A wonderfully original film that reminds us that there are many ways for films to express a story. Even without sound. This is something that seems to have been forgotten: I work in a cinema where a few people walked out of The Artist demanding a refund or a discount because whatever it is that was being projected (surely not a film!) was in black and white and… DU-DUN DUUUN! God almighty!… silent!
Be that as it may, if this specific film was not silent, it would not work. With sound throughout, the anxieties of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) facing the inevitability of talkies would be flat and the ending would have no impact. Furthermore, some self-conscious uses of intertitles would have been unimaginable had the film been made in the silent era. In this way, the misleading effect of the “BANG!” intertitle is revealing of the film’s conscious play with it’s own lack of sound. This makes for a very modern film, as well as a classic homage to a rich era of filmmaking that has recently fallen into oblivion.
The story is simple, yet funny and, at times, heartbreaking. The performances are, similarly to the writing and direction, both modern and in keeping with the acting of the silent era.
Interestingly, The Artist feels like it should only be watched in the cinema: in a dark, silent setting that immerses us in the era, and as part of an audience to share laughter, silence and applause with – the real deal! When watching this film at home, one can only imagine that the aspect ratio will render the image too small, and the surrounding noises will become distracting, reducing the impact of the rare diegetic sound – in the cinema, the existence of sound is almost forgotten, therefore, noisy occurrences are just as shocking to us as they are to George Valentin.
It seems unlikely that The Artist will herald a new cycle of silent films: as the numbers have shown, it is not as popular a style as 3D or ‘found footage’… However, it will hopefully remind audiences and filmmakers alike, that the most modern way is not the only way when making a movie. As technology advances, the stories and ways to tell them remain timeless. There is just a widening selection of means available to express creativity that should be embraced in all its scope.