Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Artist (2011) Review

The last couple years there has been a concerning trend occurring in the movie industry. As technology continues to expand the style of effects we can see on the screen, the special effects have been showcased at the theatres. This was not necessarily intended to be, but has become, a showcase at the expense of quality storytelling. Hollywood's love for special effects and 3D technology in fact led to fewer and fewer great films made over the last few years, and very few of those great films have utilized all this new technology. What ever happened to good storytelling? It really has been lost among all the explosions and eye-popping graphics. Why not just strip it all down to the way movies used to be and just tell a simple story? Let's go all the way back to the era of Charlie Chaplin before people were even talking in the movies. It's not really that needed. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? I would have thought so too. Then I saw The Artist.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest movie star of the 20's. His films are loved by all in that golden era of silent film. By chance, one day Valentin meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a young beautiful woman, and both their lives are changed forever. Peppy gets some notoriety for their chance encounter and turns it into a movie career for herself. She becomes the face of the new era of "talkies" and Valentin finds himself now irrelevant. He could go into talkies, but he sees silent films as an art form, and as an artist, he refuses to compromise his art. These two people, who are obviously attracted to each other, watch their career paths head in opposite directions as we watch how they cope.

This film is almost completely a silent movie. Some would think that would make the film boring, but in fact it is so well done it makes you wonder why they ever decided to make films any other way. The two leads are so perfectly cast in their roles that words are not needed. Their faces say everything that needs to be said. Also, although the two leads are no named actors, the supporting cast are all veteran character actors such as John Goodman and James Cromwell. However, this is not simply a modern silent film, but an ode to silent films of old. It holds the classic silent films of the 20's and 30's so reverently that if you didn't know better you would think it was made then.

My silent film viewing has been limited so far in my life to Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times so I wouldn't consider myself an expert in any way. This was my first viewing of a silent film in a theatre which brought about some interesting and amazing aspects to viewing this style of film. For most of the film, all you hear is the beautiful soundtrack that is one of the best I have heard in some time. However when the music stops, an unexpected dynamic was produced that continued to add to the beauty of this film. In the silence and quiet times of the film, the audience is allowed to be its own character in the film in a way a talkie wouldn't allow. You hear the old ladies behind you chuckle at the funny moments. You catch the person sitting next to you explaining to their friend some details that they missed so they understand what is happening. In the distance, you faintly hear the whisper of a couple trying to predict what will happen next. In a talkie, these moments are either annoying as the audience commentary distracts from the dialogue on screen or they are never even heard because of the sure volume of the big budget film. Silence is never allowed in today's movies. What I discovered while watching The Artist is the silence allows the sounds of the audience to be noticed, and it actually enhances the viewing of the movie. This speaks less to the brilliance of The Artist in particular, but more to the art of silent films in general. However, it does speak to this film because it is all about exploring the lost art of the silent film in story line and in producing this film in the 21st century.

I loved every moment of this film more than I ever thought I would. It honestly makes you ask why they ever stopped making films in that format. In the first few moments after the movie ended and the credits were rolling, I questioned how I ever got through life just watching talkies. It was as if I had just discovered the true art of film and everything else was a step below. It is one of the best movie-going experiences I have ever had and in the end they prove Goerge Valentin right: the art is in the silence.

Rating: 4 stars

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