Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Artist Review

There's a quote from Mark Twain. He allegedly said, "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always twenty years behind the times." The film "The Artist" opened in the United States on November 25, 2011. But it just opened here in Cincinnati yesterday on January 13, 2012. Maybe Mark Twain was right. I'll just say that I'm glad I made time for this film. Better late than never or at least I got to see it before the end of the world.

The Artist starts out in the year 0f 1927. Silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is what we would call today a superstar. He's adored by women from all over America. During a public interview, a young female fan literally stumbles into him. She's Peppy Miller, (Bérénice Bejo) an aspiring actress. A photograph of her kissing Valentin on the cheek is captured by Variety. That picture gets her noticed at Kinograph studios where she gets her first job as a dancing extra. The studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) wants to fire her because she has pushed Valentin's movie off the front page. But it's Valentin who insists she get a job on his movie. It's here during a dance scene that we see a romantic spark between Valentin and Miller.

But times are about to change. Kinograph decides to make movies with sound and dialogue. With the change to cinema, Zimmer tells Valentin that people will demand newer and younger stars. Valentin refuses to believe this. Meanwhile, Miller's career begins to rise. Valentin makes a silent movie that bombs and when the Great Depression occurs, he loses everything. Miller is now her own superstar.

Director and screenwriter Michael Hazanavicius has created a conventional show business movie. He makes up for this by bold, expressionistic visuals. But the big hook is that The Artist is a silent, black and white movie just like the movies made by its protagonist Valentin.

If you are going to make a silent movie in the twenty first century, there's got to be two areas that must be strong to keep the audience's interest. They are the music and the acting. First, let me talk about the music. Ludovic Bource wrote the score. As I write this, there's a controversy since Hazanavicius decided to use small portion of music from Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." One of the stars of "Vertigo", Kim Novak, claims it was akin to a rape. Kim, I love you but that argument is over the top. The use of "Vertigo" music was a homage to that movie. And unfortunately, it takes away from The Artist's composer's excellent work. Bource's score is impressionistic, sweeping and beautiful. It deserves an Oscar nomination.

As for the acting performances, both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo exude charisma on the screen and with each other. There's real chemistry between the two. They make you want to watch them. You care about them. And Bejo's character whose first name is Peppy is aptly named. She has real energy as a singer and dancer.

The Artist is a valentine to the magic of Hollywood film making. It's delightful. The grade is A.

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