Love and a bit with a dog – The Artist is the new Shakespeare in Love
20 Oct 2011
Where I fall in love with a black and white silent movie, and meet the director whose name is soon going to be on everybody’s lips. If they can pronounce it.
”I call my brother and I say, ’I spent millions on this movie. It’s a black and white silent movie. And he goes ’What?!’”
I am at the Odeon Theatre at Leicester Square in London. Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood tycoon is on the stage presenting his company’s new film The Artist, which on the surface has all odds against it.
Like the other 500 people in the cinema I laugh politely, full of expectation, like everybody else present, because rumour has it, this film will blow us away. And it does.
Set in 1917 The Artist emulates the early days of cinema, telling the story of a movie mega star, George Valentin, a kind of Douglas Fairbanks character, famed for silent movies in Hollywood. Just as he is threatened by the arrival of the talkies, he falls in love with a young extra Peppy Miller. But Peppy not only becomes a star of the new popular talkies, she becomes the symptom of Valentin’s failure, as he and his pet dog are forced to leave their mansion and privileged life.
Inspired by classics such as Singing in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard, the French director Michel Hazanavicius has created something which may seem deadbeat old fashioned, but which when it’s best, offers the freshness of the Dogme-movement.
”I always wanted to do a silent movie, and I began to write this film, when Avatar was showing. It is not a political movie, but making a silent movie today is a political gesture,” Hazanavicius, whose last name stems from relatives in Lithuania, tells me when I meet him at the posh Hotel The Dorchester.
In a time when studios and audiences are infatuated with 3D animation and 3-D glasses and what not, The Artist delivers old school, brilliant visual storytelling. When many filmmakers tend to forget that cinema is all about telling stories in pictures, he does this uncompromisingly. And in a very funny way.
At times, it is even sexy. For instance when the young, hopeful Peppy finds her way to Valentin’s wardrobe and approaches his dinner jacket on a hanger, puts her arm in one sleeve and cautiously begins to caress herself.
Some years ago Shakespeare in Love became extremely popular, despite channeling an artform from the 17th Century. Much in the same way, the comedy The Artist, plays on our knowledge of the silent era, making us laugh at it and with it.
And just like Shakespeare in Love, The Artist might go all the way – to be one of the few comedies ever to win an Oscar.
The Artist may not be a political movie. But it has the power to remind us what movies are really about. The story is simple enough for children to understand but layered enough for movie buffs to swoon. It is about cinema, celebrity, pride and progress. And above all – it has what makes a hit, in the words of Geoffrey Rush’s Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love:
”Love – and a bit with a dog!”