The Artist (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 18, 2012 by Dennis Amith
Delightful, heartwarming and magnificent! “The Artist” began as a fantasy for filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius. Now, “The Artist” will now be considered his finest masterpiece. “The Artist” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!
TITLE: The Artist
FILM RELEASE: 2011
DURATION: 100 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Directed and Written by Michel Hazanavicius
Produced by Thomas Langmann, Emmanuel Montamat
Co-Producer: Jeremy Burdek, Nadia Khamlichi, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn
Executive Producer: Antoine de Cazotte, Daniele Delume, Richard Middleton
Music by Ludovic Bource
Cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman
Edited by Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
Casting by Heidi Levitt
Production Design by Laurence Bennett
Art Direction by Gregory S. Hopper
Set Decoration by Austin Buchinsky, Robert Gould
Costume Design by Mark Bridges
Jean Dujardin as George Valentin
Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller
John Goodman as Al Zimmer
James Cromwell as Clifton
Penelope Ann Miller as Doris
Missi Pyle as Constance
Malcom McDowell as The Butler
THE ARTIST is a heartfelt and entertaining valentine to classic American cinema set in Hollywood during the twilight of it’s silent era. Love, friendship and an exquisite story make it the most feel good, most original film of our time.
In France, Michel Hazanavicius is best known for his “OSS 117″ spy comedy films featuring actor Jean Dujardin and his wife, Bérénice Bejo. But for Hazanavicius, as a fan of silent films, especially the filmmakers of that era, it was always a fantasy to make a silent film.
Of course, when he brought up to producers or potential investors that he wanted to create a black and white silent film, he was not taken seriously. But fortunately, producer Thomas Langmann and other producers for the film, they listened and despite hesitation, followed his gut to finance the film, which would be known as “The Artist”.
With a budget of $15 million and 35 days to shoot in Los Angeles, the film which required a lot of research not just by Hazanavicius but also his cast and trusting casting directors to hire the right people to pull this film off. Along with Dujardin and Bejo, cast in the film are John Goodman (“Roseanne”, “The Big Lebowski”), James Cromwell (“L.A. Confidential”, “The Green Mile”, “i Robot”), Penelope Ann Miller (“Carlito’s Way”, “Awakenings”), Missi Pyle (“Big Fish”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) and Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”, “Halloween”, “Easy A”).
And the black and white silent film that was almost never made, would become a major success and receive universal acclaim. Dujardi won “Best Actor” at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, winner of three Golden Globes, winner of seven BAFTA awards, winner of five Academy Awards and winning six Cesar Awards (making it the most awarded French film in history).
Made for $15 million, “The Artist” would earn over $133 million in the box office and now “The Artist” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in June 2012.
“The Artist” is set in 1927 and George Valentin (as portrayed by Jean Dujardin) is one of Hollywood’s biggest silent film actors.
With his latest film “A Russian Affair” which he stars alongside his talented dog Jack (as portrayed by Uggie) and actress Constance (as portrayed by Missi Pyle), who he doesn’t get along with.
George loves being in the limelight and the night of the premiere and while posing in front of the cameras, a young woman named Peppy Miller (as portrayed by Bérénice Bejo) drops her near George and when she goes to retrieve it, she accidentally bumps into him. Instead of getting angry, George uses the moment to pose with Peppy and next thing you know, newspapers print a picture of both George and Peppy, wondering “who is that girl?”.
The morning after, George’s wife Doris (as portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller) is not too happy with what she reads in the newspaper but also with their marriage. George is focused on his career and knows that his wife is unhappy.
Meanwhile, Peppy is an actress looking for work. She tries to use the newspapers as a way to generate interest in her and she is eventually hired to be a dancing girl on a film.
When George arrives to work the following morning, Kinograph Studios boss, Al Zimmer (as portrayed by John Goodman), is not so thrilled that George used the newspapers to not promote the film but instead divert attention to him and a mysterious unknown young lady. While the two are talking, George can see the legs of a woman dancing (her upper body is not seen due to a curtain) and he decides to dances along with her.
When the curtains go up, both George and Peppy are surprised to see each other again. And while Al is not pleased with Peppy possibly using George to get on the newspaper, George gets her hired on his next film as an extra.
And while the two are dancing with each other during filming, both can sense an attraction towards each other.
When Peppy goes to meet with George inside his dressing room, he is not there but she is amazed to be in his dressing room and starts playing with his suit. But George enters the room, watching her and the two share a short conversation and he tells her that she needs to stand out from other actresses. So, he puts a beauty spot above her lip and both nearly share an intimate kiss but are interrupted.
While the two go on their separate ways, Peppy with beauty mark and all, works her way into Hollywood, from small parts and each parting becoming better and better each time.
