Sunday, 11 December 2011

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The Artist [Review]


Opinion: A

This might not appear easy as an obvious winner, but it truly inspired its way through the current award season with more than it's black-and-white hue and silent film genre. Beyond the amazing technical excellence attained in homage to Hollywood in the late 1920s, The Artist featured mesmerising performance by its French lead actor Jean Dujardin. The expressive silent film star captivated the audience amidst the film's luscious orchestra tracks scored by Ludovic Bource.


The story takes place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1931 and focuses on a declining male film star and a rising actress, as silent cinema grows out of fashion and is replaced by the talkies. The film is itself a silent film and in black-and-white.


In all honesty, I have to admit that a black-and-white silent film in today's contemporary context wouldn't have drawn me to a cinema screening distinctively by any form of perceived merits. It wasn't until its claiming of the Best Actor and nominated Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this year when my attention was arrested by it.

In the recent revelation of the award season, The Artist was very much favoured by the critics with its numerous wins and nominations. These built up a very strong hype and critics' rapport towards the Academy Awards early next year.

So what's the secret behind a dated genre that was once popular in the 1920s before the sound era transition?

For many audience members, The Artist may very well be their first introduction to the genre. Today's context would see film consumers deeming silent films as "production value reduction" to their box office ticket price. Like what the film used as the antagonising factor, we're living in a world of change where "out with the old and in comes the new" prevailed.

A B/W silent film about a B/W silent film star struggling to come to terms with the sound era transition couldn't have been more apt. What would have been better than practicing what you preach? Director Michel Hazanavicius decided to pay deserved homage by technically and artistically applying similar techniques and traits that almost convinced me that the film was made in the late 20s.

Credits due to the production team for performing extensive detailed research in production and costume design and hair/makeup. Also including the cinematography that took the lightning into consideration and the editing that gave the final vintage look and feel in terms of transitions and saturation. Of course, there wasn't much that the sound team could have played (although there were a few instances as the film wasn't exactly 100% silent).

But rest assured that Hazanavicius would only break the golden silence for good reasons (shall not elaborate further on that in mind of potential spoilers).


Silent film actors would be deemed as great physical actors in today's context, where exaggerated expression were necessary to relay intended messages without verbal language. Jean Dujardin, who played the film's silent film star George Valentin, gave a remarkable performance throughout the film. Beginning from the light-hearted comedy relief moments with his charming-yet-cheeky eyebrow raises, to the highly-demanding tensioned frowns in frustration during the melodramatic later chapters. The transition was so slick and smooth in conviction, subtly in mind I was questioning the rationale behind the character's hesitation towards talkies.

It was never quite blatantly revealed in detail, although Hazanavicius' screenplay did gave Valentin a memorable quote as a reason (in text overlay form) that went like: "People come to see me perform, not to hear me speak".

Through Valentin, The Artist reminded us subconsciously of the pros and cons of silent films. The cons would very much be covered by the technical advantages of sound films, so let's dwell a little more into the advantages of silent films.

Silence would enable any form of verbal languages to be used within a single production. You can have a wide variety of nationalities acting on the same stage and you'll never have to worry about accents and audience comprehension. Also, not to forget about the technical practice of sound synchronisation (which of course could easily be argued as a necessity for having sound). 

The silence also allowed me to better indulge and appreciate the grandeur orchestra music played in the background. Never have I been able to spare almost equal amount of attention to both the visuals and the audio respectively.

How about doing away with verbal profanities, which is so common in modern mainstream cinema?

Much had been said and I believe this film would rekindle the old torch within some of us and light up new ones in others. Silent films might not be relevant now but its low familiarity within today's audience served as a fresh genre offering to anybody who walked into a screening. Even for those who're well-versed in B/W silent films, there's plenty of room for tiny surprises. I had always been curious of the critical acclaims, and now I find myself nodding along them.

The Artist may be a silent film, but it definitely owned a dynamic loud voice among contenders in the current award season.


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