Study Guide

The Artist

The Artist Introduction


Release Year: 2011

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Writer: Michel Hazanavicius

Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman


Ever dreamt of being swept away in a jalopy to swill at a speakeasy with all the hard-boiled cads and saucy dolls and debs of the 1920s? Think the glamour of old Hollywood is the cat's pajamas? Generally believe everything looks better in black-and-white?

We've found the movie for you.

The Artist tells the story of early Hollywood as it transitions from silent to sound film, between the years of 1927 and 1932. It also tells the story of George Valentin, a charismatic, toothy, and very famous silent film actor with extra-expressive eyebrows. Valentin plays mentor to energetic up-and-coming actress and all-around ray of sunshine, Peppy Miller…only to have her surpass him in popularity, relevance and social status.

Ouch.

Peppy's a few things that George just isn't—she's young, new and open to the booming world of movies with sound. In other words, she's fresh meat.

Of course no one's being forced to make silent, black-and-white films today. French director Michel Hazanavicius (of spy-spoof OSS 117 fame) took a gamble when he decided to take a "meta" approach to the genre, honoring his protagonist's stubborn nostalgia by revealing the beauty (and the restrictions) of the medium.

  

Think old films are boring? You're not alone. Even Peppy Miller claims silents are full of "old actors mugging at the camera to be understood." But maybe Hazanavicius' (new) old film will prove you wrong.

It definitely converted a few skeptics and even bagged a whole whack of Academy Awards when it came out in 2011…including Best Motion Picture of the Year, Jean DuJardin for Best Actor and Hazanavicius for Best Director.

In Hazanavicius' hands, this black-and-white movie isn't colorless at all…it's filled with shadow and light. It's not silent…it's augmented with Ludovic Bource's tender orchestral score.

None of the overacting that Peppy attributes to silent films can be found in The Artist. It's full, instead, of subtle and nuanced feelings that dance in the eyes of its players—behold, the magic of the close-up.

Film buffs will enjoy it for references to Hitchcock, Chaplin and Mary Pickford (or they'll love picking it apart for the things it gets wrong ); glamour aficionados will enjoy it for its lush costumes, sets and props; and dog enthusiasts will go all melty-hearted for George's terrier sidekick, Jack.

In short: there's something for everyone.

What is The Artist About and Why Should I Care?

Because it's hard to know which trends will stick.

In a world (booming retro trailer voice) where all content is expected to go viral—just ask Clickhole—it's tough to weed out the forty-hour fad from the forty-decade sea change.

The Google watch? Yeah; didn't really catch on. Man buns? Not the surging men's' hair apocalypse people thought it would be. And the world also realized that bone broth was just…broth.

But on the other side of the trend coin, things that weren't supposed to catch on…did.

In fact, that's why people get paid to be trendspotters—so the great innovations of the world (gel manicures, Velcro, the wheel) can be weeded out from the doomed fads (Frutopia, Dippin' Dots, Orbitz). Because especially when you're in business—yup, even show business—it's imperative to know which way the wind is blowing, and what new things the world is clamoring for.

Welcome to The Artist, a movie about a guy who misses the boat on one of the most world-changing inventions of the last millennium: sound in film.

Whoopsies.

But The Artist isn't a parable about staying current…it's a story about just how easy it can be to miss out on what the world is anticipating when you're not paying attention. And it's also a story that underlines the fact that trends that have outlived their usefulness can still be fondly remembered, and have insane merit.

Yeah, The Artist plays it both ways. It shows how advancement is miraculous and inspiring (movies with sound, y'all)…but it also shows how artistically rigorous and exciting it is to work within the limitations of the past.

After all, The Artist isn't just a movie about a dude who lives through the transition from silent movies to talkies. It's a film that transitions from silent movie to talkie. It pays homage to weird, failed trends even as it embraces successful, enduring ones.

Basically, watching The Artist is like eating a kimchi taco (thank goodness those didn't founder when they were introduced in the early 00s) and chasing it with a dearly departed Squeezeit.

Trivia

The actors in the film didn't always actually speak their lines in the scenes. The director had them focus their energy on practicing body language, facial expressions and dance moves instead. (Source)

Dujardin and Bejo practiced their final dance scene every day for five months, in the same studio that Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds used for Singin' in the Rain (1952). Looking back now, Bejo says, "Sometimes it's like my feet still hurt." (Source)

While shooting the film, Jean DuJardin lived in a 1930s house in Hollywood. Talk about immersing yourself in your work. (Source)

The film was not originally shot in black and white—it was converted from color after filming. (Source)

The Artist Resources

Websites

Best of the Year
The official Weinstein Company website for The Artist is chock-full with behind-the-scenes pizazz.

An Artist's Inventory
IMDb has more nitty gritty deets on the film.

"Retro but Totally Modern"
The Tomatometer rings in at 97%.

Articles and Interviews

Two Stars in Conversation
Jean DuJardin and Bérénice Bejo come clean about their on-set rivalry…(not really).

Risky Business
Producer Thomas Langmann on The Artist as "potential commercial suicide."

It's Not an Idea; It's a Desire
Hazanavicius describes his amour for silent film.

Video

"Hearts Everywhere Have Been Melted"
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw pretends he's in the film to explain why the film should win Best Picture at the 2012 Oscars.

Backstage Pass
How to pick costumes for a black and white film? Turns out it's a bit tricky.

There's a New Star in Town
The best of Uggie the Dog on his big night at the Oscars, bowtie and all.

Audio

Pennies from Heaven
The only song with lyrics in The Artist is this 1936 hit, as sung by Rose Murphy.

Dizzying Heights
Hazanavicius pays homage to Hitchcock, using Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo to enhance the climax of The Artist. Take a listen here.

Images

Everybody Loves Jack
The movie poster gets its priorities straight and puts Uggie the Dog front and center.

Who's That Girl?
George's wife is not pleased. Who's that girl, indeed.

Caught in the Act
Peppy flirts with George's suit.

Not So Cheerful
George watches his old films wistfully.

Power Couple
George and Peppy were partially inspired by silent film stars (and sweethearts) Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.