The Artist Summary
It's 1927 and everyone who's anyone is at the premiere of George Valentin's new movie, A Russian Affair. George is there, of course, and he's soaking up some serious love from the ecstatic crowd.
His producer from Kinograph, Al Zimmer, is there, puffing on that cigar. George's favorite person (who's not a person) Jack the dog is there. And aspiring actress Peppy Miller is there, waiting to bump into George and change his life forever.
Okay, maybe it's not Peppy that changes his life, necessarily, but they do have a "moment" on the red carpet when she drops her pocketbook and ends up in front of the cameras with him, much to the chagrin of George's distant wife and Al Zimmer, who wants the media asking "What's that movie?" not, "Who's that girl?"
George and Peppy meet again, this time on set where Peppy has nailed her audition but needs George's smooth-talking aid to help her appease Zimmer. The two beautiful people shoot a movie together called A German Affair and their chemistry keeps getting in the way. They have another "moment" in George's dressing room, where he draws a beauty mark on her cheek and they lock eyes for a good while.
So far, so good. Everything is on track with our love story.
As Peppy's movie roles start rolling in, George's are on the decline. This won't work at all. The power dynamic's all off—George's ego is getting super-bruised.
Zimmer introduces George to the idea of sound movies and he laughs it off, but then has a nightmare where everything around him is in sound but he can't speak a word. (It's the silent movie star version of showing up to school in your undies.)
Peppy Miller becomes a "new face" of Kinograph studios and George decides to go against the grain and produce, write and star in his own silent film, set to premiere the same date as Peppy's new talkie. It turns out to be a pretty bad decision that leads to a series of unfortunate events: George overhears Peppy calling him washed up, his wife leaves him, the stock market crashes, he goes bankrupt, it rains all the time, and he moves out of his mansion into a smaller place.
Peppy visits George to try to right her wrongs, but it's no use. He drowns his troubles in whisky and fires his loyal chauffeur, Clifton. Meanwhile, Peppy secretly buys up all of George's prized possessions in an auction. It's 1932 and George still can't catch a break. He's drinking more and reminiscing bitterly about his past fame. He even hallucinates sometimes. Maybe he's going mad. Actually, that seems right—he sets fire to his apartment and laughs maniacally.
Thank goodness for Jack the dog, who rescues George. Thank goodness for Peppy, who takes George home from the hospital. Thank goodness George was clutching that film reel (of his and Peppy's movie), because now our love story is back on track.
Or is it?
Back on set, Peppy blackmails Zimmer into giving George another shot. George is horrified to discover all of his paintings and sculptures in one of Peppy's many grand rooms. He feels emasculated. As George wanders about town aimlessly, he encounters a policeman whose voice he can't hear.
Peppy arrives home to find George gone and drives wildly through the streets to his apartment. She finds him with a gun in his hand, contemplating suicide. Seeing her, George snaps out of his daze and finally agrees to accept Peppy's help.
In the final scene of the movie, Peppy and George take to the on-set stage to dance a tap duet that thrills both of them and satisfies Zimmer's addiction to sound. The Artist itself ends, not as a silent film, but with the sounds of the bustling production studio and George uttering his first words of the entire film.
- The year is 1927.
- Close-up on the contorted face of a man who's being electrocuted by some kind of ancient medical device that shoots lightning bolts through your ears. Egads!
- The music is foreboding. The man's mouth is moving but his screams are inaudible.
- The intertitle speaks for him: "I won't talk!" it reads. "I won't say a word!!!"
- Cut to: the men who are torturing him from behind a pane of glass, begging him to "speak!"
- Suddenly the camera pans out to show that the whole scene is actually playing on a movie screen, at a theater — the old kind with a classy crowd dressed to the nines and an orchestra in front, performing the film score.
- The crowd reacts boisterously (gasping, laughing) as the man on screen reunites with his dog, dons a mask, flashes a hundred-watt smile, retrieves the damsel in distress (decked out in furs, what else?) from the vault where she has been stashed, and makes a grand escape.
- Now we're backstage (behind the movie screen) and a man who looks a lot like the guy on screen…wait a minute… who is the guy on screen, and he's shaking everyone's hand and flashing those pearly whites around again.
