Congrats to the Hollywood Foreign Press for giving The Artist the respect and attention it deserves. The film won three awards for Best Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy (Jean Dujardin), and Best Original Score -- Motion Picture (Ludovic Bource). This charming, touching and sincere man-with-dog-meets-girl story achieves what we tell our film students at NYU to do throughout their careers -- visualize the drama! What a superb homage to the silent film era.
The last time I had the pleasure of a silent movie on the big screen was through The Silent Clowns Film Series, silentclowns.com, with live musical accompaniment by Ben Model. This organization has been keeping silent films alive with the public for years and I hope the popularity of The Artist brings this art form back in a big way. What a delight it was to watch, really watch a film without all the over-the-top sound and visual effects. That's not to say that the film was simple in its visual presentation, even though our focus was indeed mostly on the three main characters. The staircase scene was riveting and had great visual choreography that highlighted and contextualized a chance meeting between main characters George Valentin and Peppy Miller. The subsequent conversation set in the midst of the movement associated with people traversing stairs, going somewhere, was emotionally compelling. Two people, each going in different directions, stopped for a moment's conversation while almost everyone else was in motion. Clearly this was also a metaphor for their lives at the time, so perfectly visualized.
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about Berenice Bejo's character Peppy Miller in the beginning, fearing this was going to be an All About Eve (1950) sort of story but was most pleasantly surprised by her gratitude, loyalty and, as it turns out, love and respect for George. There were so many wonderful scenes between them, but my favorite was when they were filming the movie-within-a-movie scene where he was to cross a room via a dance with Peppy. The notion that the scene could not conclude because each dance with her captivated him was priceless. As it turned out it held special memories for George as well, as it was the only film he saved from the fire he started in his apartment.
Theirs was not just a happy Hollywood ending, it was also a realistic ending, a respectful ending concocted by a girl who earlier could not easily find the words to blackmail the John Goodman character Al Zimmer to hire George back in his movies.
And then there was the dog, Uggie, a charming, lovable and pivotal character for George, the narrative and the audience, as well. It reminded me of the relationship between Edward Norton's character in Spike Lee's 25th Hour (2002) and his dog. True animals can humanize, calm or comfort us. Even science has come to terms with that fact, but sometimes animals can be our only friend or even save us from some pending or self-inflicted horror. Such was the case with the dog in this film, a welcome central character that should in my estimation have been listed much higher on the cast list on imdb. I must say I was delighted to see him on the stage at the Golden Globes.
Treat yourself, go see The Artist, bring at least one friend or family member, and make sure you have a conversation about it some time after. We should be reminded every now and then about how the movies began and why they became so popular.