GEORGE: I won't talk! I won't say a word!
Even torture can't make George speak. This line is from a scene in his film, but it foreshadows his later silence and makes us ask, where's the line between loyalty and stubbornness?
In A German Affair, George's character speaks with another actor, but they hold their hands up in front of their mouths so that no one else can read their lips.
Without the visual cues or the inter-titles, we guess it's pretty easy to tell secrets in a silent film.
Peppy writes "Thank You" on George's dressing room mirror, with the same pencil he uses later to draw on her beauty spot.
Written words, which have a trace that lingers, are sometimes more powerful than spoken ones.
DORIS: We have to talk, George. Why do you refuse to talk?
If only Doris knew that we were all wondering the same thing.
NEWSPAPER: Young, Pretty and Talking! […] Peppy Miller, the sound of love! ANOTHER NEWSPAPER: "Talkies are not serious" for George Valentin
Even the newspapers are in dialogue, but communicating still isn't George's thing.
DORIS (As written in her note to George): It's over, George. You have two weeks to collect your souvenirs together and get out of the house.
To make it worse, the note is written on the back of one of George's defaced promo headshots.
When George is checking out the tux in the shop window near the end of the movie, a police officer tries talking to him but George can't hear anything he's saying, or even read his lips.
Talk about a breakdown of communication. The fact that we (the viewers) also can't read the cop's lips makes George seem a little less crazy.
PEPPY: I won't work anymore. It's either him or me.
ZIMMER: [silence, confused…]
PEPPY: What I mean is, it's him and me! Or it's neither of us!
ZIMMER: [silence, staring…]
PEPPY: Hey, I'm blackmailing you! Get it?
Peppy may be talking nonsense, but she stands her ground and gets what she wants. Words are pretty powerful…if you know how to use 'em.
PEPPY: The name's Miller. Peppy Miller!
Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred. When Peppy announces her name to an elderly extra on set, she's actually answering the question that's all over the papers: Who's That Girl?
An enormous poster outside Kinograph Studios features an image of George Valentin in the upcoming flick The Mythic City.
Both George's celebrity and Hollywood are presented as larger-than-life at the beginning of the movie.
WOMAN AT THEATRE: He's so cute (gesturing to Jack).
GEORGE: If only he could talk.
Sometimes our protagonist has a hard time knowing where Jack ends and George begins.
GEORGE: If you want to be an actress, you need to have something the others don't.
Little does he know Peppy has a lot more than a beauty spot to help her stand out. Specifically, her willingness to use her voice and embrace talkies.
DORIS: I'm unhappy, George.
GEORGE: So are millions of us.
George has a hard time seeing his emotions as singular and belonging to him. Is it possible he even sees himself as many different people?
GEORGE: Look what's become of you…You've been stupid! You've been proud!
SHADOW: [Walks off the screen]
GEORGE: Get back here, you loser!
Thems fighting words. Welcome to round one of George vs. George. As it turns out, George is his own worst critic, and it takes a face-off with his shadow to help him understand this.
BYSTANDER AFTER THE FIRE: Oh my god! That's George Valentin!
He's still got a recognizable mug, even in dire straits. And the fans he thought had deserted him didn't go anywhere after all. They still see him as a huge celebrity.
NEWSPAPER HEADLINE: Who Doesn't Know That Girl in L.A.?
Peppy's come full circle from "Who's That Girl?" So much so that the press is even shaming those who don't consider her a household name. How's that for publicity?
ZIMMER: Don't laugh, George! That's the future.
GEORGE: If that's the future, you can have it!
There's a specific focus on the Exit sign above the door in this scene, and when George leaves through that door, there's a foreboding feeling that he might be exiting the movie biz for good.
ZIMMER: You and I belong to another era, George. The world is talking now. […] I wish it wasn't like this, but the public wants fresh meat, and the public is never wrong.
GEORGE: I'm the one people come to see. They never needed to hear me!
