Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
silent movie era
the impact of talking motion pictures on the silent film industry
The difference in acting styles between silent films and talkies.
The stock market crash of 1929.
What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer
Clifton being so loyal to George that he keeps working for him without pay for more than a year.
Jean Dujardin … George Valentin
Bérénice Bejo … Peppy Miller
John Goodman … Al Zimmer
James Cromwell … Clifton
Malcolm McDowell … The Butler
Penelope Ann Miller … Doris
Missi Pyle … Constance
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La Petite Reine
La Classe Américaine
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The Weinstein Company
What is an Artist? The meaning has changed much over the course of history, but it currently has a definition that is close to the following:
Artist— is a descriptive term applied to a person who engages in an activity deemed to be an art. An artist also may be defined unofficially as “a person who expresses him—or herself—through a medium.”
In the movie “The Artist” the story unfolds inside of a “silent film”, a medium where the lead characters express themselves marvelously without the use of words, relying only on body language and facial expressions to communicate.
When you think of the silent movie era, names like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton come to mind, both iconic comedians of the early 20th century silent films. The silent film era was what put Hollywood on the map, producing upwards of 800 films a year and funneling them worldwide. There were also the adventures of Douglas Fairbanks and the romances of Clara Bow, just two of many Hollywood Stars made famous by the “studio system” which was also birthed during this period. However, once the “talkies” were introduced, the silent films began an immediate decline, and, by 1929, the year of the stock market crash, they were all but gone. Many major silent filmmakers and actors were unable to adjust to the demands of the new medium, and consequently their careers were temporarily derailed and, in some cases, ended altogether.
“The Artist” is a story centered on just this period in film history, written and directed by French filmmaker, Michel Hazanavicius. The movie opens with a handsome, confident, silent film star [reminiscent of a cross between Clark Gable and Rudolph Valentino] named George Valentine (Jean Dujardin) hamming it up both backstage and onstage when taking their bows for their performances in a film that had just ended in the theater. Accompanying Valentine in his films (and in his personal life) is a Jack Russell Terrier, you guessed it—named Jack, who adds a great deal of humor and love to the film as a whole, and who takes his own dog bows right from the beginning of the film, as well. What the story unveils is the historical impact of the “talkies” on the career of this cocky self-assured actor who is on top of his game and loved by the masses—so confident that he’s even willing to dish out advice to young aspiring actors like Peppy Miller, who ends up becoming more involved with him than he anticipated at their first meeting.
The question remains, will he make room for the up and coming young stars at his own peril. Will he succumb to the studio’s requests for more “talkies”? Will he insist on continuing to make his living using his body language alone to convey the emotion-filled stories to his adoring audience? Will the wannabe-young-starlet-fan he meets serendipitously on the studio set be a help or a hindrance to furthering his career? And just where does the man’s best friend, Jack (the Terrier), fit in the picture? All these questions are asked and answered in this simple, yet inspiring, film.
There is no doubt that the film is paying homage to a bygone era of Hollywood, oddly enough by a French filmmaker outside of that circle entirely. The critical acclaim by those inside the Hollywood set may be somewhat self-congratulatory, but, that said, it is a marvelous piece of filmmaking in its own right, nonetheless. After over 80 years of films with sound, it is an artistic achievement to recreate one without it. “The Artist” plays with a remarkable authenticity to the silent films of yore, ranging from detailed costumes, to creative camera techniques, like the iris, to stylized editing.
Undoubtedly, the success of such an accomplishment must be given to the actors—to some degree—who normally rely heavily on their voice to communicate the characters they play to a viewing audience. No surprise then that the lead character George Valentin (Gerard Dujan) is receiving such accolades for his performance, whose commanding presence is felt in each and every frame of the film. His co-star Berenice Bejo, plays the role of Peppy Miller, who breaks into the film business just as his career hangs in the balance, is also a strong performer. There are also great supporting roles of recognizable American actors including John Goodman (Al Zimmer), James Cromwell (Clifton the driver), and Penelope Ann Miller (Doris).
There is a single scene in the early part of the film where a finely dressed woman uses her gloved middle finger to express her discontent. Additionally, one of the framed statements that flash on the screen periodically to express in written words what’s happening in the film includes a “d” word. There is no clarity as to who Doris is in relationship to George in the film, although they live together. It would appear that they are not married. In any case, he is flirting with Peppy while he is with Doris. There are no sex scenes or nudity. ***Spoiler*** During the buildup to the climax, there are some disturbing images which include a character setting his belongings on fire in a drunken stupor, along with another scene that is leading toward a potential suicide with a handgun. Both those scenes are precipitated by excessive drinking and smoking—the kind that comes with depression.
Henry Moore, a famous sculpture once said “To be and artist is to believe in life.” That theme seems to emerge with strength in the film, overall. There is a genuine love of life and respect for life that permeates the film, in spite of the suicidal depression that tries to take over a major character. While it doesn’t credit that love to the Author of Life Himself, it still resonates in this magical piece of art. Throughout the entire film, the unspoken encouragement to the artist in all of us, is perseverance, adaptation, and having a willingness to change. Proverbs 16:18 is most clearly illustrated in this story, in an almost palpable way: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” While I won’t give away the ending, Proverbs 18:16 has relevance. “A man’s gift maketh room for him and bringeth him before great men.” For the Christian, that gift is on the inside of us, wanting to come out, if our pride can just stay out of the way. We are the vehicle that God wants to use, like an artist painting a blank canvas.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.