What is this ‘Artist’ movie that’s winning all the awards?


If you’ve paid even passing attention to end of the year lists/Academy Award prognostications, you’ve heard much about ‘The Artist’. It won a Best Picture prize at the Golden Globes this past weekend and is guaranteed to be one of the 5-10 Oscar best picture nominees when that list is announced next Tuesday, Feb. 26. The film, which has earned a mere $9.2 million domestically only opened on 4 screens in the US, later expanding to its current 216. Chances are, though, that you probably haven’t been able to see it. So what do you need to know before seeing the movie:
• It’s silent. Duh! Everyone knows that, you say. Well, everyone does not know that. As reported by The Telegraph, “a small number of refunds” were offered to unaware Brits. For those of you who have never seen a silent movie, this means that the people don’t talk and there are no sound effects (save for one or two scenes). When people “talk,” the dialogue is presented in intertitles. The film does have a musical score, which we’ll mention later.
• Like silent films from the early 20th century, the film is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which means that the screen assumes the boxy outline of an old television set, as opposed to the widescreen picture seen in today’s theatres.
• It’s in black and white. Though that’s sort of fudged. It was “shot by cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman in colour and then monochromed in the lab.”
• It co-stars an awesome dog named Uggie.
• The Gallic team behind the film—director Michel Hazanavicius, Schiffman, composer Ludovic Bource and human stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo—have previously worked together on a pair of French spy spoofs.
• The film was shot in Los Angeles at a series of locations with Hollywood resonance: the Orpheum and Los Angeles theatres, the Bradbury Building (famous from several noir thrillers, Chinatown and as the gloomy setting for the end of Blade Runner), and even the former home of early film star Mary Pickford.
• The film’s soundtrack is an expert pastiche of silent cinema film scores, save for one section in which a huge chunk of Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Vertigo’ love theme is used to telegraph emotion during the film’s climactic scene. It’s one of the cinema’s most memorable pieces of film music, so it sticks out in a fairly obvious way.
So go forth and watch this black and white silent film. Don’t be afraid. You’re not going to fall asleep, trust us.