The Artist (2011) A Silent Film Review

This controversial Best Picture winner is a silent movie about the transition to sound. Jean Dujardin is on top of the world as a Valentino/Fairbanks/Gilbert type (with cute dog) but talkies send him into a downward spiral. Can he recover?

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.

With fans like these…

When I heard about The Artist, I was pretty excited. A new silent movie from a French crew being filmed in the Los Angeles area? Yes, please! I was unprepared for the film’s popularity and the eventual backlash against it and we’ll be discussing that in a bit but let’s cover a few basics about the picture first.

Valentin in his prime.
Valentin in his prime.

Set during the transition to sound, The Artist tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), an onscreen romancer without equal. He has a dog who loves him (Uggie), a chauffeur who will do anything for him (James Cromwell), and a wife who hates him (Penelope Ann Miller). One of his biggest fans is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a Hollywood up-and-comer who embraces sound with all appendages.

His career unravelling due to his refusal to make a talkie, Valentin’s professional struggles are mirrored in his private life. His do-or-die silent epic bombs, he loses everything and is on the verge of a complete breakdown. Will Peppy be able to save him from himself?

The downward spiral.
The downward spiral.

It’s all very old school. A dash of A Star is Born, a sprinkle of Hollywood Cavalcade, a nod to John Gilbert, a salute to Douglas Fairbanks. Dujardin is a delight and takes to pantomime like a duck to water, his performance aided by his old-fashioned good looks and his megawatt smile. Of the supporting cast, Miller steals the show with her deadpan snottiness as Valentin’s contemptuous spouse, Cromwell (a real-life scion of old Hollywood) exudes dignity as Valentin’s last loyal friend and little Uggie is a charmer. (What Jack Russell isn’t?) Bejo plays her part a bit too broadly but not badly enough to cause a distraction. The real Los Angeles setting adds just the right touch of authenticity and, generally, a good time is had by all.

That old LA look.
That old LA look.

That’s not to say that the picture is flawless. It’s just that, well, there are issues with criticizing it. You see, there are people who hate The Artist with the heat of a thousand suns and I am not exaggerating.

The sheer vitriol heaped on the film (I call it The Artist Derangement Syndrome or TADS) makes it all but impossible to have a calm and rational discussion about the film’s pros and cons. If people are screaming and hollering about how they hate, hate, hate a particular film, it’s difficult to slide in and talk about the intricacies of title card usage.

Nothing about this film should raise anyone's blood pressure.
Nothing about this film should raise anyone’s blood pressure.

The Artist is not a perfect film by any means but when any mild criticism means triggering a flood of bile, one hesitates to discuss its flaws.

The Warts

artist-2011-image-17

While I generally have a positive view of the film, there are issues. I wish Valentin’s reasons for refusing to embrace sound had been communicated a bit more clearly. I wish that the film had not cheated by using a “Bang!” title card during a certain important scene. I wish the film had done a better job of portraying Valentin’s eventual evolution into a star of a dance picture. I wish the score had not relied on licensing the music of Vertigo and stuck to original compositions.

I have issues with this title card.
I have issues with this title card.

These are problems, yes, but not a single one makes The Artist worthy of outright hatred. A mild “meh” seems more appropriate. You don’t have to love the picture or even like it but let’s keep reactions in proportion, shall we?

The Fandom Strikes Back

In my experience, it seems that silent movie fans are split on The Artist. Some love it but many hate it and will spend just hours ranting about it.

Clearly arthouse fare.
Clearly arthouse fare.

And this is where I think I differ from many silent movie fans. You see, I was familiar with Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo from the OSS 117 films. They are broad, bawdy farces that poke fun at sixties spy films and can be best compared to Airplane! or The Naked Gun series. They’re not to my taste at all but I did notice Dujardin’s perfect vintage looks and mannerisms and so when I heard that the OSS 117 team was making a silent film, I was pretty psyched.

I never would have watched this Mack Sennet comedy had I known there would be mugging and random gunfire! I must go to my fainting couch now!
I never would have watched this Mack Sennet comedy had I known there would be mugging and random gunfire! I must go to my fainting couch now!

