There’s little I can say that hasn’t already been said about the film “The Artist.” Prior to seeing it, I had read very little about it and had read almost none of the available reviews — just a feeling I sometimes get with some movies for fear that the words of others will ruin my own viewing experience. I knew that it was a modern take on silent films and that my mother-in-law had raved about it. This afternoon, after an exhausting few days of post-illness recovery, I finally left the flat and sat in a nearly empty theater just around the corner and took in this cinematic experience. I’m embedding the tap dancing, fancy-filled trailer here.
George Valentin is at the one center of this dual-nucleus film and is portrayed by the devastatingly charming Jean Dujardin who, along with his film co-nucleus Bérénice Bejo, the utterly enchanting female lead, offers a layered, nuanced, and loving letter to a key moment in film history. In addition to the two main actors, this film also serves up a panoply of supporting actors all of whom deliver poignant and punchy performances regardless of how many or how few minutes they are on screen — including James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, and Penelope Ann Miller who call attention to the many dimensions of screen presence that go far beyond vocalization or verbalization of lines in a script. Eyebrows move, shoulders shrug, hands gesture and hold strong, looks are held and broken, there are dance numbers, and playful and meaningful glances and grazes. And what comes through in this film, more so than in many I’ve seen recently, is the strength of the visual framing of the story. The characters and the narrative are elegantly and precisely framed, especially moving are the shots that incorporate staircases and mirrors in fantastic ways. My teacherly self wants to recommend this as a core text through which to explore this practice of framing and the play of sound, song, and speech off one another. And the pop culture connaisseur in me can’t help but think of the ways in which the stories about artists in the public sphere are framed and played out in various texts and media outlets. Or how, in my walks through the city, I have seen artworks framed by adjacent structures and the ways in which my own movement helps or constrains the ability to see the art.
And for those who have watched the film, click here for a parting gift — a bit of video fun in which the much-celebrated lead of The Artist, whose voice we barely hear in the film, collaborates with FunnyOrDie to put his vocal talents on display in this excellent example of self-parody.