Do you remember the era of silent movies? According to a recent article reporting the percentage of people over the age of 75 in the state of Florida, suggests you just might. Some of us are not familiar with that period of the film history and probably only a small handful of us have seen a silent movie on video or DVD. Those in attendance for the opening night movie of the 26th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival got a rare treat when they saw “The Artist”.
“The Artist” is a silent movie about silent movie actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). The movie is set in 1927 when Valentin was one of the most popular silent actors of the time. That is a period in cinema history when going out to the movies was a big deal. People wore suits and dresses to sit in dark theaters. Often live music accompanied the picture. In “The Artist” George Valentin does not know that the invention of the “talkie” movie is right around the corner. He does not believe that the public would accept this new type of movie. However, he is dead wrong and his career is about to come to an end while a young actress he helped discover is about to see her career flourish.
It’s easy to see how Dujardin won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in “The Artist”. Today’s actors rely on their voices as a part of their craft, but Dujardin and the rest of the cast of “The Artist”, which includes Penelope Ann Miller and John Goodman, had to get use only body language, to make their point and further the plot.. While some dialogue cards are used, there is very little “spoken dialogue” in “The Artist”.
A great deal of credit goes to writer/director Michel Hazanavicius and music composer Ludovic Bource. While there are moments of complete silence in the movie, there is usually a musical score to go along with every scene. These scores play a crucial part in “The Artist” because they often help convey the mood of the scene, whether it is a light moment or a darker one. Sometimes a scene just has piano accompaniment; other times a full orchestra is needed.
Hazanavicius pays a great homage to the silent films of yesteryear. He uses several complicated techniques to make the audience feel as if they are watching a movie from the 1920s, right down to having scenes that end with a circle closing in on the actor’s face before the camera cuts to the next scene. The editing of the movie also helps set the mood and the tone. Hazanvicius must have worked very closely with all of his actors in order to make sure the pantomiming they did on set did not look too “over the top” or funny, otherwise the scenes would not work.
“The Artist” IS a silent movie; a type of movie most of us are not used to seeing. The movie will probably not gel with all viewers. It certainly has its dragging moments, and the running time probably could have been cut down as well. Still, it’s a pretty innovative movie for the 21st Century. Retro is “in” these days, but “The Artist” takes that to a whole new level. “The Artist” is rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture. The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival runs until November 11th. “The Artist” will be released in general theaters in November.