The introduction of sound into cinema was something of a bombshell. Today we take for granted an increasingly dense sound design, presented as if it were a natural part of the images, rather than the work of a Sound Designer and their team. However, for the first few decades of cinema this element was simply not present; music would accompany a show, with dialogue expressed via title cards. The Artist takes us back to the moment when sound was introduced into Hollywood and shows us what we now barely acknowledge, through the struggle of it’s silent film star George Valentin.
Valentin is introduced to us as one of Hollywood’s finest silent actors, a master of the craft of expressing and entertaining without the need for words. While working on a production he meets the charming Peppy Miller, a young dancer with a bright future. Just as she begins to make a name for herself sound revolutionises the film industry and she lands the lead role in a talkie. Valentin, being proud regards sound as a passing phase, but soon his career plummets leaving him without prospects, broke and bitter.
Director Michel Hazanavicius perfectly presents this story as if it were a classic Hollywood picture from the 1920s. The choice of film stock, the lighting, the sets and costumes, the cast, the music; everything entirely resembles a film from the silent era. The only give away that this film is a product of 2011 is Hazanavicius’s witty use of sound, which betrays the possibilities of a 1920s film in order to illustrate Valentin’s story, in which he struggles against an industry in transition.
With an utterly brilliant punchline and a completely convincing rendering of 1920s Hollywood, Hazanavicius has created a film which deserves to become a classic in it’s own right (like the silent films that inspired it). But what really makes The Artist so effective is it’s statement about the often bewildering nature of innovation. In the fast moving world we now live in, who’d have thought a silent film could seem so appropriate? Even if The Artist isn’t the most current film of the year, it still manages to be completely relevant.