VOD Spotlight: “The Artist” is silent, but golden

I’ve often wondered whether or not a contemporary filmmaker could attempt a silent film in a completely new way and make it an unqualified success. As such, I was intrigued when I first heard of director Michel Hazanavicius’ film The Artist, and its attempt to revisit the silent era. The last major film to do so was Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie in 1976, and that was a deliberate spoof. And even if The Artist isn’t done in the completely new way I’d hoped to see a silent film done, it’s still undeniably new and cinematically refreshing. The Academy obviously agreed, nominating it for 10 Academy Awards, ultimately awarding it five, including Best Picture. 

The story, in itself, is pretty unremarkable. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent film star at the peak of his success when he inadvertently bumps into a young woman, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), at an opening for one of his films. Peppy ends up a rising star at the studio where George is under contract just as talkies are taking hold. But George scoffs at the new technology and fails to make the jump to the new world of movies that audiences are embracing, and finds himself left behind. As Peppy’s career booms with picture after picture, George’s marriage, life and career go up in flames. But Peppy always has an eye on the man to whom she owes her start.

One thing The Artist is not is deeply profound drama like we’re used to seeing nominated for the Academy Awards. It is, however, excessively — and appropriately — sentimental, as well as resolutely self-referential. So much of what’s onscreen has the air of the familiar, from the cigar-chawing studio executive played by John Goodman to the climactic music borrowed from Vertigo. At the same time, it’s a stunningly artfully crafted piece of work, as evidenced by the Academy Award nominations it piled up for its cinematography, art direction, costumes and editing, in addition to its higher-profile wins for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Picture.

But perhaps most of all, what The Artist is, is simply fun. It takes our collective appreciation for movies and their archetypes, and feeds it all back to us in a form that’s so anachronistic that it actually comes off as new and novel. It’s poetic, modestly sensual and potentially enjoyable for just about anyone who’s a fan of the movies.

The Artist is available starting June 26 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.


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