It’s all a matter of expectations and I expected exactly what the film delivered: The Artist was meant to be a warm tribute to silent and classic Hollywood. I’m sure the filmmakers were hoping for recognition but they never claimed the picture was something it wasn’t. If you buy a Mack Sennett film, don’t come crying to me because it contains broad acting, Bathing Beauties and mud fights. I am very curious to know exactly which elements of OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies led these people to believe that the same film crew would be making Stella Maris or The Crowd or City Lights even if The Artist is paying tribute to some of these films.

I don't know about you but I see this poster and all I can think of is Abel Gance.
I don’t know about you but I see this poster and all I can think of is Abel Gance.

Few silent films are made today and I think some fans may have their hopes up and built the ideal silent film in their heads. When The Artist couldn’t deliver on these dreams, the reaction was anger. I have also heard people describe the backlash as a reaction to fawning early reviews. But then it’s not really about the film itself, now is it?

Some people object to the dog. I'll bet they're a real blast at parties.
Some people object to the dog. I’ll bet they’re a real blast at parties.

Is all criticism of The Artist due to shattered dreams of a silent film revival and/or the perfect silent film? Of course not. As I stated above, the film has areas that deserve criticism. But I do think some of the more emotional negative responses—the TADS sufferers—are about more than just what appears on the screen.

Backlash and Melodrama

Cute and happy? We spit at cute and happy. We REFUSE to be cute and happy!
Cute and happy? We spit at cute and happy. We REFUSE to be cute and happy!

The mainstream critical backlash against The Artist was swift and ruthless. A film that had been hailed and feted was now dismissed as “cutesy” and “pointless.” These critics certainly have the right to their opinions (she said graciously) but I dare say that there is more to this than meets the eye. Comedies in general and romantic comedies in particular have a hard time during awards season. There are a few outliers, of course, but the fact is that big awards tend to go to heavy dramas teeming with Oscar bait. You know, crusading nun whose daughter was eaten by dingoes becomes lawyer and sues so that the drinking water will be safe and her adopted son can play football but then she becomes a serial killer and dies of cancer at the end. Based on a true story.

A fun movie won an Oscar! Help! Help!
A fun movie won an Oscar! Help! Help!

The problem with the critical backlash is that there is no consensus as to which movie actually deserved the statuette. Oh, everyone has a pick but it’s not like there was a Citizen Kane or Pulp Fiction or Bonnie and Clyde waiting in the wings. I would be more understanding if, say, War Horse had a huge groundswell of support just before the 2012 Oscars. Hugo was probably The Artist‘s closest rival but it is not without its own flaws. (It could lose about 40 minutes for a start.)

They want me to WATCH the movies I vote on? Oh those silly billies!

Look, I think the best picture award is stupid. Some years have dozens of amazing films, some years have none at all and yet there is only one award for every single year. But you know what? I don’t make the rules and this isn’t the Nobel Peace Prize. The best picture award must be given and it goes to what is generally voted to be the best of what is available. The Artist only won because it was a weak year? Maybe. But then it deserved to win, didn’t it? And, just for the record, I think that arguing about the Oscars is a pointless activity in light of the fact that a significant number of the voters do not (and are under no real obligation to) watch the movies they vote for and against. The Academy is reportedly modifying its membership rules but it remains to be seen if this will help make the awards less silly and tone-deaf.

We're making movies here, no fun allowed.
We’re making movies here, no fun allowed.

At the time, L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan wrote eloquently about the dismissive attitude that had become stylish:

…today’s Oscar voters frequently skirt the parallel danger of disregarding sophisticated and intelligent entertainments, considering them to be not as worthy of the best picture Oscar as more ostentatious, pretentious fare. Maybe you think every movie these days accomplishes what “The Artist” does. If you do, call to mind what you’ve seen in the past year, and think again.

Stealing Oscar

Penelope Ann Miller stealing the show like "The Artist" stole Best Picture.
Penelope Ann Miller stealing the show like “The Artist” stole Best Picture.

Many negative opinions about the film have nothing to do with what appears on the screen and everything to do with what was perceived as an aggressive campaign to woo Academy voters. It seems to me that the venom is misdirected as the main target should be the ridiculous Oscar nomination and voting process. I find it odd that we are constantly told to just appreciate films as films and ignore the peccadilloes of stars and directors but that obnoxious campaigning from the film’s American distributor forever taints The Artist. Mm-hmm. Sure.

