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Sunday, 25 December 2011 01:00

'The Artist' Gloriously Brings Silent Film to Life

www.washingtonpost.com www.washingtonpost.com
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Michel Hazanavicius
  • Dates: Opens December 25, 2011

Impressively executed and immensely entertaining, The Artist charts the fading career of silent film star George Valentin juxtaposed with the rise of new discovery Peppy Miller. In a strong supporting role native St. Louisan John Goodman plays director Al Zimmer. This gorgeous black-and-white homage to silent film takes place in Hollywood from 1927 to 1931, the transition to talkies.

Technically, cast and crew masterfully present silent film lighting and performance styles with no ironic distance. Believing that early melodramas entertained and endured for their appealing humanity, French director Michel Hazanavicius hosted a silent film retrospective at Paris' Cinematèque for the principal actors as well as those in charge of the art direction, music design, costumes, and cinematography. Michel cites the important influence of directors King Vidor, F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and Frank Borzage, among others. In other words, he studied and acknowledges the expertise of the best.

The stunning, black-and-white film was then shot on location in Los Angeles in many iconic places—original studio lots as well as some Chaplin locations. As a result of the cast's and crew's education in silent film and their enthusiastic embracing the melodrama, The Artist both celebrates and captures 1920s scenes and ambience from architecture to energy.

In this month's American Cinematographer, director of photography Guillaume Schiffman explains his lighting scheme with strong shadows for down-on-his-luck Valentin, sometimes his own stark shadow and at other times "a dark diagonal in the background" (p. 68-77) while Peppy "became more and more luminous." The staging also communicates their opposing trajectories with Valentin often positioned below Peppy on stairs, for example, as her fame rises and his falls. Hazanavicius was meticulous and skillful.

Jean Dujardin studied Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.'s roles for his pitch-perfect performance as Valentin, and Dujardin received the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The Artist won the Best Foreign Narrative Feature at the St. Louis International Film Festival. It's at the top of my list for the best films of the year. For any true lover of film, The Artist is an exuberant, entertaining, and wholly exceptional delight. At select area cinemas.

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