The Artist

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday.  After all the “Over the Hill” balloons and packages of adult diapers were done away with, I began to reflect on my place in society as I careen through middle age towards senior citizen-dom.  It’s easy to feel like the world is done with you once you reach a certain age.  Everywhere you look, you see the faces of hot bodied 20-somethings smiling from billboards while trying to sell you a soft drink or car or snack food.  Even though all these companies (and the country in general) is run by people more my age it seems that since I’ve ridden this rock around the sun a certain number of times, I’m considered obsolete and unworthy of their attention.  I now understand what my parents meant when I was in my 20’s and they felt like the world was ignoring their interests and needs to cater to people my age.  I suppose it happens in every generation.  It even happens in movies as is shown in this week’s film “The Artist.”
 
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent movie superstar of the 1920’s.  His films are guaranteed hits for Kinograph studios boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman).  At the premiere of his latest movie, a young flapper named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is standing in the crowd when she gets shoved into George.  Soon photographers are taking pictures and George, always the showman, begins mugging with Peppy, leading her to kiss him on the cheek.  This image splashed across the front page of the next day’s newspaper doesn’t sit well the George’s wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), adding a strain to their already rocky marriage.  George and Peppy are destined to meet again, this time on a film set as she is working as an extra in his new movie.  Each of their encounters adds a level of attraction and tension between them.  Sadly, the time of silent movies is coming to an end and George refuses to keep up with the new trend, believing talkies are a passing fad.  He is cast aside to make way for fresh faces in the new world of sound.  As George’s star falls, Peppy’s rises and soon she is the new superstar of talking pictures.  The Great Depression wipes out all of George’s money, his film career is over and Doris leaves him.  All he has left is his dog (a Jack Russell terrier named Uggy), his loyal driver Clifton (James Cromwell), reels of his old movies and his pride.
 
“The Artist” is a film that shouldn’t be this good.  It is a simple story about love, fame and loss that has been told a thousand times.  It’s in black and white and is a silent movie.  All of this fades into the background as you follow the story, watch the performances and immerse yourself in this world of nearly a century ago.
 
Jean Dujardin seems like he would have fit right in during the time of the film.  His dashing good looks and charisma jumps off the screen.  His personality is in 3D even if his image isn’t.  Dujardin is a big star in his native France and, if “The Artist” were released to more theatres, he would likely be a hot commodity in America.  He has an expressive face he uses to excellent affect to get his part of the story across despite a lack of dialog and without looking like he’s “acting.”  His performance is matched by co-star Berenice Bejo.  Looking every bit the flapper girl of the 1920’s, Bejo isn’t made out to be a driven starlet willing to run over whoever she must to achieve fame.  She works hard and succeeds because of her talent but doesn’t lose her humanity in the process.  While they don’t spend a great deal of time together on screen during the film, Dujardin and Bejo make the most of their shared screen time, creating a romance from nothing more than looks between the two.  It may be the hottest romance ever where the lovers never kiss.
 
“The Artist” is able to live in both the worlds of silent films and modern cinema thanks to the way it is constructed.  While the movie is in black and white and is silent other than an orchestral soundtrack, the acting style is for the most part very modern.  While there is some batting of eyelashes and other dated aspects, all the players behave in a normal way.  The film also plays with its silent movie roots with George having a dream where everything makes noise except him, exemplifying his fears of the coming change he can do nothing about.  That’s the kind of sequence you probably wouldn’t see in an early talking picture.  The combination of an old fashioned story told in a modern way makes “The Artist” a rare gem that may be outside your normal viewing choices but is well worth the risk.
 
“The Artist” is rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.  There is a scene of a person about to commit suicide and a supporting character flips the “bird” at George.
 
While it is a silent movie and is in black and white, “The Artist” speaks volumes with expressive actors and a compelling story, saying more with a glance than most films do with pages of dialog.  It tells that story in a colorful way.  You won’t miss what isn’t there, although you will notice movement and talking in the audience more as you aren’t listening as intently to what’s happening on screen as you might normally.  Here’s hoping you have a well-behaved audience.
 
“The Artist” gets five enthusiastic guitars.
 
Two new films, a remake that finally comes to Knoxville and an animated classic re-released in 3D are on screens at your local multiplex this week.  Vote for the movie you’d like me to review next.
 
Beauty and the Beast 3D—Walt Disney Pictures' timeless animated musical classic returns to theaters in a stunning new 3D re-release.
 
Contraband—Mark Wahlberg is former smuggler forced back into a life of crime in order to settle his delinquent brother-in-law's debt.
 
Joyful Noise—Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton star as two very different women who must join forces to save their small-town gospel choir.
 
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy—During the Cold War a veteran intelligence officer is recalled from retirement to discover who the Soviet spy is in British Intelligence.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Send your questions and comments to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.