When The Artist was first released, many filmgoers were left bewildered and feeling cheated as they exited their movie theatres with the intention of acquiring full refunds because they were not informed that the film was a silent picture. Well, tough luck and it’s their own damn fault, I say. The critical reaction has been near-universal, as has the reviews from general fans who took the time to actually sit through the film without complaining. Few films have the power to elicit such emotions from its viewers, particularly a film that goes almost all of its playing time without vocal sound.
For those unaware – shame on you! – The Artist is the story of the decline of George Valentin, the rise of Peppy Miller and their undeclared love for each other. Set between 1927 and ’32, George Valentin, one of the great stars of silent cinema, slowly falls out of fashion and is replaced by the girl he both loves and discovered as he bumped into him whilst he was speaking to the press, Peppy Miller. The film could, I think, be termed a historical romantic-comedy drama, for whilst the characters are fictional, they are surely based in or around real events, such as is dealt with by Billy Wilder in Sunset Boulevard with Norma Desmond who doesn’t deal so well with not being a star as she was replaced by sound cinema. Sunset was the film that I thought about throughout my viewing of The Artist, both wonderfully similar films shot in beautiful black and white and featuring wonderful acting, although I do think the acting was far greater in The Artist, as it takes great skill to act well without dialogue. But then again, when Norma pretends to be Charlie Chaplin – wow.
I contend that The Artist is one the finest film made since 1999, when Eyes Wide Shut was released. The only picture which could possibly come close to it I think is There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece starring the eclectic Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his most recognizable roles. Firstly, I appreciate any film that showcases the dark side of Hollywood, that insidious business which we as viewers do not witness, that is until Sunset Boulevard was released, along with Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, the films of the great David Lynch, a student of Billy Wilder in this respect.
The Artist manages to simply educate the viewer about the situation in the late twenties and early thirties, when, with the release of The Jazz Singer, silent stars were beginning to realize that they could be in trouble unless they could add great skill in communicating dialogue to their resumes. For many stars, they were either reluctant to become sound stars – as George Valentin was – because they thought that sound was a fad. For other stars, they made the change into sound and remained famous. That is one of the darkest sides of Hollywood, the desire for fame in which to get there, people would stomp on eachothers faces quite happily. The Hollywood shown is one that exposes the turmoil an actor/actress can go through when their career declines, they can commit suicide or live out their days as forgotten stars until they die, when they are again accorded fame but are too dead to enjoy it.
Jeffrey Overstreet writing for Filmwell said:
“The Academy Awards are the biggest annual party that Hollywood throws for itself, and The Artist is a movie that worships Hollywood. Looks like a done deal.”
Clearly this “reviewer” doesn’t know how to look into what a film is saying, it hardly worships Hollywood, more often than not, and rightly so, it degrades it. He goes on to add in his pointless critique that:
“The Artist is, in my opinion, not only frivolous — it’s irresponsible in its glorification of fame, fortune, and glamour.”
Is The Artist glorifying these things or is it in-fact painting a picture of reality? Hollywood is a place where everyone lies; it’s the basis of the movie business. Everyone wants to be rich and famous and have their faces everywhere. It’s not a good thing, but its truth which Overstreet can’t see for reality.
This film boasts a stellar cast that includes its stars, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo; it also features Malcolm McDowell, John Goodman and James Cromwell. The only thing that could improve the cast is Daniel Day-Lewis acting as a director of some sort – although hopefully better than he did as a director in Nine.
The film also includes great music, primarily composed by Ludovic Bource, it also features Bernard Herrmann’s great “Scene D’Amour” from Alfred Hitchcock’s great but highly overrated Vertigo, released in 1958. Concerning the piece of music used from Vertigo, Kim Novak responded to its use – not in kind – by alleging that rape had been committed. One can only assume she feels this way because Vertigo is the only thing she is known for, aside from that, she is a truly awful actress with no talent to push.
Particular praise for acting must go to Bejo, whose portrayal of Peppy Miller was beautiful to watch, particularly when the was given that faux beauty spot, a small spot that was well received by male audiences, particularly myself. This is not to downplay Dujardin’s performance, which was wonderful of course, as he tilted the emotions of his character so well through his body language and facial expressions, two things a silent star relies on. One feels that Dujardin would certainly have been better suited to a career in silent cinema, as he hasn’t received that much attention prior to The Artist. Now though, he is playing a part in Martin Scorsese’s latest picture, The Wolf Of Wall Street.
But by far the most noteworthy cast members is Uggie, a Jack Russell Terrier who also appeared in Water for Elephants – one of Robert Pattinson’s best acting efforts – who plays Jack the dog. Jack is noted for saving the life of his owner – or friend – George, as he sets alight his private film collection and passes out from smoke inhalation. Jack then runs down the street and comes across a police officer who follows the dog to the burning house. Uggie is also an award winner, winning the Cannes Palm Dog Award. A case has been made for Uggie to be awarded an Academy Award, which to be honest is taking it a little farther than it needs to be.
Throughout the film resonates and grows a romantic bond between Valentin and Miller, even as they are separated by his declining career and bankruptcy and her rising stardom and fortune. When she reads of his hospitalization after he burnt down his home, Peppy visits him in hospital and discovers the film reel he was found clutching as his home went up in flames. It was her first film. In the end they make a film together, and we can go on to assume that Valentin has a successful sound career as-well as a successful life with Peppy. I suppose it’s fair to fictionally assume that they will get married and spend their lives together, in that sense they are like one Hollywood couple, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Forget what I said at the beginning of this article about The Artist being one of the finest films made this century so far, it is the finest film made this century so far.
Do you agree? Share your thoughts below in the comments.