- John Goodman's smoking a cigar (as producers with successful films tend to do) and being his best John Goodman.
- The film's star watches himself on the big screen, but from behind the big screen so everything is backwards, including the intertitles. Some super meta stuff going on here.
- The hero of the film escapes in an old-timey plane, heroine and dog in tow, as the orchestra belts out its glorious finale.
- Deafening applause from the audience. Seriously: deafening, because there's zero sound.
- The actor, who we later learn is the fictional George Valentin (based on silent movie star Douglas Fairbanks), emerges from the wings to embrace his adoring public. He seems like a pretty big deal. A spotlight follows him and his dog as it performs various tricks, wagging its way into the hearts of one and all.
- After he toys with her a bit, he invites his co-star to join him on stage, but only briefly. She flips him the bird from the wings after he shoos her off. It's clear that Valentin is the true star of the show, and he likes it that way.
- A sign backstage reads "Please be SILENT behind the screen."
- John Goodman looks half-exasperated, half-charmed by the star of his film.
- Still on stage, Valentin hams it up, throwing in some tap dancing and physical comedy for good measure, yelling "I love you so much!" to the audience. It's obviously mutual.
- Outside the theater now, a bright marquis fills the screen. A Russian Affair is the film, and George Valentin its star.
- All this presented by Kinograph Studios, a play on real-life silent film production companies Biograph and Vitagraph, perhaps?
- Valentin emerges from the theater into a sea of fans. Journalists toting portable microphones and Kodak Anastigmat cameras swarm him and a flock of young girls look excited enough to scream or pee.
- This Valentin is like a swarthier, more charming Justin Bieber. He poses for photos and answers questions.
- Suddenly, a pretty woman in the crowd drops her pocketbook at Valentin's feet. She weasels her way under the arm of the security guard and ends up face-to-face with Valentin in front of the cameras.
- Every girl's dream, obviously!
- The crowd is stunned. How dare she break the sacred barrier between the famous and the plebes? They look to Valentin to take their cue…
- He laughs, she laughs, they all laugh and they pose together (as she gets braver, she glams it up).
- She even smooches his cheek.
- The cheek kiss has made the papers and the headlines read: "Who's That Girl?"
- Valentin's wife is not happy about it.
- He tries to appease her by staging a comedic "duet" with his trusty dog at the breakfast table.
- Valentin's wife storms off through their grand house.
- Across town, on a tram, under the ubiquitous "Hollywoodland" sign, the mysterious girl from the film premiere reads the paper gleefully. (The sign was changed to read "Hollywood" in 1949, to reflect the tourist district rather than the housing development that Hollywoodland originally referred to.)
- Mystery Girl arrives at Kinograph Studios, looking bright eyed. She waits to audition as an extra and reads her paper dramatically, hoping that people will recognize her from the front page.
- But who is that girl?
- "The name's Peppy Miller!" she announces with a wink and a skirt flounce after acing her dance audition. Peppy indeed.
- Back at the Valentin residence, George admires a gigantic portrait of himself that hangs in the foyer.
- He heads to Kinograph, driven by his faithful chauffeur. He greets everyone on the studio grounds as he arrives; they all seem to know him.
- George's chauffeur autographs headshots for the actor as George makes himself pretty for the camera. He admires himself in the mirror, and then guilt spreads over his face as he glances at a picture of his wife.
- He asks the chauffeur, Clifton, to buy her some jewelry…because diamonds are obviously a girl's best friend.
- George autographs one of his headshots with his dog's signature: "woof!"
- On set, everybody's getting ready to shoot the film. The producer, Al Zimmer (Goodman), is upset because with all the "nonsense" from the premiere, the papers don't mention the film "until page 5!"
- George is distracted by a shapely pair of dancing legs, peeking out from underneath a backdrop on set. He begins to perform a tap duet with the disembodied legs, which soon turns into a dance off.
- The legs are revealed to be a whole human woman—the one and only Peppy Miller.
- George and Peppy are shocked to meet again face to face.
- Zimmer yells at Peppy for making a scene at the premiere and tells her to get off set. George tells her to stay. Tensions run high.
