On Friday Oct. 14, The Artist was screened at the New York Film Festival. Almost all of the film's stars attended the show, along with writer/director Michel Hazanavicius. The theater had a small red carpet around which photographers were eager to take pictures of the actors.
The beautiful Alice Tully Hall on 65th Street in Manhattan was brimming with eager cinemaphiles. Throughout the screening the audience laughed, applauded and smiled. At the film's conclusion, the entire audience roared with applause. It was clear that Hazanavicius made a movie that is extremely hard to dislike, even if it was a silent film.
The 1927 film The Jazz Singer forever changed the face of cinema. It marked both the birth of feature-length films with sound and synchronized dialogue and the death of the silent movie era.
After the success of The Jazz Singer, studios began almost exclusively funding talking movies or "talkies." This transition didn't go smoothly for some stars; many lost their careers because they simply weren't suited to sound.
The Artist tells the story of George Valentin, an actor during the silent era of cinema. Valentin is one of the most beloved stars of his time and all of his movies were huge successes. Among his fans in the film is a beautiful woman named Peppy Miller who joins a large crowd of women awaiting Valentin after a screening of his new movie. Peppy becomes a star and embraces the new movement toward sound while Valentin resists it at all costs.
The film is a love letter to cinema: a silent black-and-white film with a sweeping score and the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of old silent movies. It has many winks and nods to the silent film genre, including a sign that says, "All persons must be silent behind the stage."
With such reverential details, The Artist has charmed and enthralled audiences since its premiere in May at the Cannes Film Festival. It instantly became a crowd favorite and star Jean Dujardin won the festival's coveted Best Actor award.
The film truly is a crowd pleaser. It reminds us why we love movies and what makes them so magical. The romance isn't cheesy or simple, but involving. The characters are engaging and well developed. The silence of The Artist only strengthens the film, forcing the actors to rely on their physicality rather than hiding behind dialogue.
Hazanavicius and the actors descended from the balcony seats to the stage to engage in a Q-and-A with the audience following the screening. Hazanavicius explained that he included much homage to classic films and that it was important to him that the film feels like a genuine silent movie.
When asked what it was like to work on a silent film, the actors all agreed that it was different from what they were used to, but a pleasure nonetheless. Dujardin joked, "Sometimes we would speak in English, other times French and sometimes gibberish." Star Bérénice Bejo laughed and told the audience they were lucky to not hear her voice.
The film is a glorious example of how to keep movies fresh and exciting. There wasn't a frown on a face as people left the theater.