Meanwhile, as for George Valentin, Al tries to show him the future of films and that is films with sound and featuring the actors talking. George balks at such an idea, he doesn’t feel that talking films will ever replace silent films, because for his films, people come to watch the film for him, not to hear his voice.
Fast forward to 1929, Peppy has now become one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses. As for George, he learns that Kinograph Studios has announced the end of production of silent films. Angered and feeling betrayed, George leaves Kinograph Studios to direct and financially produce his next film.
Unfortunately, the change in George’s life eventually takes a toll on his marriage and his wife leaves him. To make things worse, while directing and financially producing his silent film, America is hit with the Stock Market Crash and it takes a toll on his finances. The only thing that can save him now is if the film becomes a success.
And during the premiere of his silent film, it is hardly attended (unbeknown to George, watching the movie from the balcony is Peppy Miller). Dejected, George takes a walk and sees Peppy’s new sound film receiving a large promotion at another theater and George then realizes that the silent film era has ended and his acting career is now over.
With no money, George now must focus on bankruptcy and sell all his possessions. All he has is the clothes on his back, his dog Jack, his car and his loyal valet Clifton (as portrayed by James Cromwell).
Once beloved by fans and once a major star in Hollywood, what will become of the falling star George Valentin and what about the rising star, Peppy Miller?
In order to capture the feel of a silent film, “The Artist” is presented in black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray! Full of detail, the HD presentation on Blu-ray features wonderful clarity. From its closeups of the faces of the characters to the details of makeup, clothing and scenery.
Black levels are nice and deep and white and grays well-contrast, there is a little softness, but I believe that was intentional. I didn’t detect any anomalies or any problems with the video whatsoever. “The Artist” looks absolutely magnificent on Blu-ray.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Artist” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film is a silent film but there are moments of sound effects but is driven by its musical score, composed by Ludovic Bource, who worked with the Michel Hazanvicius on both “OSS 117″ films.
According to Ludovic Bource, the relationship that he and Hazanvicius had during the making of the film was not saying so much. If anything, Bource watched the rushes to understand the feeling of the film and builds his music from there. Prior to making the film, both he and Hazanvicius listened to Chaplin, Max Steiner and Franz Waxman to Bernard Hermann. They analyzed and listened to the music from the past, including romantic composers from the 19th century.
Bource said in an interview, “We worked – a bit like Chaplin – along the lines of a light sophistication… What was great was being able to work in sequence blocks of 7, 8 or 9 minutes; to be able to reflect on the mood that could be connected to the plot or to a resonance which would be like the characters interior echo, even if there were different sequences within these blocks.”
Part of the challenge that Bource had in creating the music for a silent film was having to edit the music during editing. Bource said, “we had to reduce certain pieces according to the editing, throw lots of them away, and write new ones, adapt them following each step of the film that was being made. Michel and I didn’t stop fine-tuning, refining.”
For the soundtrack, Ludovic Bource worked with the Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra in Brussels for a week. Featuring 80 musicians, 50 string players, four French horns, four trombones, five percussionists, a harpist, ten technicians, five orchestrators and three mixers.
My personal favorites from the film’s soundtrack was its touch of elegance through the use of piano and strings. The music goes through a musically wonderful but sad and emotional transition once we see the decline of silent film and hearing the music starting to go for upbeat, to something much more melodramatic and with a hint of sadness. Bource had said that he was inspired by Brahms’ “Sapphic Ode” and a song that fits the film’s image of decline and loneliness of character George Valentin.
While Ludovic Bource created the majority of the music on this soundtrack, also featured are Brussels Philharmonic with “Estancia OP.8″, a surprise for me was hearing Red Nichols & His Five Pennies “Imagination”. Red Nichols was a popular jazz band in the 1920′s and a wonderful inclusion to this soundtrack. Also, included are Duke Ellington’s “Jubilee Stomp” (from 1928) and Rose Murphy’s “Pennies from Heaven” (a song that earned her the nickname “The Chee Chee Girl”).
The music was a major emotional component to the film and I found it to be delightful and fantastic. And on Blu-ray, the use of music and sound effects were more than appropriate for this film and sounds amazing in lossless!
Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.
“The Artist” comes with the following special features:
- Blooper Reel – (2:14) Outtakes from “The Artist”.
- The Artist: The Making Of A Hollywood Love Story – (21:56) Interviews with the cast of “The Artist” and their thoughts on the film and their characters.
- Q&A with the Filmmakers and Cast – (44:57) A fascinating and hilarious post-screening audience Q&A with director Michel Hazanavicius, producer Thomas Langmann and talents Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Missi Pyle and James Cromwell.
- Hollywood As A Character: The Locations of The Artist – (5:10) A short featurette about filming in Hollywood and in classic locations. Interviews with the current owners of workspaces and homes where “The Artist” was shot.
- The Artisans Behind The Artist – (11:30) A featurette about the production, cinematography, costume design and the music composition for “The Artist”.
