“The Artist” speaks volumes.
Before Jake Sully landed on the 3-D world of Pandora in “Avatar” and before Dorothy Gale stepped from black and white to color in “The Wizard of Oz” and well before Al Jolson played his first note in “The Jazz Singer.”
There was silence.
And, as they say, silence is golden. At least it was up until the late 1920s when Hollywood made the transition from silent movies to talkies.
Hollywood’s conversion to the sound era is the focus of the latest film “The Artist.” Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, a silent black and white film with only an accompanying soundtrack and title cards. “The Artist” tells a story of the rise and fall of silent film star George Valentin (played by French actor Jean Dujardin) starting in 1927.
We begin our silent story with George’s movie premiere, after which he and his faithful companion, Jack (a Jack Russell Terrier), come on stage to ham it up with the audience. Without saying a word we see that George is a very confident, charismatic and proud man.
George’s life seems wonderful on the surface. He is a strong leading man with a pretty wife, Doris (played by Penelope Ann Miller). Until a chance encounter with a an extra, Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo). Peppy’s name is more than a clever moniker. With her 1,000 mile wide smile, spirited dance moves and happy-go-lucky attitude her personality jumps off the screen better than any modern 3-D technology would allow.
The studio exec, Al Zimmer (played by John Goodman), sees the future in sound films and warns George of the changes. George plays it off and refuses to adapt to new technology. He and his ego walk out the door thinking he can survive without conforming. Soon his world slowly turns upside down. Peppy is the new pretty, young thing in Hollywood land. She is making her rise to the top while George is slipping further and further down from his own pedestal. He takes on his own role of leading man and director for his new silent movie.
Finally George’s silent film is made and loses out to Peppy’s new talkie at the box office. The stock market soon crashes and George loses everything. He is reduced to a shell of a man, a man who had it all and is now at the bottom of society. Through another encounter with Peppy we see George make his come back in an expected way.
Should you see this movie? Yes. This is what good film making was all about; it focuses on great story telling. The background and the set tells the story when the actors don’t say a word. The story is easy to follow thanks to the newspaper headlines, the title cards and the marquees in the film. The musical score is its own character, setting the mood the entire way through the film. The score alone will evoke emotions, lifting the audience then dropping them down in the muck and mire with George when he is at his lowest. Being set in the depression era, this is a story where most of us in 2011 can relate.
Will this be a new era in silent films? With our HD TVs, 3-D films, Blu-Ray players and new technology, that is up to the people to decide. This film provides white space for the movie goers, removing the sounds of life (for the most part). For now enjoy this one film over the Holidays and ask yourself – “Do I always need to hear what is being said?”