Today’s generation of moviegoers were given a taste of Hollywood’s silent film era with Oscar nominee “The Artist.” The story focuses on the film industry’s long-ago transition into the “talkies,” causing different outcomes for acting talent of that time. Although it represents a time decades ago, the impact of changing technologies on people can easily be related to as well.
Early on, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the big star resulting from his work on the big, yet silent screen. During a scene familiar to us today, the red carpet lined with the press flashing cameras at the star, a fan eagerly takes it all in. The fan’s name is Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), whose chance encounter with George brings fame her way.
A fast-paced collage of publicity images fills the screen to reflect how quickly Peppy rises to stardom as “talkies” begin. It’s the perfect parallel to the stars of today; their faces are everywhere even if they were unheard of a year earlier. Meanwhile, George’s career is going downhill just as rapidly; his success in silent films created a loyalty to that era of acting. The cute little dog following him around seems to be the only constant in his life.
As Peppy continues to gain popularity with both the public and the press, a moment of betrayal happens to George. Following his career’s demise and the betrayal, disaster also strikes in George’s life. It’s only a matter of time as to whether or not everything can turn around for him and if his career will be renewed. George’s career troubles due to a changing film industry parallel the hardships of people in today’s economy. This made for a character who audiences could really root for to overcome adversity and find new success.
The acting by cast members throughout the film was outstanding. Even without Dujardin talking, it was obvious in the audience reactions at Bryn Mawr Film Institute that his character’s emotions were felt. Bejo, who audiences may recognize from “A Knight’s Tale” (2001), was delightful in the role of a star whose fame grows with the popularity of “talkies.” Along with Dujardin and Bejo, “The Artist” also stars James Cromwell, John Goodman and Missi Pyle.
Penelope Ann Miller stars as the wife of George and his acting career, going out with silent films, causes distress in her as well. Cromwell is Clifton, whose livelihood is also affected by the silent film era fading to the industry’s changing times. The film’s human cast members were not the only ones in the spotlight; the dog, known as “Uggie,” has a Facebook fan base.
Various scenes throughout the film emphasize the events taking place in the lives of George and Peppy. A silent film ad starring George Valentin rests on the ground as people walk on it. Later, he gazes at a reflection of himself where an old tuxedo is worn by a mannequin in a store’s display window. These are just a few examples of how the imagery in “The Artist” does a great job with heightening feelings of failure and hope.
The costumes were glamorous, just like those seen throughout an old movie airing on TCM. In successful times, George wore a tuxedo featuring long coattails; Peppy’s outfits were similar to flapper dresses in that they were glitzy and great for dancing. Other details, such as hairstyles of both male and female characters, reflected the classy look of old Hollywood.
According to IMDB, “The Artist” is nominated for Oscars in 10 award categories; that includes Dujardin for Best Actor and Bejo for Best Supporting Actress. Tune in to the 84th Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 26 to find out how “The Artist” fares among its competition for top honors in film.