“The Artist” comes with a slipcover case and a Ultraviolet redemption code.
As a fan of silent film, you eventually begin to read about what happened to the careers or the individuals, the stars of the silent era.
From Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon Jr., Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, the Talmadge sisters and many other silent film stars of the time, not many fared well from the transition from the silent films to the Talkies.
Many were known for their look and their acting style but not for their voices. During that time, not many people had to remember their lines and people never judged about what came out of an actor’s lips, there were intertitles that would explain what was going on in a scene and many talents had a great career and life because they were the stars of the time.
And while some tried to make the transition and others refused it, aside from a few talents such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy or Gloria Swanson, the coming of the talkies was not welcomed by many of the stars, stars who balked that the talkies would never surpass the popularity of silent films.
They were wrong. The talkies would eventually be the nail on the coffin more the careers of most of the silent film stars and for those such as Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Mary Pickford who tried their best to make their careers continue, unfortunately, silent films and their stars were considered passe. And the studios tried to distance themselves away from them.
Charles Chaplin tried his best to incorporate sound and even went as far to narrate a re-release of “The Gold Rush” (which shocked people because they never knew their beloved “tramp” would have an accent), Buster Keaton would also be featured in many talkies but by the ’30s and ’40s, physical vaudeville comedies were not popular compared to slapstick comedy, romantic comedies with handsome leading actors nor heroic military or Western stars.
Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford and Clara Bow tried as well and although Mary Pickford would win an Academy Award for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for “Coquette” in 1930, she had amazing fear towards the microphone, because she felt that she would never make it into talkies. And her next talkie would become a flop, it killed career if the “American’s Sweetheart”. As for Clara Bow, people were more surprised that she had a Bronx accent.
Harold Lloyd on the other hand would make a talkie but knew that with age and what the industry was looking for in Hollywood, he began to focus his career on photography and was one of the few people who had creative control of his films and did what he can to restore it.
But with silent films and the stars being considered as old-fashioned, movies and stars that your parents or grandparents would watch, not many stars made the transition.
And with the release of “The Artist”, filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius was aware of that. Sure, he is known as a comedy filmmaker for his “OSS 117″ films but he is a silent film fan, has watched many films and knew that he wanted to make one, he just needed the financial support.
The timing of “The Artist” is incredible. As more and more people are now discovering silent films through the wonderful releases on Blu-ray and DVD, many are clamoring for the films featuring these top stars of that era. Many wanting to know more about the silent era and being entertained by the films of directors such as D.W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, F.W. Murnau, Frank Borzage, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, to name a few. There is resurgence of interest in silent films today.
I have no doubt in my mind that “The Artist” will convert some people to silent films. It may not make one an ardent fan but at least giving people exposure to a silent film.
And one thing that Michel Hazanavicius wanted to do is capture normalcy. No vaudeville comedy type of direction but to capture the normalcy as seen in Murnau and Borzage films. The feeling of natural acting.
And this is where “The Artist” achieves efficacy because both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are wonderful in this film. They make you believe in their characters, they make you feel the emotional high and lows of the character of George Constantin. But not only is the acting wonderful by its main talent and also its supporting talent (including the extras), “The Artist” captivates you with its wonderful acting, its costume design, the authentic look of capturing an era but also a film that has emotion, humor, sadness and Ludoic Bource’s music…everything comes together in this film.
I absolutely love this film and I probably watched this film about seven times now and I still have not grown tired of it. The music, the camera, the editing, the overall rhythm of the film carries us along. George Constantin is the silent actor that captivates a generation that grew up with the advances of cinema and embraced the silent film. Peppy Miller is the upcoming starlet that epitomizes the “out with the old” sentiment, and Bejo plays her character with so much enthusiasm. She knows how to flirt with the camera, captivate the viewer.
As for the Blu-ray release, the video and audio quality is magnificent. While a silent film, the musical soundtrack by Ludovic Bource is fantastic! As for the special features, it was great to see how the film was shot in various, historical locations in Los Angles and the addition of the post-screening live audience Q&A was also fun to watch!
“The Artist” is a great film and while I doubt Hollywood is going to invest in any more modern day silent films, “The Artist” was a film that many never seen before or for those who are familiar with silent films, caused excitement and came out in a time that was just right. It’s delightful, heartwarming and magnificent!
In some way, “The Artist” is quite relevant because we are also in a modern, technological flux in entertainment. Television and film are changing thanks to the Internet and ways to catch entertainment. May it be music or cinema, with technology, social media and an audience who has access to many forms of entertainment, what is in today could be gone or drastically changed a decade from now. Change is inevitable and “The Artist” is a good reminder of how change affected a genre and all the talent involved.
“The Artist” began as a fantasy for filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius. Now, “The Artist” will now be considered his finest masterpiece. “The Artist” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!
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