- George flashes his Chiclets and gets his way, as always.
- They begin shooting A German Affair (sequel to A Russian Affair, perhaps?).
- The chemistry between George and Peppy is as obvious as a bowling ball in a bag of diamonds and it keeps making them screw up their takes.
- Peppy sneaks into George's dressing room and uses his jacket to engage in a fantasy embrace with him.
- George walks in on her and seems charmed rather than creeped out.
- He tells Peppy that if she wants to be an actress, she needs to "have something the others don't." He draws a beauty mark on her cheek with an eyeliner pencil.
- They stare at each other through the mirror. The passion in the air is too much for even the dog and their moment is interrupted by the chauffeur, who's returned with the jewels for George's wife.
- Peppy's moving up through the ranks, from dancing chorus girl to "maid" to a character called "Miss Isadora" who gets her own screen in the credits.
- There's a montage of audience shots— everyone seems to love the breakthrough star, and Peppy Miller is becoming a household name.
- Meanwhile, things aren't so hunky dory at the Valentin residence. There's more silence than usual (ha) between George and his wife, and she takes out her anger with a black pen on pictures of his face.
- The year is 1929. George is swashbuckling away on set (with a co-star who looks a lot like his chauffeur) when his director pulls him aside to show him "something."
- They sit in a dark room amidst the murk of Zimmer's cigar smoke and watch Zimmer's girlfriend (George's demanding co-star from earlier) play Juliet on screen. She is speaking (yes, speaking!) into a microphone.
- George, still in his Zorro gear, laughs and covers his eyes. The music takes a foreboding turn.
- "If that's the future," George says as he leaves, "you can have it!"
- This is where things get a little weird.
- At his dressing table, George takes a sip of water and puts down the glass. "Clink!" He drops his comb. "Ting!"
- The sounds of the street float in through the window.
- Everything around him begins to make sounds, and it's obvious George can hear them because he looks paranoid and afraid, as if he's suddenly on an alien planet.
- For some reason, when George tries to speak, no sound comes out of his mouth. This seems important.
- As George tries in vain to utter a word, he gets more and more worked up. The camera shakes and the scene is filmed with diagonal framing.
- Poor George. His dog barks, the telephone rings, and when he busts outside, there are several actresses giggling audibly. Wait, are they laughing at him?
- A single black feather falls gently to the ground and makes a giant "Boom!" when it lands. George covers his ears and screams (silently, of course) in horror.
- Then he wakes up. It's all been a dream. Classic.
- Like all effective dream scenes, it seems this one has been a premonition.
- Things are a little different at Kinograph Studios now. They've stopped "all silent productions to work exclusively on talkies."
- ("Talkies" is the fun word 1920s folk came up with for films with talking and sound in them.)
- George meets with Zimmer, who informs him that "the world wants new faces, talking faces," and George isn't one of those faces.
- "The public wants fresh meat," he says, and "the public is never wrong." Makes you wonder why George won't talk…
- George says he'll make his own movie without the help of Zimmer. On the way out he sees a poster labelled "The New Faces of Kinograph." Among those "new faces," who other than Peppy Miller.
- George descends the stairs as a bunch of young people run up them. He bumps into Peppy, and she tells him she just signed with Kinograph. He pretends to be surprised. She gives him her number and tells him to call her.
- As he turns to leave, she whistles to get George's attention, does a version of the Charleston from the landing, and blows him a kiss.
- Things are not going well between George and his wife. She's becoming a little too skilled at defacing his pictures.
- Things between George and his dog, on the other hand, are just as swell as always.
- Working from home, George taps away furiously on his typewriter. He's giving away personal checks like they grow on trees.
- The checks are to fund his new film, Tears of Love, directed by, produced by, and starring: George Valentin. It's a jungle-adventure-romance type of movie, silent of course.
- He writes a gazillion more checks.
- Tears of Love is set to premiere on October 25. Unfortunately, that's also the release date of Peppy Miller's new film, Beauty Spot, a talkie (shout out to George, who invented Peppy's beauty spot).
- The papers quote George's sentiment that talkies are "not serious" and promote Peppy as the new "sound of love."
