At the beginning of the Artist we are shown that George Valentin will not speak. Indeed, this star of the silent age is tortured in his film and still will not speak. We are shown that this is the premiere of his new film and that when the audience enthusiastically applauds, George does not talk to them; he instead dances and performs tricks with his dog. Much to the annoyance of his co-star he hogs much of the limelight. It’s apparent that he doesn’t notice how annoyed she is. As the film progresses we see that it takes a lot for George to notice what goes on around him, save for adulation.
In telling the story of George the film concerns itself with discussing the end of silent films and the beginning of the talkies. George is resistant to this change as he doesn’t see a future in it. He sees that his silent films are very popular and believes that they will always be so. There is though the thought that George is afraid of mockery, he imagines a bevy of girls in clown costumes laughing at him while he can’t speak.
The film is certainly not unique in charting the decline of a star or indeed in charting the history of early Hollywood, or Hollywoodland as it is depicted here. We’ve also seen a number of black and white films since colour became de rigeur; Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese use it to dramatic effect. There’s also been faux forties thrillers, Steven Soderbergh’s the Good German among them.
We’ve also had silent films, Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie being the prime example. The Artist distinguishes itself by being a silent film using the technology of the day to explain what happened in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This film though uses real silence as well, there are long sequences without dialogue in Paris, Texas and la Belle Noiseuse for instance, but not many films these days utilise the absence of film except to portray hearing loss.
When it comes down to the bare bones of it the film is a very well executed story that utilises age old ubiquitous themes such as decline and fall and the conflict between the new and the old. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo perform exceptionally without dialogue, supported ably by such luminaries as James Cromwell and John Goodman, who must be playing Harvey Weinstein.