At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Artist “2011”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Comedy-Drama/ Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Joel Murray, Ken Davitian, John Goodman, and Uggie the Dog/ Runtime: 100 minutes

If there was ever a time where there was even a hint of irony in the statement that “the world is talking”, it would be when the world back in the year that is 2011 was abuzz about the modern silent film known as The Artist. A film that was a beautiful, engaging, and quite well-made tribute to the saga of the conclusion of the silent period in film history whilst being a, 99.5% of the time, silent film itself. Not to mention, but the helmer of this voyage back in time, one Michel Hazanavicius does a terrific job of keeping this film on the right track, and easily makes us feel like we are caught up in the glamour and world of that truly long-gone era despite being in the present. Indeed The Artist is very much the cinematic equivalent of when a baseball team dresses up in the old-school uniforms from long ago so that you feel like you are watching the team from back in the day play while all the while the audience is still rooted in the present thanks to the electronic scoreboards, kiss cam, and goofy race between-inning moments between a wide variety of assorted objects. Indeed the purpose may be because “as things were” just doesn’t work anymore unless it is to allow father time to take a bow and to showcase “just how far we have come”. Suffice it to say that this description could best fit this film seeing as it too is an early 21st look at how things used to be done in the 20th century. Indeed much in the same way that baseball is still baseball regardless of if the player walking up to the plate has organ music or electric speakers blaring him on to the plate or if he is wearing a jersey that is more custom-fit or if the top is a little baggy and his socks may very well swallow his knees whole, so too can it be said that The Artist and movies in general are still art and entertainment regardless of whether or not the cast of characters talk, objects make any kind of sound, the film is colorized or black and white, or for that matter if the movie comes from the long-gone year of 1928 or nearly a decade ago in the year 2011.

The plot is as follows: The Artist tells the story of a self-described king amongst men. His name is George Valentin, and like many actors of a long-gone era, this is a man who simply just cannot ever have enough of the fame, fortune, and success that simply comes from just being himself. Indeed this is a man who absorbs all the attention in a room like a long-dried out sponge desperately seeking water. This is of course isn’t even beginning to cover the fact that not only is our Mr. Valentin quite larger than life as an actor, but in his ego-driven mind, he is even bigger than the ginormous celluloid canvas where he appears to entertain the masses. However it isn’t long before George’s life hits an unplanned for speed bump in the form of having an encounter with a gorgeous woman by the name of Peppy Miller while in the throngs of an eager body of press covering the premiere of his latest hit. Suddenly, George and Peppy are the talk of the town and are being discussed and covered in all the major entertainment magazines including the cover of none other than Variety. This of course has the unintended side effect of slightly irritating the head of Kinograph Studios, and George’s boss, Mr. Al Zimmer. It seems that this would be due to the fact that all of this extra press covering George has pushed any news about how successful the premiere of his new film has been pushed to the sidelines so to speak. Yet while all of this is going on, we also get to witness the rise of Peppy in her dream of becoming an actress as, despite an inconspicuous debut as an extra, finds herself with each new movie she appears in, moving higher and higher up the cast list until she is Kinograph’s newest A-List talent complete with a painted-on beauty mark provided to her by George himself. For her this honestly couldn’t have come at a better time for we soon learn that, like so many studios at this time in film history, Kinograph is about to make the transition into making “talkies” and Zimmer and the rest of the company believe that this is going to be the future of the motion picture industry. Well almost everyone.  I say that because we soon learn that George, despite his standing in the film community beginning to dwindle slightly, is determined to not have any part in a film which involves speaking since it is in his mind “simply a fad which will pass”. Thus a question soon arises: can George’s self-induced boycott prove that a fading manner of making movies deserves to stick around, or will Peppy’s rise in stardom, not to mention her pleas and the general rise in success seen in talkies be enough to inspire him to move forward and adapt to the changing landscape in the land of movie magic?