Wait a second… rape?

The hype surrounding The Artist took a strange turn when Kim Novak, star of Vertigo, purchased a full page ad in Variety declaring that “I want to report a rape. I feel as if my body — or, at least my body of work — has been violated by the movie, The Artist.”

Huh?!?!
Huh?!?!

Oh good lord. So, obtaining legal permission and paying to use part of the score (which she did not write) of one film she appeared in has violated an actress’s entire body of work. And warrants a CAPS LOCK RANT? Got it. I didn’t notice Mary Pickford’s heirs claiming that she was raped when Bejo lifted the coat-hug scene from Stella Maris. I didn’t see Douglas Fairbanks’ grandchildren taking out an ad claiming he was raped when The Artist used clips from The Mark of Zorro.

Another victim of "The Artist" Hazanavicius has no shame!
Another victim of “The Artist”
Hazanavicius has no shame!

The ad was met with universal consternation (believe it or not, movie music has been licensed before) and a general sentiment of “Well, that escalated quickly.” The best response can be found on The AV Club. The highlights:

…the word “rape” continues to evolve from a word meaning “violent, forced sexual intercourse” to its more modern definition as “something kind of upsetting that happens to famous people.”

Novak then urged the industry to take back the night and vigilantly “safeguard our special bodies of work for posterity,” perhaps by teaching our classic movies self-defense strategies or arming them with whistles. “Are you sure you want to go with the word ‘rape’ here, Kim? Seems a little needlessly hyperbolic and insensitive,” Ms. Novak’s publicist said to himself while safely out of earshot, to avoid raping her with constructive criticism.

Look, I understand where Hazanavicius was coming from. He wanted The Artist to be a love letter to all of classic Hollywood. For the record, I don’t agree with his decision to use the Vertigo score so extensively but it doesn’t damage the original in any way. I dare say that Vertigo fans will remain Vertigo fans after seeing The Artist. (Incidentally, Hazanavicius responded to the advertisement in a kind and tasteful manner. A true gentleman, it seems.)

Nobody tell Kim Novak about this!
Nobody tell Kim Novak about this!

The scores of famous films are often lifted, licensed and repurposed for other movies. Star Wars, Jaws, Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Saturday Night Fever, Ben Hur, Casablanca, The Lion King… All these films have had music and, at times, entire scenes lifted. (Heck, the scores for Waterworld and Dragonheart are more famous as soundtracks for other movies’ trailers! I await comment from Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid.) And these borrowings are often for parody which, to my mind, is more “damaging” to the original’s dignity than a well-meaning homage. And yet these films survive. Fancy that. (Speaking of Casablanca, I wonder if the cast of Everybody’s Welcome, the 1931 musical in which the song As Time Goes By first appeared, accused Warner Brothers of raping them by repurposing part of the play’s score. Just curious.)

Cover your kids' eyes! We're witnessing a graphic rape!
Cover your kids’ eyes!

Never fear! The pedantic blatherskites are here!

A good number of complaints from silent movie fans involve charges that The Artist is not (gasp!) 100% accurate.

His shirt has the wrong thread count! Burn the film!
His shirt has the wrong thread count! Burn the film!

Historical inaccuracies? In a movie? Surely you jest! Regarding inaccuracies in hair and costumes, I think it is best for us to remember that historical fashions of the stage and screen are meant to create a look and feel, an atmosphere. They are not meant to be museum replicas, especially when absolute authenticity would distract the general audience.

Her lipline is misapplied! Run them out on a rail!
Her lipline is misapplied! Run them out on a rail!

I mean, we obviously don’t want to see blue jeans at Thermopylae but let’s keep things in perspective. Let me put this another way: I could sit and point out all the fashion inaccuracies in Some Like it Hot but I would kind of be missing the point of the film, wouldn’t I? And unlike, say, Singin’ in the Rain, the inaccuracies of The Artist are unlikely to damage a viewer’s perception of the silent era and the art of silent film. Chillax, dudes.

Gatekeepers

A gatekeeper is someone who takes it upon themselves to define “real” fans of a particular form of entertainment. The term is most often associated with geek interests but any fandom is susceptible.

Can a "real" movie fan love "The Artist"?
Can a “real” movie fan love “The Artist”?

