Black and White Silent Film with a Modern Twist
The Artist is shot in 4:3 ratio and is in black and white, but the editing and cinematography are otherwise contemporary, featuring more camera movement and edits than 1920s films, and a sharper depth-of-field. It uses the tools of new technology to perform an homage to early cinematic styles.
Techniques like the "Iris Wipe" (the circle that gets smaller and smaller) and the double exposure or juxtaposition of images in the montage and newspaper scenes draw attention to film as constructed rather than realist, adding to the theme of performance and cinema as a version of reality.
Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge
Remember Peppy's wink in the film? She often throws an exaggerated one over her shoulder in the closing shots of her movies.
Hazanavicius' filmmaking itself can be seen as a series of winks. The movie winks at us when it gives us a close-up on a spinning record (we can't hear it anyway); it winks at us when George's first words are "I won't talk"; it winks at us when the "BANG" of the gun going off is actually the sound of Peppy's car crashing into the tree.
These winks are intended for an audience familiar with the history of silent film, and also those who are new to the medium. The winks say, "Yeah, we know that you know that we didn't have to make a silent film." We're all in on the joke. There's no point in making a silent film today unless we draw attention to the playfulness of its silence.
Me and My Shadow
In black and white films, lighting takes the place of color. The Artist uses light and shadow effectively to create mood, such as when George is in the hospital and it's bright and white—heavenly almost—both to reflect his brush with death and the guardian angels (especially Peppy) who surround him.
In the scene where George discovers Peppy has bought all his stuff, light filters into the dark room through the open door, casting a spooky and somber mood. The white sheets pop out against the shadowy background, calling to mind the ghostly presences of George's past.
And of course, there's the scene where George calls out his own shadow, yelling at it until it walks off the projector screen.