The 'Shroom:Issue LXI/With Pleasure
For over 100 years, films have taught people about nearly everything, from propaganda to the fact that when you leave your room, your toys come alive. Early on, films had no soundtrack or dialogue. Instead, they relied on the actors and a live orchestra to illustrate a story. Silent films, as they were aptly named, gained popularity throughout the first World War. Pioneers on the silent screen such as Charlie Chaplin proved that movies had the ability to combine mass entertainment with artistic accomplishment.
In the 1930s, however, Europe began to emerge with "talkies," or films with recorded dialogue. This brings us to what I have in store for you today. The film I have to present to you is The Artist. This work was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five; including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius and released in 2011, this true masterpiece of motion pictures takes us back to an era where people, uncertain about the future, desperately looked for a way to understand both themselves and others through mass-escapism.
Hazanavicius's film opens up in the year 1927, where renowned silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has just premiered his latest film, A Russian Affair. After the premiere, he bumps into a young lady named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who quickly becomes famous for kissing him in front of the press. The next day, she auditions at the fictional Kinograph Studios as an extra in Valentin's next film and gets the part. Over the next few months, she begins to make an impression in the film industry as she is given many more roles, eventually starring in her own film.
As the movie progresses, George makes an effort to be understood, which fails as his studio begins to move into films with soundtracks and his self-funded silent films attract hardly any audience. Because of The Great Depression and the popularity of Miller, Valentin loses nearly everything as he plummets into obscurity among the talkies, but in the end is able to find a fitting role for himself in the world of talkies.
Jean Dujardin succeeds in a most fantastic way in his portrayal of the fading star George Valentin. He captivates the audience through his dashing grin, stubborn charm, and sympathetic desperation to be "heard." Without dialogue, he still succeeds in expressing the horror of one who realizes they are quickly falling out of popularity. As a whole, he represents the uncertainty of those who fear change, much like those living through the Age of Uncertainty.
Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller captures the personality of a rising star who, in the end, is wracked with guilt for taking the place of her old hero. Symbolically, one could say she marked the end of an era, The Age of Uncertainty (1919-1939) transitioning into The Great Depression (1929-1942). The young actress expresses her naïveté in the film industry, dressing lavishly compared to the older film stars and disrespecting the man who discovered her silent filmography. By the end of the film, however, she has grown from a young dreamer into a sympathetic fanatic of Valentin who tries everything to get him back into Hollywood.
Like many, I believe this film to be a truly fine work of art. It's fresh, sweet, and accurately summarizes the feelings felt by people living in the 1920s and '30s with a dash of modern charm. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend you do. Unfortunately, that may take a while, as the set DVD release date (in North America) is June 26, 2012. Perhaps a theater or two in your area is still playing it, and if that's the case, then you should certainly take advantage of the opportunity to see this masterful work of art.
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