One of my biggest issue with people who display blinding hatred for The Artist is that some of them use it as a kind of test to determine the worthiness of silent movie fans. For example, this person invaded a discussion about Ben-Hur (1959) and suddenly hurled what he or she clearly thought was an earth-shattering accusation at me. “You, madam, love The Artist.”

redacted-tweet-1redacted-tweet-2Well, that was random and had nothing to do with the subject being discussed. I think this was intended as an insult along these lines: All you know about silent movies, you got from The Artist. You only started liking silent movies because of The Artist. You are not a real silent movie fan. (And, needless to say, The Artist is hardly responsible for the death of silent cinema.)

Now such insults are obviously bunk but it set me thinking. I loved silent movies for a decade before The Artist was released but suppose I did fall in love with them due to that film?

This is how much I care.
This is how much I care.

In two words: So what?

It doesn’t matter how a fan discovers something. What matters is that they discovered it and joined the informal club. If The Artist accomplished that (and I know several people who had this experience with the film) then bully for the film and the fans! A silent movie fan is no less worthy just because they discover a beautiful art through a mainstream-ish film. These fans are not diluting the silent movie love, they’re helping to spread it. More fans mean a bigger market and that can mean more silent movies released. How is this a bad thing?

All fans welcome, even if they watch (gasp!) talkies.
All fans welcome, even if they watch (gasp!) talkies.

To love or not to love?

Am I saying that viewers are obligated to love The Artist? No, but criticism must be based on something concrete within the film itself or I cannot be expected to take it seriously. Complaining that the movie is light (it never claimed to be anything else), cute (ditto), was heavily marketed to Oscar voters (because it’s the only movie in the history of ever to be marketed to Oscar voters), or that it somehow made Kim Novak feel all sad (forgive me a cruel chuckle) doesn’t cut the mustard. It would be like me reviewing a Bruce Lee movie and being just so terribly angry at the amount of kicking and punching. Um, yeah.

Film? What film?
Film? What film?

I’m not saying that audience expectations, awards season jockeying and other background information is verboten in a review. What I am saying is that I would kind of like to talk about the film itself at some point. You know, the stuff that actually appears on the screen. Look at this review, for heaven’s sake! I’ve spent twice as much time responding to all sorts of weirdness as I have discussing the film.

And as for using it as a cudgel to attack silent movie fans, well, all I have to say is that I feel very sorry for men who decide to do this. (And it is almost always a man who pulls this nonsense.) What a sad way to spend one’s time. Gatekeepers are the bane of any fandom and I don’t like to see them cropping up around silent cinema. There aren’t that many silent movie fans to begin with!

Go ahead, like the movie. It's allowed.
Go ahead, like the movie. It’s allowed.

A silent movie fan who was introduced thanks to The Artist is just as true a fan as someone who was weaned on Chaplin, Keaton and von Stroheim. To be a silent movie fan, you just have to like at least one silent film; any other restrictions are bunk and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Gatekeepers do not own silent cinema (thank heaven) and they need to step out of the way and stop making asses of themselves. Silent movie fans are coming through and some of them happen to like The Artist.

Is The Artist a masterpiece? No, it’s not but it is a cute tribute to silent Hollywood. It does exactly what it sets out to do and it does so with considerable charm. I enjoyed it and accepted it in the spirit it was presented but it’s not in my top ten of all time.

We all need a little fun once in a while. But don't tell the film snobs! We don't want them ruining the mood.
We all need a little fun once in a while. But don’t tell the film snobs! We don’t want them ruining the mood.

Like it or dislike it as you choose but I do wish the more impassioned critics would tone down the fire-breathing hatred. The Artist and its cast and crew do not deserve it. I guess my final thought is to urge calm. Then repeat to yourself, “It’s just a show movie, I should really just relax.” Disliking a movie is one thing. Acting as though no one has a right to like it is something else entirely.

Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★½

Where can I see it?

The Artist is available on DVD, Bluray and via streaming.

48 Replies to “The Artist (2011) A Silent Film Review”

  1. That was a good read. It took me 5 years to see The Artist but I liked it. And I like to thank Buster Keaton for my love of silent film. I saw a Buster Keaton short and here I am.

