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Over 60 ... And Getting Younger: December 1, 2011

‘The Artist’: Black and White

We moderns who were recently captured by the Internet Revolution should easily empathize with the 1927 entrance of The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson, which led to Hollywood discarding silent films. Within a decade, the production of black and white, no-speech films ceased. The Artist is a story of the “silents.”

Many former film stars could not make the “talkies” that were being produced. The new silent film The Artist deals with this phenomenon. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a superstar in silent movies. He is a singing, dancing actor with Gene Kelly and Douglas Fairbanks in mind. As he refuses role after role, his star descends and he is well on the way to oblivion.

Enter ingénue Peppy Miller (Berence Bejo), who looks after George the former star and becomes his guardian angel. She is gorgeous and a talented dancer. Their dance scenes are very good, reminiscent of Fred and Ginger. Peppy in real life is the director’s wife.

French director Michel Hazanavicius makes this silent, black and white screenplay into a luxuriant period piece of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The love story: “A dashing silent film star meets a cute, adorable (up and coming) actress at the time the movie business is switching to talkies.”

Personally, I never thought that I would pay to see a silent film in black and white at the Paris Theater on 57th Street in Manhattan. It kept my attention throughout with only gestures, pantomime, and title cards. I had watched D.W. Griffith’s racist film Birth of a Nation in a film class at CCNY and I appreciated the fact that intricate drama could be understood and enjoyed in a silent screen version.

A little Jack Russell terrier is a star in this movie, as a sidekick of the leading man. He comes and goes with great agility. Also, John Goodman is wonderful as a studio boss. Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller are American film actors recognizable in their roles.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film novelty; I recommend it!