January 30, 2012 – As a fan of old movies, especially those in black and white, I probably spend more time watching Turner Classic Movies than HBO. I’ve seen hundreds of these oldies but goodies, yet none of them have been silent because the genre never appealed to me.
That’s why I wasn’t sure how I would feel about “The Artist”, the recently released silent movie that’s all the rage. Sure it took the Cannes Film Festival by storm, it won the Golden Globe for best picture (musical/comedy) and is nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. Still, I was skeptical.
I decided to see “The Artist” over the weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed this charming slice of nostalgia. It was clever and highly entertaining, and it held my interest from the moment it started until the credits rolled.
The premise is simple. Hollywood is on the brink of releasing “talkies” and the most popular silent actor (the artist) doesn’t believe they will be accepted and continues to make films faithful his silent art form. You can guess what happens from there.
The two main characters are French and Argentinean actors whose previous work I am not familiar with; Jean DuJardin as George Valentin and Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller are so well cast and have the perfect faces for their expressive roles. There are other faces more recognizable who make up the supporting cast, such as a svelte John Goodman, James Cromwell and Malcolm Mc Dowell, to name a few, and they all make it believable.
To my surprise (and as a writer to my dismay) you can get the gist of the story easily and without words. The actor’s expressions, the music and very few screen shots of dialogue made it evident. And as someone who believes words are crucial to a script, “The Artist” shows what can be accomplished quite beautifully without them, and that is to the credit of the filmmakers.
The movie may be described as “Singing in the Rain” meets “Sunset Boulevard” with hints of both present in the script, but it was braver and uniquely different; it’s actually a silent movie about making talkies. That’s a risky concept and one that won’t appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend it.
So, will I add silent movies to my lists of must-sees? Probably not, but I definitely won’t avoid them anymore.