Silent film speaks loudly to viewers

Jeff Powers

“The Artist” has been receiving an enormous amount of praise and award nominations in recent months. After seeing it I can safely say that it is deserving of all the accolades.

The movie is elegantly made, well-acted and offers a different experience. The film follows the life of George Valentin, a 1920s silent film actor and his struggles to deal with the transition of show business to “talkies.”

Valentin is played by Jean Dujardin in what can only be described as a tremendous performance. The most important aspect of his performance is his ability to portray emotions with absolutely zero dialogue. The movie is completely silent, in true 1920s form and this is really what makes the film exceptional.

Dujardin acts out the character’s inner thoughts and emotions deftly, without seeming cartoonish or over the top. He walks the line perfectly between what modern audiences are accustomed to and what would be historically accurate.

The performance of the actors plays a major role in the communication between the characters and the audience, but the most important feature of the entire film is the musical score composed by Ludovic Bource. The music builds and releases tension throughout the film.

For the majority of the movie, music is the only audible companion the audience has. Oftentimes the best use of music is when there is the absence of it.

When the music stops, the audience becomes more aware of just how silent the film really is. It’s a very eerie experience. This sensation only builds the emotion being felt on-screen at the time.

The music was great, but the ingenuity and creativity used in the sound effects are experimental and artful. The most memorable scene in the film is a dream sequence after Valentin has first been shown a talking movie. In the dream, objects suddenly begin to be heard. He is perplexed and frightened by the sound. First he can hear small things like a glass being set down or his companion dog barking, but later loud laughter and explosions. All the while, Valentin cannot hear his own voice.

The sounds affect the audience in the same way they affect Valentin. I hadn’t heard any sound that wasn’t music for nearly 30 minutes and the sounds were foreign and shocking when they first appeared. This technique transports the audience to what the experience of first hearing sound in a film must have been like. It is fascinating stuff.

The director of the film is Michael Hazanavicius. I find his direction to be impeccable. Everything in this film really comes back to the fact that it is silent. All the minute details that usually are overlooked have their importance multiplied immensely.

The set was wonderfully organized and the positions of the actors and props were always perfectly on point. The setting was also captured very well. This was one of the most accurate period pieces I’ve ever seen. He deserves a great deal of praise for his oversight.

The supporting cast all give very good performances. Bérénice Bejo does well portraying a young, up-and-coming actress who stars in the new sensation of “talkies.” She is both Valentin’s love interest and one of his main opponents throughout the movie.

John Goodman plays a studio executive who is mostly responsible for revolutionizing show business in the film. He is cold and unsentimental, and it shows as he kicks Valentin to the curb after his refusal to do talking movies.

The only negative comment I have about the movie is that at times it can be difficult to stay focused and appreciative of what’s going on the screen. A few times I was lulled by the wonderful score and sometimes slow plot, and found my mind wandering away from the film.

It was easy to forget just how great what I was watching really was. With the proper expectations and perspective, the film is a masterpiece.

Overall, “The Artist” is an amazing film experience. It was a treat to get to see a silent film made with modern technology. The effects used on the sound that is available, along with the artistry used in the film-making process put this movie on an unmatched level of excellence.