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 Hazanavicius, The Artist stars Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope 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.
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.
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.