Photo: A movie premiere in “The Artist.”
Who says that a black and white silent film can’t still be a hit 82 years after the start of the sound era? The French feature film THE ARTIST, released in a limited number of theatres this past weekend in Los Angeles and New York, is a loving homage to the American silent film. Full of emotion and spirit, the movie demonstrates what is often lacking in today’s Hollywood films: heart.
Photo: A scene in the Bradbury Building with Jean Dujardin in “The Artist.”
Lead actor Jean Dujardin gives an infectious, inspired performance as George Valentin, a silent film actor in the late 1920s. Full of charm and spirit, while also a bit of a ham, Valentin performs in action films with his constant companion, a winning little terrier who almost steals the show. At a premiere, Valentin literally bumps into an aspiring young actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), and the story begins. The two leads possess great chemistry, and play their roles with elan. Dujardin channels Douglas Fairbanks while also mimicking Mary Pickford’s great strength, acting with your eyes.
French director Michel Hazanavacitius has created a film that is both beautiful and incredibly well-acted, and which also highlights elegant locations all around Los Angeles. The Bradbury Building stairs and Art Deco Cicada Club downtown appear as locations, along with the Orpheum Theatre and the lobby of the Los Angeles Theatre. The Red Studio on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood stands-in for the movie studio, and a building at the American Film Institute becomes a hospital. Beachwood Drive plays itself in the film, with a digitally recreated Hollywoodland Sign above it.
The film features sleek cars of the period, along with lovely period costumes and props, and also contains an artful blend of period music, film score cues from classic films, and a creative original score.
THE ARTIST aptly demonstrates the draw of silent films: pure emotion. The events sweep the audience along in caring what happens to the characters, rather than being purely visceral, as so many current films are. This film demonstrates that simple joy and emotion pay bigger dividends than seeing explosions, killings, and violence.