'The Artist' Review: Ode to Classic Hollywood Crushes Soulless Modern Films

This was written by longtime Big Hollywood commenter, Maatkare, who took me up on my offer to review this for us. Those of you already familiar with Maatkare’s smart, insightful comments will see that those qualities translated to this review, as well. — J.N.

2011 will be remembered as a year where 21st century technology is kicked to the curb by a silent movie made by a bunch of Frenchmen.

Director Michel Hazanavicius has planted a warm, wet, kiss on the cheek of cinema with his masterpiece “The Artist,” a loving homage to the Hollywood Of Old that wears its heart on its sleeve proudly and unashamedly. It’s the story of silent film star George Valentin (French star Jean Dujardin, with Douglas Fairbanks mustache and devil-may-care charisma and blinding grin), whose star is falling as surely as his love interest Peppy Miller’s (Bérénice Bejo) is rising, while Hollywood transitions to sound. It’s an equal helping of “Singin’ in the Rain” mixed with “A Star Is Born.” And while you needn’t be a movie buff (or snob) to appreciate the many references to classic cinema, those who’ve invested time with TCM will be delighted with the many winks to classic films we know and love.

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And yet, the movie transcends mere pastiche. In one scene, Bejo wistfully interacts with Valentin’s empty tailcoat in the most chaste yet erotic movie moment in recent memory. In another, Bejo luminously ascends a flight of stairs clad in white as Valentin descends, dressed in somber gray, in the iconic Bradbury Building (seen in “Blade Runner” and many more), a perfect melding of themes and production design.

The movie will sweep you under its spell before the period-perfect art deco credits are over, and by the time you realize it’s played you for a grade-A sap, you’ll be grateful, even as you dab your damp cheeks. Solid support is given by John Goodman as the requisite gruff studio head, and James Cromwell as the faithful chauffer.

Special attention must be given to Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier, in the finest canine performance since Toto (and that includes you, Asta).

Make no mistake–this is a true silent movie. Yes, there are subtitles, and a little sonic trickery here and there, but there are large swaths of screen time without them, and you will be startled at how you don’t miss them or traditionally synched sound for that matter. The actors’ expressiveness and Ludovic Bource’s lyrical score tell the story as well as any traditionally recorded dialogue. Add to this Guillaume Schiffman’s gorgeous black and white cinematography and Mark Bridges’ fantastic costume design, wonderful art direction by Laurence Bennett and Gregory S. Hooper, and you have a powerful, loving homage to the myth of Hollywood.

In a holiday season of shrieking CGI chipmunks and other assorted sequels, this is a unique creation, not to be missed. Don’t wait for Netflix/Redbox/Streaming. Get thee to a theater. Get your fingers grimy with fake-buttered popcorn and smuggled-in peanut butter cups devoured before the previews are over. Silence your damn cell phone. And fall under the spell of the movies as they were meant to be experienced–in the dark, joyously, cheek by jowl with your fellow man.

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