The One about Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist”

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As a fan of silent film, you eventually begin to read about what happened to the careers or the individuals, the stars of the silent era.

From Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon Jr., Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, the Talmadge sisters and many other silent film stars of the time, not many fared well from the transition from the silent films to the Talkies.

Many were known for their look and their acting style but not for their voices. During that time, not many people had to remember their lines and people never judged about what came out of an actor’s lips, there were intertitles that would explain what was going on in a scene and many talents had a great career and life because they were the stars of the time.

And while some tried to make the transition and others refused it, aside from a few talents such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy or Gloria Swanson, the coming of the talkies was not welcomed by many of the stars, stars who balked that the talkies would never surpass the popularity of silent films.

They were wrong. The talkies would eventually be the nail on the coffin more the careers of most of the silent film stars and for those such as Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Mary Pickford who tried their best to make their careers continue, unfortunately, silent films and their stars were considered passe. And the studios tried to distance themselves away from them.

Charles Chaplin tried his best to incorporate sound and even went as far to narrate a re-release of “The Gold Rush” (which shocked people because they never knew their beloved “tramp” would have an accent), Buster Keaton would also be featured in many talkies but by the ’30s and ’40s, physical vaudeville comedies were not popular compared to slapstick comedy, romantic comedies with handsome leading actors nor heroic military or Western stars.

Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford and Clara Bow tried as well and although Mary Pickford would win an Academy Award for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for “Coquette” in 1930, she had amazing fear towards the microphone, because she felt that she would never make it into talkies. And her next talkie would become a flop, it killed career if the “American’s Sweetheart”. As for Clara Bow, people were more surprised that she had a Bronx accent.

Harold Lloyd on the other hand would make a talkie but knew that with age and what the industry was looking for in Hollywood, he began to focus his career on photography and was one of the few people who had creative control of his films and did what he can to restore it.

But with silent films and the stars being considered as old-fashioned, movies and stars that your parents or grandparents would watch, not many stars made the transition.

And with the release of “The Artist”, filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius was aware of that. Sure, he is known as a comedy filmmaker for his “OSS 117″ films but he is a silent film fan, has watched many films and knew that he wanted to make one, he just needed the financial support.

The timing of “The Artist” is incredible. As more and more people are now discovering silent films through the wonderful releases on Blu-ray and DVD, many are clamoring for the films featuring these top stars of that era. Many wanting to know more about the silent era and being entertained by the films of directors such as D.W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, F.W. Murnau, Frank Borzage, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, to name a few. There is resurgence of interest in silent films today.

I have no doubt in my mind that “The Artist” will convert some people to silent films. It may not make one an ardent fan but at least giving people exposure to a silent film.

And one thing that Michel Hazanavicius wanted to do is capture normalcy. No vaudeville comedy type of direction but to capture the normalcy as seen in Murnau and Borzage films. The feeling of natural acting.

And this is where “The Artist” achieves efficacy because both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are wonderful in this film. They make you believe in their characters, they make you feel the emotional high and lows of the character of George Constantin. But not only is the acting wonderful by its main talent and also its supporting talent (including the extras), “The Artist” captivates you with its wonderful acting, its costume design, the authentic look of capturing an era but also a film that has emotion, humor, sadness and Ludoic Bource’s music…everything comes together in this film.

I absolutely love this film and I probably watched this film about seven times now and I still have not grown tired of it. The music, the camera, the editing, the overall rhythm of the film carries us along. George Constantin is the silent actor that captivates a generation that grew up with the advances of cinema and embraced the silent film. Peppy Miller is the upcoming starlet that epitomizes the “out with the old” sentiment, and Bejo plays her character with so much enthusiasm. She knows how to flirt with the camera, captivate the viewer.

“The Artist” is a great film and while I doubt Hollywood is going to invest in any more modern day silent films, “The Artist” was a film that many never seen before or for those who are familiar with silent films, caused excitement and came out in a time that was just right. It’s delightful, heartwarming and magnificent!

In some way, “The Artist” is quite relevant because we are also in a modern, technological flux in entertainment. Television and film are changing thanks to the Internet and ways to catch entertainment. May it be music or cinema, with technology, social media and an audience who has access to many forms of entertainment, what is in today could be gone or drastically changed a decade from now. Change is inevitable and “The Artist” is a good reminder of how change affected a genre and all the talent involved.


 

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Dennis A. Amith