Cert: PG Runtime: 100 mins Director: Michel Hazanavicius Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman and Uggie
Silence is Golden
Currently The Artist is one of the biggest films in the world right now, leading the field with 10 Oscar nominations. Michael Hazanavicius is taking everyone back to the age of silent films before talkies were created in Hollywoodland. The film follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) in the year 1927. Arguably Hollywood’s most admired movie screen idol, George Valentin, is enjoying the success of his latest picture, The Russian Affair. He enjoys his work and the adulation he receives by being a movie star, as witnessed by how he hogs the spotlight during The Russian Affair’s post premier bows. Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is an aspiring young actress, who literally and figuratively runs into Valentin at the premier, which ends up being the launching pad to her Hollywood acting career. The advent of talking pictures brings a reversal to their fortunes as Kinograph, the movie studio where Valentin is under contract, is looking for fresh faces such as Peppy Miller to star in their talking pictures, while Valentin resists the entire notion of talking pictures. Peppy, who appreciates everything that Valentin did for her career, tries to help him as much as she can, but Valentin may have to decide on his own where and if he fits into the Hollywood machine, one where he doesn’t think people want to hear him speak.
The Weinstein Brothers strike again by bringing French director Michael Hazanavicius’ silent film tribute, ‘The Artist’, to the United States, now in the running for possible Oscar Gold. To my recollection, silent films wore out their welcome way back in 1927, and only something strikingly original, should be considered for the Academy’s highest honor. While Hazanavicius does his best at technically putting together the kind of film they made in the silent era (and he certainly doesn’t get ‘everything’ right), story wise, his narrative is completely derivative. There’s nary a single original idea in the entire picture.Hazanavicius’ protagonist is George Valentin, obviously named after silent screen legend himself, Rudolph Valentino. Valentin’s character, a heartthrob before the advent of the talkies, is modeled historically more on silent screen star, John Gilbert, than Valentino. After the introduction of the talkies, Gilbert’s career fell apart, not because the sound of his voice didn’t sit well with audiences now accustomed to ‘talking pictures’, but because he was saddled with inferior scripts and the one or two good pictures he was in, did not find wide favor with the public. Like Valentin in ‘The Artist’, Gilbert also proceeded to self-destruct by embracing the bottle.The Artist’s narrative is based both on films from the silent era as well some classic sound pictures. ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, one of Gilbert’s well-known silent era films as well as Douglas Fairbanks’ ‘The Three Musketeers” are alluded to when Valentin is seen in one of the ‘pictures within a picture’, playing an action hero swordsman. Silent era melodrama is also referenced when Valentin’s dog, Jack, alerts a policeman on the beat, who runs into the fading screen star’s home, and saves him from a raging fire. I can’t help being reminded of the early sound serial, ‘The Little Rascals’, where dogs are used to a more comic effect. Early in ‘The Artist’, Jack is featured in an amusing bit, running to and fro, on stage.
If ‘The Artist’ has any value, is in its fairly faithful recreation of a bygone era. It’s fun watching how director Hazanavicius utilizes the costumes, makeup and set design, as well as the many techniques of silent film era cinematography to create the final product, which best can be described as a ‘loving tribute’. Nonetheless, Hazanavicius has chosen merely to emulate the traditional conventions of the silent film era than create an original, final product. One is reminded more of a ‘B’ melodrama from that era than one of the classics, such as the kind proffered up by a Chaplin or Keaton.It’s a sad state of affairs when a less than mediocre story, created in a now defunct style of filmmaking (which was put to rest over seventy years ago), garners some of the top awards from the chief pundits in today’s film industry. It only goes to show how hard up the film industry is, in its ability to discover and promote quality scripts, instead resorting to the dubious tactic of reaching back to yesteryear, for ill-advised inspiration. 5.3/10