Film stills © 2011 – The Weinstein Co.
I finally went to see “The Artist” this weekend. This beautiful silent film is about the rise of talkie pictures, and the subsequent fall of a silent movie star. I was first interested in this film because I love classic films, silent as well as talking, and was curious to see how a modern day filmmaker would visualize a modern silent film. It took some initial adjustment when the film started. No matter how much I am used to watching older silent films, it’s still an adjustment when you sit in a huge modern theater and only have music. However, after a few minutes I was completely immersed and it didn’t matter that there was no dialog. I realize this style is not for everyone, and if you don’t like silent films, then this is not for you. But for those who appreciate classic films, this is right up your alley.
The beginning credits were the first thing to make me smile. Done in a classic style, they made you believe you were really watching an old film. It was also shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio (so the movie was NOT widescreen), and that surprised me as a detail most filmmakers would not have done. (I was also pleasantly surprised to recognize some of the soundtrack from an Alfred Hitchcock movie!)
The beauty of this film is that it is not only an emotional story about one man’s fall from the top, but also a film that comments on the changes in perception when film changed from silent to talkie. The audience gets used to only hearing the music, and watching the actors’ expressions to understand what is going on (as well as occasional ‘subtitled’ dialog) – however, there are 2 scenes of the film where suddenly you do hear some little sound. You become hyper-aware of the sound and realize how different the film would actually be. The audience’s perceptions are changed because things may not be how they first thought. Enough said of that – I hate telling too much about a movie for those who haven’t seen it.
Jean Dujardin was fabulous. All of the actors were very good in their silent style acting, but Dujardin’s was by far the best. His facial expressions and movements perfectly emulated the emotions he was trying to portray, and he did it totally in the style of an old silent movie actor. I cannot imagine anyone else in this role. His interactions with his dog, the primary comic relief, are also very reminiscent of old movies – such as “Blondie” and “The Thin Man” – which always have an intelligent dog who saves the day.
Overall I found “The Artist” exceptional in so many ways. I do not believe a better silent movie, done in the classic style, could be done today. I loved the whole movie – and I absolutely loved feeling like I was watching an old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers movie when I was watching Dujardin and Bejo dance.