      1. While this isn’t the only fandom where this nonsense is common, it’s sad to see how common the hating on those introduced to an older version of a medium through a newer version is.

        Apparently, the word ‘homage’ doesn’t mean a thing to those folks with the angry typing fingers. But in case of this film, the whiplash backlash caught me by surprise because it made me wonder how Mel Brooks’ wacky Silent Movie would be seen in this age of internet bile and demand for perfection or else.

        I didn’t see The Artist until it popped up on TCM, but I’d heard and read so much negativity about it that I was almost surprised I liked it despite the issue I had with too much of that Vertigo score used. Eh, Tarantino goes overboard in his soundtrack lifting (to varying degrees of success), so I was more amused than upset when all was said and done.

      2. Yeah, if someone loves a genre or period of film enough to dedicate an entire movie to it, the least we can do is hold back the bile for a few minutes to give it a fair shake. I saw The Artist before the backlash set in and I was thrown by the sheer amount of nastiness. I suspect that the currently-praised La La Land will endure the same fate. (I haven’t seen that picture yet but I hear rumblings.)

  2. Best post of yours I’ve ever read. Balanced, analytical, completely fair. I also saw the OSS spoofs and got what I expected and a little more. There are a couple of scenes that truly demonstrate an understanding of the power of the form – the dancing scene and her caress of his coat are as good as anything from the silent Era.

    1. Thanks very much! Yes, this movie is coming from a place of love and Hazanavicius clearly understands the art of the silent film. He avoids most of the pitfalls of modern silents & you can feel his affection right through the screen.

  3. Wow. I had no clue about the backlash. And Kim Novak’s tantrum? What the hell? Haters gonna hate, I guess. I’m one of the lovers. In fact, I even have a few songs from the soundtrack in the 1920s playlist on my iPOD to write to.

    1. Yeah, I thought it was bizarre. The sad thing is that there is a conversation to be had about the use of music and where the line between homage and ripoff lies. Alas, her hyperbolic and inappropriate word choice splashed cold water on such a conversation.

  4. SPOILERS AHEAD, THO I TRIED NOT TO, HONEST!

    Thank you for a level headed, even handed analysis of the film, the fickle nature of the Oscars and the “fan” fallout with F***Wit gatekeepers (Wow alliteration can be difficult; thanks for helping me with that last one, gatekeepers).

    Since I was unfamiliar with the OSS films even with The Artist’s comedic tone I was prepared for a tragic ending for one character that would elevate another. So when it nearly came I darn near… I mean uhm… the theater I was in was dusty and I got something in my eye for a minute.

    I actually liked George not clearly stating what his objection to talkies was. Since it wasnt a throw away sentiment but seemingly based on a genuine fear or anxiety (at least thats what I gathered from
    Jean Dujardin’s expressions and “reading” of the lines) his first spoken line reveals all. The occasionally true and occasionally mythic reason certain actors didn’t make the transition.

    I was having a charming enough time that my usual radar for tropes and gentle shoulder plot curves mustve failed me, the sharp cut to the song and dance got a surprised laugh and clap from me as I was prepared for him directing or writing (plus G**Damn if those two didnt bring it in that sequence, in one long take!). George overcomes his fear of the future if films talked (and if he sticks with Peppy) and we the audience (Im sure Hazanavicius and Co. were thinking especially of the more…zealous…silent film fans in the audience) get a dazzling bright reminder of the next thing movies would do to amaze and entertain us.

    1. Glad you enjoyed!

      Yeah, there are times when we need to shush the inner critic and just have fun with a film. The Artist is one such time. Soooo many criticisms of the film are from critics who act like they deserve a cookie for disliking a pretty harmless picture. I am reminded of Peter Falk in The Princess Bride: “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”

      Gatekeepers… Grrr! They just drive me nuts. There’s no pleasing them and they annoy both professional silent film producers (such nitpicking!) and newcomers alike. I do wish they’d get into macrame or deep sea fishing or join a monastery (ideally one with a vow of silence) and leave the rest of us alone.

  5. You made me laugh out loud with your take on Oscar bait which ended in “based on a true story”. I personally love this film and thought it was fun, sad, wonderful….it pays homage to the silent film and some of the actors that were hugely famous and now forgotten…plus love that dog.