- George sits pensively in his living room, listening to a record that spins silently.
- His wife says those four words everyone dreads hearing: "We have to talk." She asks him why he refuses to speak. (Hey, we're all wondering the same thing.)
- She tells him she's unhappy. "So are millions of us," he responds.
- Are they talking about their relationship or the "modern" world more generally? It's hard to tell.
- It's October 25, premiere night for both Peppy and George.
- Turns out, they're dining at the same restaurant—George with his loyal chauffeur (and only friend?) and Peppy with a posse of journalists who are interviewing her about her new film.
- George overhears Peppy, who's at the table next to his, waxing poetic about the virtues of sound film. "People are tired of the old actors," she says, "make way for the young!"
- George gets up from his dinner and confronts Peppy. "I've made way for you," he says, gesturing to his half-finished plate. Awkward.
- It's raining, George's wife has left him, he's bankrupt, and to top it all off, the stock market has crashed. Everything is awful.
- To make matters worse, Tears of Love is a flop.
- George watches himself on screen from the back of the sparsely populated theater. His character is sinking in quicksand. Seems like a metaphor for his sinking career. ...
- Peppy is also watching the film, from an upper balcony. She has tears in her eyes, and not because the movie's so "terrible."
- Beauty Spot, on the other hand, has people lined up around the block. George's wife twists the dagger in his heart and tells him that Peppy's film is "incredible."
- It always seems to be raining now. George appears to be drinking and smoking a lot more and he's sporting a disheveled look. Gone are the hundred-watt smiles.
- The lighting has gone all film noir and there are lots of moody shadows hanging about.
- Peppy shows up at George's house and tells him she's seen his film. She tries to apologize about the things she said at the restaurant.
- He tells her she was right about making way for the young.
- Peppy's boy-toy tells George his father is a big fan. Ouch.
- Peppy asks him to take her home. She wants to "be alone" with her shame.
- George's headshot languishes in a puddle. People step all over it with their busy and important feet.
- Before drawing on her beauty mark, Peppy pauses. She's probably thinking about George.
- There's a sequence of shots of Peppy acting in various movies. Her face is all over the magazines. She's come a long way from "Who's That Girl?" Now it's all "Who Doesn't Know That Girl in L.A.?"
- The song accompanying this scene is "Pennies from Heaven" and it's the first song in the movie with vocals.
- Her assistants fawn over her, doing her makeup and slipping her into shoes that look like glass slippers. In fact, her life is a bit of a Cinderella story.
- Speaking of Cinderella, George has taken the opposite trajectory. From grand manor to humble digs with a Murphy bed, designer suits to suspenders and weird short ties, George has undergone a few changes.
- He's also smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish.
- He sells his tux to the local pawn shop to support his bad habits.
- Having not paid his chauffeur, the now incredibly loyal Clifton, for over a year, George is forced to let him go.
- Clifton waits stoically in his chauffeur uniform outside the house all night, but George doesn't change his mind. It's becoming clear that he's pretty stubborn.
- They're auctioning off all of George's stuff to fuddy-duddy old white folks, including his jaunty self-portrait.
- Peppy Miller waits, sneakily, in a car outside the auction house. She watches as George walks away and almost gets hit by a car.
- A single tear tiptoes down her cheek. She's still feeling pretty sad.
- The year is 1932. George is still drinking and smoking a lot.
- He pours his whiskey all over his reflection in a mirrored table top.
- He's sitting at a bar when a miniature soldier version of himself marches up and begins lecturing him and shooting at him with a rifle.
- Strange? Yes, but stranger things have happened in the minds of drunk people.
- Oh dear. George has passed out on the floor of the bar.
- Luckily, his white knight Clifton rescues him and carries him out like a damsel in distress, all the way home to his Murphy bed.
- Peppy's new film is called Guardian Angel. Although it's a talkie, we (in the world of The Artist) can't hear the characters talking.
- George and his dog go on a date. He likes the film in spite of himself. He especially likes the scene where Peppy's character meets a man by dropping her bag and bumping into him.
- In the lobby, a woman pets George's dog and remarks on how cute he is. "If only he could talk," laments George.
