Making the Grades
“Everything old is new again,” can’t even begin to sum up The Artist. This isn’t just a retro retread but a fresh silent movie, presented in true, traditional style. Filmed in black and white with a television-type aspect ratio, it comes complete with an exquisite musical score. And it is playing in your nearby cinema.
Yes, it is a gimmick, yet this production offers a surprisingly engaging cinema experience that provides a renewed appreciation for just how visual a movie can be and also features a powerful message about the dangers of pride.
Fictional silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the top of his game in the late 1920s. At the premiere of yet another movie, he happens to bump into a fan—or more correctly she bumps into his social bubble. Giving her a moment of glory, Valentin provides a photo op to the hungry press and by the next morning he and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) are gracing the covers of the industry rags—publicity his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) doesn’t appreciate.
The glow of the flashbulbs also works in Miss Miller’s favor. With the town buzzing about who this new starlet could be, she soon finds herself offered spots as an extra, chorus girl, secondary character and eventually a principal actress. Meanwhile Valentin is facing a very different reality after his studio boss (John Goodman) tells him the future is in “talkies” (movies with sound).
Convinced this audio business is nothing more than a passing fad, Valentin determines to chart his own course and sets up a private production company. Because we are familiar the history of the sound revolution, we know it is just a matter of time before this once-legend becomes a has-been. Sure enough, having bet every asset he had on his first film, the anguished actor ends up losing nearly everything including his wife and his loyal chauffer (James Cromwell). Only his dog remains to keep him company.
Not surprisingly, there is no profane language in this movie, other than a crude finger gesture. Aside from a few dancers wearing somewhat revealing costumes and Valentin’s apparent interest in Miller as opposed to his wife, there is no sexual content either. Likely the most concerning aspect for viewing by teens will be Valentin’s depressive behavior, which includes scenes where he deliberately sets a fire in his home and later puts a gun in his mouth while contemplating suicide.
The story’s depiction of film history is a perfect match for its unique presentation. Even better, the plot shows how pride can demolish an individual, while at the same time the devotion of dedicated friends can help to raise the morale of a beaten soul. Add some powerful performances with solid directing and The Artist may be a sound selection for viewing by teens and adults.
Release Date: 23 November 2011- Limited / Opening Wider on 23 December 2011
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Artist.
How does Valentin’s pride become his greatest flaw? How can over confidence cause a person to make decisions that are not in one’s best interest? What is the difference between pride and confidence?
How does the director of this film compensate for the lack of dialogue to communicate the story and emotions of the performers? Are these same techniques used in modern movies with sound?