Ironically, words cannot describe the brilliance of the new silent movie, "The Artist."
Recently Hollywood has been obsessed with sequels, animation, action-packed spectacles and 3-D. "The Artist" is an enthralling masterpiece that pays homage to 1920s Hollywood, a Hollywood where "talkies" are the newest gimmick.
The film starts with a film-within-a-film being presented to a packed house by George Valentin, the era's biggest silent film star. His chance encounter with Peppy Miller, a typical 1920s flapper eager to get his autograph, inspires George. They meet again after she is given a role as an extra in one of his newest movies. Set at the advent of "talkies," the story effortlessly juxtaposes Peppy's rise to stardom, and George's fall into obscurity.
French actor Jean Dujardin won the Golden Globe for best actor for his portrayal of Valentin. Perfectly cast, Dujardin, proves he doesn't need words to tell a story. Instead he relies on the exaggerated expressions of his face, which he knows are just as effective.
An integral part of the film is the Golden Globe-winning score, which acts as the script, metaphoric words that propel the movie. When Valentin is happy; the music is upbeat and light. His anger is emphasized by a raucous, heavy, brassy sound. That is what makes the movie special; the music allows the film to convey a wide range of emotions without saying a word. The humor, genuine thrills and passionate romance blend together perfectly.
The true artist here is Michel Hazanavicius, whose direction is nothing short of brilliant. Some directors have difficulty keeping the audience engaged with pages and pages of dialogue; Hazanavicius captivates the audience with mere silence. Instead he creates intriguing illusions with beautiful black-and-white photography and bold and innovative camerawork. In one memorable scene, after George learns of the "talkie" breakthrough, the sounds in his world become greatly exaggerated, he notices for the first time the impact that sound has. He doesn't like it.
It is also evident that this film is a love letter to classic Hollywood. One of the text cards has Peppy say, "I want to be alone," an obvious wink to Greta Garbo's famous phrase. Another sequence has Peppy and George tap dancing like the esteemed Astaire/Rogers team of the 1930s.
This film will always be regarded as a true classic for having built on the history of the silent film genre. In the modern world of CGI and big budget shoot-'em-ups, sometimes silence is necessary and refreshing. It's amazing how the silence in "The Artist" ends up saying so much.
Ian Scaduto is a senior at Clarence High School.
4 stars (out of 4)