Enchanting, fascinating, spellbinding homage to the bygone, halcyon days of the silent film genre. This magical movie captures the aura of the waning 1920’s-early 1930’s, when times was simpler and “stars” were revered and protected by the press; always the epitome of glamour they would be incapable of envisioning the dawning of “grunge” and “jeaned” culture pervasive in today’s celebrity world.
Michel Hazanavicius, a scholar and devotee of silent, black and white films, lionizes the past while painting a unique and contemporary spin on archival filming techniques and the demise of many actors who could not make the transition from silence to sound; oftentimes, it was their accented voices or timber; resulting in the incompatibility of their faces and tongues; the felled include John Gilbert, Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, Colleen Moore, Emil Jennings, Pola Negri. Others like Joan Crawford, Ronald Coleman, Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson thrived with the advent of “talkies”. Many refused to accept the death of an empire, a cherished cocoon, gifted glory for the “noise” of evolution.
“The Artist” is “George Valentin” beautifully, poignantly played by French actor, Jean Dujardin; without words his expressions reverberate pungent, powerful, muted emotions ; he bears a strong resemblance to Clark Gable, and rivetingly commands absolute attention; he mimes, dances, lives, primarily in black-tie, with incredible passion, savoir faire; his stardom encompasses and defines his existence, on and off the screen; he craves approbation, adoration and his wife “Doris” (Penelope Ann Miller) is penurious with her affection. His constant companion, a dog (Uggy) blessed with inimitable personality, successfully stealing many scenes, earning the coveted Palm Dog Award for best canine in a film; their solid, refined friendship adds levity, humor and depth to “The Artist”.
Berenice Bejo is “Peppy Miller” whose career is launched by George and swiftly accelerates beyond his notoriety; she translates succinctly to the “talkies”; the redundancy of this scenario (“A Star is Born”) is refreshingly depicted by Hazanavicius; you grieve the decline of his supernova and applaud her meteoric assent. Bejo (wife of Hazanavicius) is electrifying and glitters in the role.
James Cromwell as George’s chauffeur, “Clifton” deserves a nod from the Academy for his sensitive, dignified performance.
John Goodman as filmmaker “Al Zimmer” has the perfect paunch and pneumatic psyche to convey the necessity of slashing the past to pave the freeway to the future.
Watching this gorgeous silent movie, captivated by iconic performances, resonating, referencing archetypal film footage ( a stunning dance number reminiscent of Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers), realizing with certainty that a picture speaks a thousand words, knowing that “The Artist” is a monument to the past, created lovingly, employing tools of the present, its future destined to rest comfortably, shimmering and flickering soundlessly in the rarefied halls of the greatest of the great.