I watched the Oscar-nominated movie The Artist yesterday. This is a romantic drama presented in black & white, and as a (mostly) silent film. It is written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.
It is Hollywood (or rather, Hollywoodland), 1927 – George Valentin (Dujardin) is the star of Kinograph Studios’ silent film productions. After a screening of one of Valentin’s films, the star is signing autographs and getting photographed by the press. A young woman, Peppy Miller (Bejo) bumps into him, and the star poses for a photo with her. This encounter inspires the girl to audition at Kinograph, and she is initially featured as a dancer in one of the films, but soon rises to become a star in her own right.
As years pass, sound films make their appearance, and Kinograph decides to stop production of silent films. They sign on Peppy Miller as their new ‘fresh face’. Valentin though does not believe that sound films have a future. Will his pride lead to his downfall?
It’s always interesting to see this type of “film about the film industry” (the most recent one I saw before this being The Dirty Picture) – a common thread running through them is that one can fall as quickly as one can rise, and that nothing is permanent.
The Artist is a wonderfully well-made movie – the photography, production design, costumes and music all serve to recreate the look and feel of a silent film brilliantly. You’ll notice that it is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio as opposed to being in widescreen (check this Wikipedia article on the Academy Ratio). The acting is terrific by all, including by a dog who steals the show every time he is on screen! The movie is not 100% silent – as you will see, there are some very clever uses of sound and music.
Apart from the technical aspects, it’s a very charming movie, and if you are watching it, you should enjoy it on a big screen.
Note: As far as I could tell, the typography in the movie is respectful to the period it is set in. Look at the title of the movie, for example. It looks like it really came from an old movie. This use of old-type fonts in a title sequence reminded me of Quentin Tarantino, who used a similar style in Kill Bill Vol 2, and oddly enough, Rob Zombie, whose The Haunted World of El Superbeasto had classic film-inspired titles.
Someone like Mark Simonson would have a field day analysing this movie from a “type” point of view (he’s written a number of very interesting articles on his site about uses of fonts in movies – which are accurate in some instances but not so much in others, like this example from Back to the Future Part III).