    1. Yes, there’s a lot of love in this film, which makes the backlash all the more bizarre. Even against Uggie! Uggie! Who could possibly hate a Jack Russell? (Answer: Jaundiced film critics.)

  6. As a silent-film enthusiast, my problem with THE ARTIST had nothing to do with hate for a unique style or for “ripping off” silent movies. I found the movie very charming until about halfway through, when the hero spends the rest of the movie slogging in self-pity just because — oh, the shame! — a perky actress becomes more successful than he is. (And how about that scene where he sets a ton of film on fire? NITRATE film?? A realistic explosion would have ended the storyline right there.) Nevertheless, I enjoyed your fair and reasoned review of the movie.

    1. Glad you enjoyed! I took Valentin’s resentment of Peppy Miller’s success to be more of a symptom than an actual ailment. He felt betrayed, abandoned and forgotten by Hollywood and viewed her as a traitor to silents, a view hammered home when he overheard her diss of silent stars in general. But taking issue with the story is definitely a legitimate angle of criticism.

  7. I saw The Artist in the theater where at the place where I bought my ticket there was a sign that told people the picture was in black and white and was a silent film. I wonder when that went up and why.

    1. I remember reading at the time that some theatergoers were demanding their money back mid-show so I am not at all surprised about the sign. I would think they would be embarrassed but the dislike for black & white (and especially silent) films runs deep.

  8. I agree with you 100%, and it has even made appreciate THE ARTIST even more since I enjoyed seeing it in theaters, all the I had been a silent movie fan ever since watching THE GOLD RUSH and Chaplin’s other films (didn’t discover Keaton & Lloyd years later). I’m also a VERTIGO fan and there’s no question Kim over-reacted to the nth degree, and yet the utilization of Herrmann’s score did very much bug me because it took me out of the silent experience, you know? They should have remained period….period. Bottom line is I don’t worship THE ARTIST but have a genuine amount of respect for it and its fans.

    1. Yes, I definitely think the use of the Herrmann score was a mistake. They should have either borrowed from more films (thus making their intention clear) or used a different method. I think a great and period correct solution would have been to use a 1920s or early 1930s song as the film’s theme and then use it the way I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles was used in Public Enemy.

      Of course, Novak’s very strange ad stifled any discussion of the sort. If she had written a calm and collected op-ed, I think she would have won more respect for her cause. Melodramatic language and all-caps accusations did nothing to aid her argument.

  9. Have to chew on that when I have some more time, but for now:

    “You know, crusading nun whose daughter was eaten by dingoes becomes lawyer…” etc.

    could be one of your finest moments, I may have seen all those flicks.

    1. Thanks so much! Every year, there is a wave of Oscar bait pictures like that and no one (NO ONE) remembers them five years later. For this year, I’m calling it for Manchester by the Sea. You read it here first!

  10. “the artist” is the penultimate new non-documentary movie i’ve seen in the theaters and the last one i actually enjoyed. i have lost all respect for modern hollywood, not because i’m so pedantic and artsy but because it’s become nothing but politics and whatnot from a medium that is supposed to be entertaining. i want my movies to be entertaining and to make me laugh and cry (for the right reasons). if i wanted a political agenda i’d watch the news. that doesn’t mean movies should make you think, of course; “the artist” did indeed make me think. yeah there were inaccuracies but overall i was reminded of the period it was meant to depict and how “the system” was back then. it may not have filled gaps in my knowledge but it whet my appetite to do the research on my own.

    in any case, when the lead actor thanked douglas fairbanks in his oscar speech, i felt immensely proud – how many viewers even knew who he was? (apart from us lol)

    1. Oh yes, The Artist’s cast and crew definitely did a great job of giving credit where credit was due. Hazanavicius even helped support the restoration of some of Chaplin’s shorts. I should mention, though, that films have ALWAYS had a political agenda, especially in the silent era. I highly recommend reading Behind the Mask of Innocence and The War, the West & the Wilderness (both by Kevin Brownlow), as well as the anthology American Silent Film: Discovering Marginalized Voices.

  11. I love the movie. I consider it perfect in what it set out to achieve. I finally saw it in 2014 . I think it is sensational. And what few critiques you mentioned I happen to agree with your assessments. I consider your review perfectly balanced. And Kim Kovack,notwithstanding her being a great actress is off the wall with her remarks. And You Are Right To Point Them Out. Yes the movie was made out of love showing the transition from silent to sound movies.

