The Artist: Hollywood Embracing The Talkies
My, my, the talkies have been running rampant over the years. The era of silent film began in the year 1877 lasting for only a 50 year period, up until the birth of the talkies. The talkies were introduced around the year of 1927, only to take over the film industry. Within a year or two, the public referred to them as films as if they were any other cinema. This was not the case back in the days of silent cinema as the very first picture to ever win an Academy award was a silent film. The 1927 silent film, Wings, was the first motion picture to garner the best picture Oscar. It is now the year 2012, and The Artist had just snatched the same award. As the first silent film to appear since the 20’s, audiences can once again be reintroduced to the very birthplace of cinema.
The year is 1927 and The Artist focused on the rise and fall of George Valentin (Dujardin), an actor with enough charm, charisma, and enthusiasm to remind us what it took to capture the physical romance silent films embodied. The body language, combined with the sheer use of ever changing background music and the occasional occurrence of title cards was what truly defined a silent film. There were moments of delight, wit, excitement, and sadness to further challenge any performer’s capabilities. In a world without sound, the audience had to follow George Valentin and make their own interpretations of him. It’s obvious that he lived a rather lavish lifestyle, within the never ending spotlight of his stardom. He was often cast as the lead of great hits such as, A Russian Affair or, A German Affair. The music ceased to stop as the camera rolled and the audience clapped to every act of heroism displayed. It was only when the world started to talk, then did the music really start to play.
One constant and ever accepted principle in any industry, whether it be the aesthetic of film, art, or the publishing industry, is change. With the principle of change, there is the need to adapt, and that itself serves as one of the great lessons of The Artist. George’s place as actor, although strong and well known always faces the potential risk of becoming expendable. There are a number of actors out there in present day that many producers and directors would kill to hire, or even keep on the pay roll. A-List actors such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt have made their names in the film industry, and garnered the attention of numerous filmmakers, and yet, there is always that risk of being replaced. It isn’t easy to substitute an actor with incredible talent. However, if they are unwilling to adapt then they truly become expendable to anyone.
Some will rise to the top and some will come crumbling down to the bottom. George reaches that point, only to witness the rise of the film industry into a more modern age. His producer, Al Zimmer (John Goodman), has deemed this new era of sound “The future.” As sound films dominate, silent films lose their essence in the ever changing times. Adaptation has become a critical necessity. George’s own denial and ignorance of that principle is surely his or any man’s downfall. His expendability is shown further with the rise of an actress who does more than hold her own with the talent Judardin brings to the film. As “America’s newest sweetheart,” Bernice Bejo displays an equal amount of life, joy, and even more honest innocence in her portrayal of Peppy Miller. Miller’s passion for acting is motivated by her own admiration of Valentin as she is cast from the background roles of a simple stage dancer to the star role of romance films.
Everything in life always goes through its own phase of development. Whether the subject is to revolve around an industry, a person, or even science. The bottom line is that as time moves forward, we must also adapt to that principle. This alone serves as the central theme of The Artist. The silent film began as an era of capturing the physical dimensions expressed from the performers. It was the characters themselves that gave the audience a vast curiosity. Title cards were informative enough, but the full story could never be fully told. George’s story is presented in a simple manner, yet with a level of sympathy so engaging that as the audience observes him through his physical language of expression, do they become more curious as how it all ends for him. To spoil such an ending would not only defeat the purpose of experiencing the essential mystery of an actor’s performance, but also insult the creativity engaged in creating the story.
With this being my first time in watching a silent film, I would call it an experience that is not only enthralling, but necessary. The Artist in its direction tells a simple, yet familiarly entertaining story. With the themes of arrogance, pride, passion, determination, and love to further invoke life within the speechless characters, makes it all so authentic, and revitalizing. Director Michael Hazanavicius has not only delivered a film worthy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, but also a film that gives hope to the industry. The Artist alone is a significant effort to explore not just a past era of filmmaking, but furthermore reach even higher plateaus in the craft. The talkies were the next step in filmmaking, then came CGI. In a generation or two, who knows where we’ll be?