A film about a silent film actor would, of course, have to be silent. George is an A-list actor in the late 1920’s, the silent era, and has a face that is made for the silver screen. The film, The Artist is about this acclaimed actor’s descent into obscurity brought on by the film industry’s transition from Silent to Sound. George disappears from the lime light just as Peppy, a doe-eyed fan of George’s, is bolstered into stardom by the actor himself just prior to his downfall. Peppy’s star rises just as George’s plummets.
The Artist is a silent film, yet doesn’t wander into the realm of a “novelty”. I wasn’t sitting in my seat thinking, “This film is silent.”, and I think that in and of itself is an accomplishment, especially this day in age. It’s a silent film about a silent film star not willing to do films with sound. It’s Meta in that the film itself is a representation of the subject. The transition from silent to sound is somewhat comparable to the transition from 2D to 3D. Though the movement to sound was quicker and more widespread than the 3D move, critics and actors alike wrote it off as a non-threat. They scoffed at it as though it were a ridiculous idea and that it would take away from the film experience. In order to make a successful film about a silent film actor not willing to concede to the sound movement, it’s obvious to me now that the film itself had to be silent.
In George’s refusal to act in a film with sound he, in a way, refuses to live in a world with sound as well. There’s a great dream sequence where we, the audience, actually hear the sounds in the dream along with George. In his dream, George lives in a world with only music and no sound effects or dialogue and he is just as surprised to hear these sounds in his dream as an audience would be in the late 20’s having never seen a film with sound.
The Artist makes up for its lack of dialogue with incredible style and, though it’s a simple film, tons of imagery. The cinematography is a beautifully crisp black and white with some wonderful well-framed shots.
The Artist has all of the feel and charm of a real old timey silent film. From the mannerisms, movements and reactions of the actors to the scene transitions, The Artist is a true silent film and in no way a gimmick. But what it represents and the story it tells without dialogue is the real achievement here. To create such an in depth character study while at the same time telling a delightful love story with no dialogue is a fantastic achievement, indeed.