the Guardian, I heard a glowing review of the film as it premiered at the Cannes film festival. Both Jason and his fellow Journalist Xan Brookes discussed the film at length and heaped praise on it. Usually that is a sign of a film that will interest me as I have sought out films in the past on their recommendation. Since then the buzz around the film has grown. The distribution rights to the film were picked up by the mighty Weinstein group, putting the film in the international spotlight with the inevitable awards buzz. Now here we are in 2012, the film has been given a UK cinema release and has just won three Golden Globes for best Musical/Comedy, best actor and best original score.
So is the hype surrounding this film justified ? I think you will find that it is.
The story begins in 1927 at the premiere of the new film from screen idol George Valentin. The film is a fast moving adventure with George as the dashing lead. As the film climaxes we are allowed to move behind the screen to witness the stars and studio boss waiting to see if they have a hit. A large sign above their heads lends to the visual nature of the film demanding silence at all times. The first but not the last use of signs to emphasize a mood or plot theme. An encounter after the film with an aspiring actress leads to the actress being discovered and starts her own journey to stardom. As she becomes a bigger star, cleverly shown in a montage showing her name gradually moving up the credits of her film, George is going the other way. Resistant to the new phenomenon of talkies he finds his star to be on the wane.
All aspects of the film are like a love letter to the era of silent cinema. Echoes of past films such as Singin’ In the Rain and A Star is Born can be found throughout the story. I was able to see the film at the GFT, the best cinema in Glasgow. Before the film started the screen was narrowed to a 1:33:1 ratio, the standard for films before the advent of the widescreen cinema experience, set the mood instantly. The lack of sound except for the score was odd to begin with but as the story drew you in it stated to feel very normal. The score perfectly complimented the action on screen. The shot compositions with blurring edges and darkening the screen to focus on a particular detail that were both used extensively in silent films are used to great effect here. There are a couple of set pieces, notably an exchange between the leads on an elaborate set of stairs showing the hustle and bustle of old Hollywood and emphasises that cinema and especially movie production was and is a fast moving medium. George is in the mold of the silent stars such as Douglas Fairbanks or a young Errol Flynn. The perfect action star of the Twenties with his swash bucking antics and obvious charm. I don’t think it is a coincidence that his name is close to screen heart throb Valentino. Other touches bring to mind other stars of the time such as Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford and in a fantastic scene, with a coat and Hat stand, the physical comedy of Charlie Chaplin.
The performances of the leads and supporting cast are all excellent. The lead actor Jean Dujardin has recently revealed that he was told that he would never be a good actor as his face was too expressive. Ironically with the absence of sound his face conveys so much especially around the eyes. The interaction between the lead and his best friend the dog is the central relationship . Their interaction is superb and the dog, Uggie, frequently has the best comedic moments during the film.
Don’t let the supposed negatives put you off this film. It is worth two hours of everyone’s time.