“The Artist” : a Silent Film Revival

What a marvelous movie! I saw “The Artist” at a theater yesterday and was thoroughly entertained. I suspect this will lead to a lot more interest in the large number of genuine silent movies that still exist. I’ve watched several myself through Netflix and see one occasionally on television. 

Do see “The Artist” if you haven’t yet. The acting is great fun–the laughs and gasps of surprise are there too.

The story is simple, a romance where one character’s career is rising and the other’s is falling. The main character, George Valentin, is Hollywood’s most popular leading man who, when talkies come, plummets from riches to rags. As his career tanks, that of young Peppy Miller skyrockets, turning her from aspiring extra to leading lady.

It will be instantly obvious to those who know about Hollywood in the Twenties that Valentin’s character is based on Douglas Fairbanks. First of all, he looks exactly like Fairbanks. He performs exactly the same sort of roles, and at one point, when the date says 1931, Valentin is shown reminiscing with his own old movies and the scenes they show come from Fairbanks’ 1920 movie, “Mark of Zorro.” (I recognized those scenes right away–the jump over the wall followed by a swarm of soldiers, the leaping somersault over the fence, and the jumps from rooftop to rooftop.) Fairbanks, too, failed to make the change from silents to talkies, although in his case it was more because of his age than ability. Valentin’s story also mirrors Fairbanks’ struggle with alcohol as his popularity wanes.

 The character of Peppy Miller, enthusiastically played by Berenice Bejo, could be any one of several actresses who rose from obscurity to fame due to their looks, talent, and silver screen charisma.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise the superb acting skills of the little dog! I guess he won’t be nominated for an Oscar. 

The Smithsonian website carried an interesting article about this film.  See www.smithsonian.com/silentfilm

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