Now it should be noted that The Artist thankfully provides audiences with a nice break from a lot of the typical films made nowadays; films that often feature massive audience numbers applauding computer-digitally enhanced performances, and precise work from all behind the camera departments instead of genuine human performances and hands-on work from the filmmakers involved. To that end, it should be noted that the film does a lovely job of taking us lovingly by the hand and taking us back to a time and place that, although not exactly identifiable to many, is most certainly more personal than we are used to as well not exactly as overdone, but rather utilizes affability and a degree of charm into getting you to partake in what the studios offered. I say this because you must understand movie lovers, back in the time this film is set in, movies weren’t as much of an addiction as they are to modern audiences. To that end, The Artist most certainly is a lot more agreeable and congenial towards what results from the finished film rather than the ingredients that go into making it than we might be expecting. Indeed, to be sure, it is the most simplistic way to tell a story in a film, but it is also one of the best ways to do so since simple is usually best, see the narrative of Jaws in the film and compare it to the book for example. Plus by incorporating the past’s definition of simple, the film is able to do more in regards to making things more complex from a thematic perspective than if it was done in the here and now. Indeed even though words are, for about 98% of the film, restricted to written text on the screen, and sound effects restricted to the orchestra as well as your own external reactions, I feel without a doubt that The Artist actually manages to give audiences a more complete narrative than a lot of films made nowadays that have the whole speech, sound, and third dimension amongst the tools they can utilize. Now that isn’t me saying that a lot of “modern technology” hasn’t been able to conjure up some truly incredible films, hell look at the movies made by Marvel since 2008. What I am saying however is that The Artist is able to do a lot more than just show how the past was; it also manages to bring it roaring back to life, and even more significant, showcase to movie going audiences of today that the tools used in modern filmmaking aren’t what matter, and that a film is still a film no matter what is added or detracted from the equation.

Now I feel it should be said that if you wanted to describe this film using only a single word, then the best word to describe it would undoubtedly have to be “classy”. I say that because this truly is a film with a decent amount of respect for what has come before, and has been made with such love and dedication toward actually looking and feeling like a film from that era that it manages to be just that in regards to both its style and to the story that it is telling audiences. Yet perhaps the most intriguing ingredient in this mix however is the manner in which the film quite easily tells us a story of long-gone period of time yet through the lens of that distinct period of time. Indeed this film’s story really seems to be in a constant state of motion due to the world in the film, and through a more narrow scope, the characters that occupy that world as they either gleefully, begrudgingly, or however make their way to a new beginning. Yes the critters that are habit and routine are quite stubborn in their ways to be fair, but The Artist manages to show that even though things will change sooner or later not only they never entirely fade away into the sunset, but that is significantly easier for people to look back on what was rather than look forward and embrace what could be. Indeed this is a film which honors what came before not only by dutifully bringing it back to life, but doing so with style, skill, and a high degree of fun thrown in the mix. Indeed this is one film that is phenomenally put together and detailed beautifully right down to make-up used by the performers and the backgrounds on which they play. Indeed even when the film becomes more of an unknown than we may have suspected, it still is quite easy to accept and embrace the film’s unique throwback era-style simplicity. To that end, it should also be noted that a large chunk of the praise for this achievement must go to the performances contained within the film. Indeed the film’s dynamic lead duo that is Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are absolutely magical in not only their acting abilities, but also with their incredible comprehension of just how the silent star thought and acted. Indeed they don’t feel like performers who learned how to act like this, but rather like actual people who were alive during the era, and as a result know how things used to be, and how actors from the silent era not only performed, but crafted the story around their performance. Suffice it to say then that this is one film which is truly magical through not only every moment, or its simplistic approach to its themes and concepts, but also in the precise manner in which all the ingredients blend together to create a film about the late 20s/ early 30s that feels like it came right out of the late 20s/ early 30s.

All in all it is safe to say that The Artist is a brilliant representation of the world of filmmaking as it used to be without utilizing the majority of current filmmaking’s tools that movies nowadays have at their disposal. Yet even though it both looks, and sounds quite distinct, it is still undeniable evidence that a film is still a film regardless of any particular fads, trends, or technological advancements along the way. In addition, The Artist isn’t just a narrative about a pair of people who may be headed in artistically different directions, but in other, more personal ways, are being drawn together even as changes occur around them for better and for worse. It is also a riveting narrative about embracing certain things, moving onward with one’s life, and paying tribute to what came before rather than unreasonably and quite bullheadedly promoting and hanging on to it for dear life like a life preserver in the middle of the ocean. Indeed through a cast of phenomenal turns and by making the audience feel as if they are actually watching a film made from the very era in which it is set The Artist is most assuredly a film about one of the more significant transition periods in film history to say nothing of the fact that it truly is, at the end of the day, one of the year 2011’s best films as well and a true must-see in every sense of the word. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Artist a solid 4.5 out of 5.