So that's what it was like !

The Artist

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Let yourself sink quietly into The Artist. You'll realize quickly that you are watching very quietly, as if to hear the silence of the movie, and you'll be wearing a broad, silent smile. Your mood will lift with the contagious music synced to the film from the orchestra pit of an old theater. What comes to us is a lovely tribute to old Hollywood of the '20s just as talkies loomed as both promise and threat.
            Two superb performances take us back to 1927. So this is what is was like! Dean Dujardin plays George Valentin, hero of the silent screen who, along with many of his peers, is about to be erased by the new technology. Berenice Bejo is Peppy Miller, the ambitious newcomer who is about to become ascendant in the new medium. The two come together in an accidental meeting - he as the star, she as the starlet who will make her way from the bottom of the credits to the top. Before long Peppy is living in a Hollywood mansion while George has lost his grand lifestyle and is living in a rented room, broke and despairing.
            The movie is bookended by absolutely dazzling opening and closing scenes, perfectly filmed and delivered, and full of the history of the enormous transition facing the industry. It opens with a camera shot looking down the aisle of a huge theater as an appreciative 1927 audience is riveted by George Valentin (Dujardin) and the Jack Russell Terrier who is his co-star in the film. They appear live to take their bows to waves of applause. At the close, we watch Peppy Miller (Bejo) lure George from alcoholic despondency back to the screen in a way that will broaden your smile with its inspiration. George can't talk for the movies? Watch this.
            Between the enthralling beginning and end, George's downfall is prolonged to the point of denting the charm a little but we are still rewarded with a tour of early Hollywood and Peppy's starlit rise to the top. Berenice Bejo's Peppy is beautiful, smart, and that best of all things: warm hearted. She is also a marvelous testament to the timelessness of classic flapper fashion. This movie should revive the cloche, the dropped waist, and the draping of silk that make today's styles look so silly and awkward. And wow, can she dance.
            John Goodman shines as the dictatorial studio boss while James Cromwell creates yet again a full character with just minor changes of his stoic expression. Dean Dujardin, wearing the mustache of the era and the enormous ego born of George's stardom, wins us quickly because somehow, he is winking at himself. He and Bejo carry a story line that unfolds as Hollywood history. Amazingly, we begin to think of dialogue as a distraction and long for the days when a full orchestra and conductor set the mood for the pleasure of the audience. Don't miss this one.


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