  12. Thanks Fritzi – another example of your excellent good sense, warm humanity and knowledge of film. I quite liked The Artist, but don’t think it’s anything special. I think that, if it had been a sound film, it would have had a reasonable run and then been largely forgotten. On the other hand, I really liked Hugo despite the length and a couple of irritating minor characters. And Ben Kingsley looks uncannily like the monument to Melies on his grave. As for Oscars, I am uninterested I who wins or is nominated. They don’t have a particularly good or consistent record of recognising quality.

    1. The silent aspect of The Artist is a big part of its appeal but I don’t consider it a gimmick. I really appreciated Hazanavicius taking on the challenge of making a proper silent film & I think he succeeded overall. The silence is the key to the film.

      Yes, the Oscars are silly and have been since the beginning. At least the Golden Globes are somewhat honest about being a publicity grab.

      1. I happen to respect the Canness Film Festival. My favorite French movie happens to be Belle de Jour in 1967.. I like that it won best film and that it was so recognized.

    1. Agreed! I have never seen so many wigs flipped over such a harmless movie. I can certainly see someone disliking, say, the script or just preferring a different type of film but this bile is very alarming.

  13. I did find that the impeccable editing continuity and pace, the lighting and the fluidity of camera movement made me feel that I was watching a modern sound movie…without sound.

    I’m carping, of course. I’m sure the intent was not to create a facsimile of one of those restored period films we all love.

    George Valentin’s out of hand dismissal of sound and his subsequent failure I found irrational.

    I really wanted to hear the ‘sound test’ (and an industry standard ‘pip’ on 3 on the SMPE Leader, which I reckon would have had real impact)

    Assuming the quality of the sound recording (not the actor) in the ‘sound test’ was poor Valentin’s attitude and actions to sound movies would make more sense to me. More so than the small FX in the dressing room.

    Ms Novak doth protest too much, methinks. I don’t know about the rights of Bernard Hermann in particular, but it’s common for the producer of a feature to own the music rights and, for better or worse, do what they like with them.

    1. Yes, I think the plan was the capture the general feel of the era without being a perfect replica of the techniques of the period. However, there are some small period touches that I rather liked. I was quite pleased that Hazanavicius, for example, trusted his audience enough to have use read the performers’ lips on occasion.

      Novak would indeed have done better to call the rights holder to Herrmann’s music to task. As stated before, an op-ed would have been a much more sensible (if less striking) means of attack if she really felt so strongly. And, alas, she doubled down on the rape metaphor, stating that the licensing of Herrmann’s music was EXACTLY like rape.

      http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kim-novak-rape-the-artist-vertigo-297151

      I dare say that given the choice between being violently assaulted and having music licensed, most people will take the music licensing. (I am reminded of Eddie Izzard: “Cake or death?”)

  14. To begin with, let me admit that I hated this film when I went to see it at the cinema, though the rest of the aydience clearly loved it, and for all the reasons you have cited above. Since then i have come to accept that the fauult lies, not with “The Artist”, but with my unrealistic level of expectation.
    It would be difficult, if not impossible to recreate a true silent picture, I think, and impossible to show it to an audience who could see it in the light of the silent era (I used to fret when modern viewers laughed inappropriately in serious silent dramas).
    Now I have sorted my head out, and next time I see “The Artist” Ishall enjoy it for what it is, and if the audience can’t behave properly, why then, i pity the fools!

  15. Ug. Thoughts on The Artist aside, Kim Novak’s reaction made me cringe. No matter what she thought about the film, that was such a disrespectful and insensitive way to word it. I won’t rant, but I feel like it, the overreaction is so out of line. There always seems to be gatekeepers that want to say if you like ___ you can’t like ____ and vise versa.

    1. Yes, it was so dreadful. I’m glad that the effort failed and The Artist ended up winning Best Score at the Academy Awards. As stated above, I have little use for the Oscars but Novak’s tasteless tirade annoys me even more. “No, licensing a score is not the same thing as rape. Yes, I’m sure.”

      Gatekeepers are the worst. They plant their little flags on some piece of entertainment and throw an almighty fit if anyone dares venture into their domain. It’s pretty pathetic.

