Friday, March 16, 2012

MUST WATCH FRIDAY: The Artist

Harlequin Presents/Riva author Heidi Rice talks in glowing terms about the non-talkie they're all raving about...

On the night before The Artist swept the top awards at this year's Oscar ceremony, my DH and I strong-armed our two teenage sons into seeing it with us. We don't do family film outings much anymore, and this one took more than a bit of persuasion... 'What do you mean, it's silent?' 'What? No talking at all? Seriously?' You could hear the moaning far and wide... (I decided to keep quiet about the fact that is was also in black and white). But after lots of pestering (and a little bribery - popcorn and cokes all round!) we got them there. And I have to say while we weren't all completely blown away by it, for me it certainly lived up to the hype.

If you haven't already heard about it, the story - told in black-and-white and with silent-movie subtitles - is basically A Star Is Born seguing neatly into Singin' in the Rain. The gorgeous Gallic actor Jean Dujardin channels Douglas Fairbanks as George Valentin, a swashbuckling star of the silent era in Hollywood who's at the top of his game when the talkies arrive and destroy his career. Much of the film deals with his slow descent into penury as he refuses to embrace the new sound era and clings on to the now out-dated charm of silent cinema. But before any of this happens, George bumps into young and vivacious extra Peppy Miller (played by the cute-as-a-button and, well, extremely peppy, Berenice Bejo) at a premiere, and when she later turns up on the set of his new movie, they fall in love.

This subtle sequence of takes, as the couple dance together on set, provides the beautiful beating heart of the whole picture. In that wonderfully evocative moment when the couple laugh - delighted with each other as they destroy yet another  take - we see not only the essence of George's decline (for Peppy's verve and spontaneity will very soon outshine George), but also his redemption. Like us, Peppy is captivated not just by George's star qualities, his charm and panache (and his very clever little dog) but also by his humanity. George is generous and loveable and a genuine artist, even if he's too proud and set in his ways to realise that his art must adapt, or it will die.

It is of course a brilliant conceit that this is a silent movie dramatising the demise of the silent era. And the fact that it has captivated audiences the world over adds a beautiful irony to the whole endeavour. But perhaps its most enchanting quality is that it tells a complex story in its most simplistic form —  thus recreating the innocence of an era when audiences didn't need loads of hi-tech bells and whistles to appreciate the magic of cinematic story-telling. How cool is that, to be able to enjoy a movie as if you've never seen one before?

And Jean Dujardin is remarkably sexy... which doesn't hurt either.



My two teenagers in the end were a little bit non-plussed by the whole experience, but still captivated and engaged despite themselves. So much so that we're already planning to spring a Buster Keaton retrospective on the two of them for the next evening when we're all at home. And while they may not have loved the movie as much as their Dad and I did, they did adore the dog!

Although I should add the popcorn and cokes was a big mistake. Nothing quite so embarrassing as hearing your son munching and slurping loudly while watching a movie which, despite a phenomenal music soundtrack, really was completely silent in places!

You have been warned.

Heidi is currently doing a happy dance after having her 12th Riva novel accepted. Her latest release, The Good, the Bad and the Wild, is out now as a Riva in the UK and will be out in the US in July as a Harlequin Presents Extra. You can find her nattering about her books and her writing career (and assorted sexy guys) on her blog, on Facebook, on Twitter (@HeidiRomRice) or on her website.

3 comments:

  1. It's very innovative to tell a story in the mode of silent cinema. I'm one of those people who enjoys all the lingering looks and subtle innuendo. My husband is a big fan of Charlie Chaplin movies and he spends many a happy evening sourcing videos on Youtube, showing them to the kids. Actors had to work hard because their expressions and body language told the story, rather than dialogue.

    Sound was a wonderful addition to cinematic technology, but while I don't wish to regress, something special was lost at the same time as sound came in.

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  2. So agree with you Maria, and it's brave of this movie to take on the challenge to prove that Silent cinema can still be magical.

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  3. Hi Heidi. I havent seen the film myself because it doesnt really appeal personally but I can see how it would appeal to today's market because in my opinion most of the current movies being released are just rehashes of something done in the 80s or same else ole same ole story but with different actors. A silent film in todays market would be fresh and novel. Ill give it a go when it's on DVD :)

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