The public sure is brutal, cannibalizing all these entertainers, always jonesing for the next big thing…
PEPPY: Out with the old, in with the new. Make way for the young!
In what becomes a kind of mantra of the era, Peppy betrays her own self-absorption.
GEORGE: How long has it been since I last paid you, Clifton?
CLIFTON: One year, sir.
GEORGE: You're fired…keep the car and find yourself another job.
CLIFTON: I don't want another job.
The times they are a changin', but Clifton is that dude that always stays the same. He's unfazed by George's new poverty and he can't imagine working for anyone else.
AUCTIONEER: Congratulations! It's all sold. You've got nothing left!
Wow. Nice one, Mr. Auction guy. Way to congratulate George on his biggest fear: being destitute.
EXTRAS COORDINATOR: Listen up! Three girls who can dance!
Peppy ends up acing her audition, but she waits just a hair longer than the other girls to start dancing and in doing so catches the eye of the coordinator. Take that, competition!
PEPPY: What a coincidence, I was just thinking about you. I signed with Kinograph!
GEORGE: (Smiles wistfully)
PEPPY: Maybe now we'll do another picture together!
In our section on the theme of "Change" in The Artist, we mentioned a scene with a staircase. This is that scene, where Peppy's going up as George is going down, and they're both realizing that their "picture together" just isn't meant to be.
INTERVIEWER: Your movie doesn't come out until tomorrow and you're already Hollywood's new sweetheart! How do you explain that?
PEPPY: I don't know. Maybe because I talk and the audience can hear me…People are tired of old actors mugging at the camera to be understood.
It's true that while George's film draws about three people, Peppy's has a huge marquee and a line around the block. But does Peppy truly believe what she's saying? Has the fame gone to her head? Or is she just playing the press like a hand of cards?
PEPPY: Out with the old, in with the new. Make way for the young!
GEORGE: I've made way for you.
It's true, he has. George could have had security remove Peppy at the premiere when she bumped into him, but he let her share the red carpet with him. He also talked Zimmer into letting her stay on set and invented her beauty mark.
PEPPY: I feel so bad. I only wanted to help you, take care of you…
Peppy always means well, but to George's credit, the last thing you want from your competitor is pity.
PEPPY: Just think of it! Sparkle of Love, starring George Valentin and Peppy Miller!
Whereas George's film disaster, Tears of Love, debuted to a gloomy rain storm, Peppy's proposed film is much like the pennies that rain from heaven for her, or the "sparkle" of her and George's budding romance and the promise of a new career on film together.
ACTOR: May I have my chair?
CREW MEMBER: Hey, You're not Napoleon. You're just an extra!
Sometimes it's hard to separate reality from fantasy…especially for an actor.
SCENE DESCRIPTION: George puts down his glass on the tabletop and it makes a noise. The dog barks, the phone rings and the chorus girls outside on the lot are laughing, but George can't make a sound. He yells and yells into the mirror, but nothing comes out of his mouth.
Why should hearing sounds bother George so much? It's not like he's deaf in his daily life. This is one of those meta moments, in which life imitates art for George. It's like he's trapped in a talkie and can't participate. Even though the scene turns out to be a nightmare, it's not so different from his waking life.
SCENE DESCRIPTION: George is in the bar, getting pretty drunk, when a miniature version of him strolls up the bar (along with a tribe of warriors) to yell and shoot at him with his rifle. George tries to smush them with his hand, but they're un-smushable—they're an illusion.
Most of us know what it feels like to be haunted by our past mistakes. Some George's past mistakes just happen to be versions of himself.
SCENE DESCRIPTION: The final scene of Tears of Love features George sinking in quicksand. His love interest watches helplessly with tears in her eyes as George tells her ne never loved her and disappears from sight. "The End" appears on the screen.
Peppy also sheds a few tears from where she sits (also helpless) in the audience. She understands how close to George's reality (and his sinking career) Tears of Love really is.