  16. I had my first encounter with “gatekeepers” as a teenager getting into punk rock in the 1980s. The fanzines (especially Maximumrocknroll) were full of letters from people defining who was and was not a “real punk.” “Real punks” couldn’t be political (or they had to be), “real punks” couldn’t wear animal products, “real punks” couldn’t be straightedge, couldn’t wear eyeliner, had to listen to certain bands, couldn’t be on the football team…etc.
    After a while, I decided that there was no way to impose a definition on people who wanted to be punks. If you were willing to distance yourself from the norm by accepting that label, you were a punk to me, and I wasn’t going to worry about it. That didn’t automatically make you my FRIEND, and I had plenty of arguments on all kinds of subjects with other punks over the years, but I didn’t see that it helped to accuse them of being “fake punks” or poseurs to win those arguments.
    Surely it’s fine for us as silent movie fans to disagree on what movies are the best, which directors/stars/cinematographers are the most important without using our disagreements to impugn the other side’s sincerity as fans.

    1. Yes, this attitude can seep into any fandom and it’s so unfortunate. People worry more about being “real” whatevers than discussing the music, movies or whatever that they claim to love.

  17. Nice, even-handed write up. I saw this film multiple times in the theatre and absolutely loved it. I’ve been a silent film fan since I saw Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd films on PBS in the late ’70s when I was around nine. So much for “true silent film fans” not loving THE ARTIST. It was the new silent film I had been waiting for. No, it ain’t perfect, but few films are, if any. It was perfect enough for me. 🙂

  18. What a pleasant surprise to see a review for The Artist here! I was wondering if you would ever have posted something about it being it was a newer film, but nonetheless, I am glad to see a review here. I saw the movie within the last year and while I was initially skeptical that it would capture the feel of films of the era, I feel it was great for what it was and I will probably buy it on bluray at some point.

    I also liked the film for what it is. I am more of a casual fan, but I liked it a lot. I was not aware Bejo and Dujardin had spy film parodies, but I might check them out, as they had great chemistry in The Artist. I also liked the way they implemented a bit of sound in the film at one point.

    Me and a coworker got to talking about silent movies and he mentioned something about hearing about a newer silent film but couldn’t remember what it was and I recommended it to him. Not sure if he’ll ever watch it, but there’s another who knows about its existence now.

    Also, had I not read your article, I would have never known The Artist was a heavily criticised film, I’ve only heard that it was a love letter to silent films. Nonetheless, this was a terrific read after a crappy day!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I was quite surprised by the negative reviews myself as this film is so mild and charming.

      Perhaps your co-worker was thinking of Blancanieves? It’s a Spanish silent film that was released a few years back to pretty good critical buzz.

  19. Been trying to get to watch it ever since it came out, and then today, on TV…

    Hi, Fritzi, been a while, but…Found this on TV over here, and my first reaction was to come over here, and read your review. Alright, I’d watched 80% of it by then, and was loving it, but…

    Yes, really enjoyed it, thought it was all nicely handled. So much better look at the era than Singing In The Rain, for sure! Thought both main characters worked well, thought Bujo played the part of Peppy really believably. Dujardin is a delight too. As for the dog, so cute!

    I didnt need to be convinced about silent movies, but if this works for some, then great! Best movie, no idea, dont watch modern movies, so…

    Great review, by the way!

  20. Like many already said here, I didn’t know there was a hate for the film. I personally loved it. Even when the story sagged, I still sat in the theater thinking “Look at the lighting! And sets! And costumes! And music! And camera work. And… (etc.)”. The cast and crew seemed to know that there is more to making a silent movie than just being black & white, no sound, and title cards, which was what I feared it would be when I first began hearing about the film.

    Sidenote: I saw this in a former United Artists theater, which I thought was fitting since Valentin was loosely based on Fairbanks, who co-founded United Artists. I also saw Attenborough’s Chaplin in a UA theater. And both films had Penelope Ann Miler. Weird circle of chance.

    1. Yes, I absolutely agree. There is so much to capturing the feel of silent cinema and Hazanavicius and co. clearly knew their onions. For that alone, they deserve a bit of respect. It’s not nearly as easy as they make it look.

Comments are closed.