When George Valentin is on top of his game,
The top 1920s good-looker and star,
He meets a sweet girl, Peppy Miller by name,
Who dreams of her own shot at fortune and fame,
And, all thanks to George, she is lucky so far.
When George is confronted by movies with sound,
He writes them off quickly as some passing fad.
As Peppy gets noticed, her new roles abound,
While George’s career runs right into the ground.
His own wife is equally gloomy and sad.
He tries to create his own film on the clock,
But Peppy’s new talkie outshines it in spades.
His wife makes him leave (not that much of a shock),
And he loses his fame, still refusing to talk,
And can’t afford chauffeurs or butlers or maids.
He burns his old films when he reaches a low,
But George’s dog saves him from death in cute style.
When Peppy hears of this, she’s eager to show
Her love and affection for George in his woe
And lets him recover at her house a while.
But George soon discovers she bought his effects
At auction and runs off, rejecting her pity.
He goes to his old house and, greatly perplexed,
Decides it would be best to shoot himself next,
While Peppy is searching for him through the city.
She gets there in time to stop George from the deed,
And urges the star to accept her kind aid.
She then has a plan that is sure to succeed
To give George a comeback with dance, guaranteed.
They both do a number with sound, unafraid.

The first clean, almost kid-friendly film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989, The Artist is a skillful homage to the silent films of the 1920s. Jean Dujardin has an Oscar-winning star turn as George Valentin, and my VC mentioned that he reminded her of Gene Kelly. Strengthening that comparison are a number of similar themes to Singin’ in the Rain, such as the advent of talking motion pictures, an unknown starlet rising to fame, and of course the final dance number. It doesn’t have the same humor or catchy tunes as Kelly’s classic, but it compensates with its astounding artistry.

Choosing to make their homage a black-and-white silent picture itself, the filmmakers managed to tell their story with a minimum of title cards and a maximum of acting. Much of the dialogue is never made explicit; you see characters’ mouths move, but, unless it’s relevant to the plot or emotions, it is meant to be inferred from other characters’ responses. This could be both a boon and a hindrance to the stars. Being used to speaking and utilizing their voices as part of their acting, they are not able to rely on such things; instead facial expressions take precedence, and Jean Dujardin shines, as do Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller, John Goodman as the studio head, and James Cromwell as the faithful chauffeur Clifton.

The written dialogue itself is clever enough though nothing to write home about, and the story is rather depressing until the end. Yet there are so many little ingenious touches: Valentin’s conversation with his shadow, the metaphor of him sinking in quicksand, and that brilliant dream sequence that expertly merges silence and sound. Yet, as serious as it gets in the climax, there is also a good bit of levity, from both Dujardin’s charm and that adorable Jack Russell Terrier named Uggie, the first dog to have his paw prints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Artist certainly deserved all its accolades, including its five Oscar wins. Still, based on that dream sequence, I can’t help but wonder what the film would have been like if various characters had started speaking as they embraced the “talkies” while Valentin stayed silent until the end. It would have been very tricky to pull off, but it could have been interesting to be sure.

Best line: (George Valentin, speaking) “With pleasure.”

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 6
Visual Effects: N/A (yes, there were some good effects but they were more for the artistry than for eye candy)
Originality: 7
Watchability: 5
TOTAL: 38 out of 60

Next: #233 – Shenandoah

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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