Thursday, January 05, 2012


The Artist is not like any other recent movie you have ever seen. The Other Half and I saw it at the Arclight Cinemas Pasadena in the week between Christmas and New Years. At Arclight they always have the usher come in before the film and make a little speech about the film and the theater. At this screening the usher mentioned that the film was in an "old school" format of 4:3 in addition to being in black and white and nearly silent (no spoken dialogue). He wanted to warn the audiences not to think that there were technical difficulties with the sound or the projection: the unusual look and lack of dialogue were artistic choices by the writer-director Michel Hazanavicius.

The movie cleverly begins by showing a movie within the movie which is a silent movie, letting the audience become acclimated to the black and white format and the lack of sound. Eventually the camera pans back and shows that the movie within a movie is occurring at a gala premiere and it is precisely at the moment in which the audience has to buy into the central conceit of the film: the action outside the screen is also in black and white and silent! It is a very fun idea, which even gets more "meta" when one realizes that The Artist is a silent black-and-white film about a silent black-and-white film star! The film star in question (who also starred in the movie within a movie) is named George Valentin (played by the debonair Jean Dujardin) and in the beginning is shown to be a wildly popular leading man, a sort of combination of Rudolf Valentino and Errol Flynn.

The main plot involves the change in Hollywood with the advent of "talkie" movies and we are shown the meteoric rise of Peppy Miller (played by the luminous Bérénice Bejo) and corresponding precipitous fall of Dujardin. Miller is introduced to the audience as just another fan who is besotted with Valentin, hoping to get an autograph when through an accident her picture gets put in the paper with Valentin and she is discovered by the head of the studio (played by John Goodman).

One of the highlights of the movie is Valentin's sidekick, a dog named Jack who is a very well-trained Jack Russell Terrier, who appears in almost every scene of the film that Valentin appears in. Another highlight of the film are the beautiful locations around Los Angeles around which the plot takes place, depicting a 1930s Hollywood (then called "Hollywoodland" of course).

Overall, the film is a delightful homage to the storied past of cinema, with filmic shoutouts to some of the highest regarded movies of all time, such as Singin' in the Rain, A Star is Born and even Citizen Kane.

One caveat is that for modern-day audiences used to the high impact look and feel of HDTVs and Blu-Rays,  The Artist is a demanding film to watch, requiring more concentration and attention, but it is worth the effort.

Title:  The Artist.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius.
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.
Release Date: November 25, 2011.
Viewing Date: December 27, 2011.

 Plot: A-.
Acting: A.
Visuals: A-.
Impact: B+.

Overall Grade: (3.67/4.0).

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