- Cut to George, as Zorro, in a much poorer-quality film. He jumps skillfully over a stone wall and hides under a bush, flashing his beautiful smile.
- Real-life George sits silently in the dark, watching his former self execute daring feats on the projector screen.
- As he spots his shadow, George scoffs. "Look what's become of you," he snarls. "You've been stupid, you've been proud."
- His shadow takes off and George descends into a drunken freakout, pushing over the projector and tearing apart all his film reels.
- With the wreckage of his career lying at his feet, George lights a match and sets the whole thing ablaze. Yikes!
- George clutches his film remaining film reel as the flames surround him.
- His dog, who's the best, busts his way outta there and sprints down the sidewalk in search of help.
- He finds a policeman and uses his stage tricks ("play dead!") to communicate the situation.
- The policeman chases the dog back to George's home, which is now billowing smoke and gathering a crowd.
- He drags George's limp body from the burning house.
- One woman in the crowd recognizes him as the famous George Valentin.
- It seems like George might be dead, but he's still clinging to the film reel.
- The policeman takes his pulse. Phew. He's just passed out from smoke inhalation.
- Peppy's on set and looking glam in a glittery peacockish dress and a sparkly bonnet.
- She's alarmed to see George's picture next to a newspaper article titled "Silent Film Actor Survives Fire."
- Distraught, she abandons filming and drives to the hospital to visit George.
- This is a beautiful hospital that looks like a palace or a grand manor.
- Peppy runs up stairs and down hallways to get to George's room. The music swells.
- She sees George though the window and pauses, tears in her eyes.
- George and his dog are both sleeping like angels on a white cloud of sheets.
- It's clear from the sympathetic smiles of the doctor and nurse that George is going to be okay.
- "He's out of danger," says the doctor. "He needs rest now."
- Peppy spots the smoke-stained film reel on the counter. The doctor explains that it was hard to get the reel from out of George's grasp.
- Peppy unravels the reel and holds it up to the light. She sees that it's from the (first and only) film she and George acted in together.
- "Do you think he could rest at my house?" She asks the doctor with a smile.
- When George comes to (he wakes himself up coughing), he's in Peppy's majestic guest room (complete with ruched satin bed frame).
- Peppy enters his room, dressed in satin just like the bed, and they embrace.
- He faints in her arms and she leaves him to rest.
- In the morning, Peppy brings George breakfast in bed and they chat and giggle together like old friends.
- Peppy is a very animated storyteller, and George delights in her.
- When she tells him she has to leave to "shoot a very important scene," George looks wistful and downtrodden.
- Peppy feels bad because she knows George longs to work in film again.
- On set, Peppy pitches a new film to Zimmer, starring her and Valentin. Zimmer looks unimpressed.
- "George is a silent movie actor. He's a nobody now," he says cruelly.
- Peppy is upset. She gives Zimmer an ultimatum: "It's either him or me."
- Wait, what? Everyone is confused.
- "What I mean is, it's him and me! Or it's neither of us!" Peppy corrects herself.
- This blackmail thing isn't going so well.
- After an extended period of brow-furrowing, Zimmer agrees.
- Peppy gives him her signature whistle and kiss-blow, which Zimmer loves despite himself.
- George is all dressed up with nowhere to go. He sits on his bed aimlessly.
- He's surprised to see Clifton, who tells George that he works for Miss Miller now.
- "Once again, she's looking out for you," says Clifton as he hands George a script.
- George looks uncertain. Does he want to be looked out for? He tosses the script on the bed.
- Clifton tells him to beware of his pride.
- Now alone in Peppy's house, George snoops around a little.
- He discovers a large room filled with ghosts—oh wait, actually those are just objects covered in sheets.
- George begins pulling off the sheets to reveal…all of his possessions that had been sold in the auction.
- In a frenzy, he whips off the sheets, revealing his suits, furniture and art.
- There's a closeup on a sculpture of the "Three Wise Monkeys" – a symbol of the saying "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."
- George rips off a sheet to unveil the large portrait of him that used to hang in his foyer. He is confronted (literally) with his former self.
- He is horrified and storms out of the house, ripping off his bandages as he leaves.
- George takes his cigarette for a solemn and aimless walk through the streets.
- He finds himself in front of the pawnshop and sees his old tux displayed in the window.
- George's reflection in the mirror aligns with the tux so it looks like he's wearing it.
- He smiles for a moment, enchanted by the ghostly image of his previous life.
- A policeman stands next to George and begins chatting with him. It's hard to see what he's saying, and there are no intertitles.
- George leans in—he's also having trouble understanding the policeman.
- Closeup on the policeman's mouth, which is still moving wordlessly.
- George begins to panic and rushes off.
- Meanwhile, Peppy arrives at home with a bouquet of flowers.
- Noticing George's abandoned bandages, she begins to worry.
- George returns to his modest home, which took a beating in the fire. There's debris everywhere and streaks of ash on the walls.
- Peppy runs around, yelling for Clifton.
- He's nowhere to be found, so she jumps in the car and begins to drive it herself.
- She's either really upset or a horrible driver, because she's swerving all over the road.
- George sits at his table, wringing his hands. He's thinking about people speaking incomprehensibly (we know this because the images of these moving mouths are superimposed just above his head, where a thought bubble would be).
- George clasps his hands over his mouth, closes his eyes and cries. The mouths begin to laugh at him.
- Now his hands are covering his ears. This seems familiar…
- Peppy meanwhile careens through the streets, almost causing a whole bunch of accidents.
- George retrieves a box from a shelf in his kitchen. He looks tormented.
- Inside the box is a gun.
- His dog barks and pulls on George's pant leg. It's as if he's pleading with him not to use the gun.
- George picks up the revolver and puts it in his mouth. The edges of the screen have gone all blurry.
- "BANG!" (That's the intertitle talking)
- But it's just the sound of Peppy's car, crashing into the tree outside George's house. (The thing about intertitles is they're ambiguous enough to provide suspense.)
- The crash startles George and he gets up in time to come face to face with Peppy as she runs in through his door. Seeing George with the gun, and the wreckage of his house, she begins to sob.
- "I feel so bad," she says. "I only wanted to help you, take care of you…"
- George looks ashamed and then tries to laugh it off. Weird idea, George.
- The gun goes off by accident and the dog plays dead.
- George and Peppy both begin to laugh, almost hysterically, as if to cope with the horrible fact that George almost just killed himself.
- They hug passionately.
- "If only you would let me help you," Peppy says.
- George replies that it's impossible, he's "washed up" and no one wants to see him speak.
- Since the "BANG" of the car crash, there's been no music to accompany the scene; everything has happened in complete silence.
- Suddenly the music starts up again, a jaunty beat.
- "There is one thing we could try," says Peppy. "Trust me."
- The next scene opens on George and Peppy, dancing a tap duet in a wood-paneled room and having fun.
- Zimmer is watching them from his desk, with his signature cigar. He leans forward, intrigued.
- He stands up, pumping his fist in excitement. "Terrific!" he yells.
- A chorus line of men in sharp suits with clapperboards fall away like dominoes to reveal George and Peppy tap dancing on stage.
- The stage backdrop is fitted with shimmering stars and abstract, modernist-style buildings.
- They twirl and tap and duet and solo, much in the style of another well-known dancing duo, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. George has that sparkle in his eye again.
- Then, Peppy and George's grand finale—they run toward the camera and throw their hands out with big smiles.
- Something's different all of a sudden. Oh—we can hear them breathing.
- "CUT!" yells Zimmer's assistant. Everything seems to be in normal sound. It's almost as if we're watching a talkie.
- "Perfect," declares Zimmer. "Beautiful. Can you give me just one more?"
- And then, George speaks. For the first time in the entire film.
- "With pleasure," he replies. His speaks with a heavy French accent. Oh—so is that why he didn't want to talk that whole time?
- Peppy looks at him with love in her eyes. The assistants swarm them, getting the pair ready for their next scene.
- The hustle and bustle of the studio set is communicated through the humming racket of people's voices. As the camera pans out, we see that this set is equipped with giant lights and cranes—it's more technologically advanced than the sets of George's early career.
- "And roll sound, roll camera," the assistant yells, "and, ACTION!"
- The end.