The Artist, I decided, was a movie I must see in the theater. I needed to see the dynamic of grayscale and the charm of nostalgia on the big screen from an oversized high-back seat with giant arms and a spot for an equally oversized, overpriced soda. Marketing told me that this movie was a celebration of all things past and traditional; an HD home television with a standard def DVD player and futon-seating would not do. See this one at the cinema, I told myself. Don’t say ‘cinema’ in public, I reminded myself.
Nearly seven months later and I still hadn’t seen The Artist – on any sized screen, from any sized seat. No longer in theaters, I waited patiently for its DVD release and for that, Redbox will be grateful. I should have been eager to have a second chance to watch what was supposed to be the gem of 2011 film, but instead I pained over the thought of sitting through a silent movie on a small screen. Film school flashbacks of forced screenings of old prints in uncomfortable, cold rooms rushed to my mind every time I glared at my rented copy. For 15 nights (that’s $18.00 in Redbox language) I opted for bad TV and modern-day talkies. It wasn’t until visiting the
cinema movie theater for the first time in weeks to see Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love (2012) that I worked up the desire to finally watch The Artist at home. I may not be Woody’s biggest fan, but I can’t deny his ability to put me in the mood for movies.
Working with a 42” screen, I used a coffee table and a back cushion from the couch to rig up some sort of theater-style seating on the floor. This must have been why mom and dad picked out such an unmistakable hue of red for their new furniture: Movie-Seat Red. With this set-up I was able to sit in the middle of my basement floor beneath and close enough to the TV to feel like I might be in the theater circa 1927, or, at least, early 2012. Before I ever picked up the remote, the story of silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) as he falls in love and faces the invention of talking pictures and the end of his career, was already making a believer out of me: where there’s a will, there is a way.
If you’re a child of this noisy generation and you’re not sold on the idea of a silent film, know that writer and director Michel Hazanavicius and his team of cast and crew go well beyond the novelty of a 21st century silent, black and white movie. The best of silent film is captured here: one-thousand-word stories told in a single image, the power of the actors’ face, the beauty in the universally understood, the charm of simplicity. And yet there’s something about The Artist that is so very modern: the crispness, the discipline, the understanding, and the appreciation of the craft that could only have been realized after a century of filmmaking and the willingness to step back in time. The proof of this movie’s success, however, is not in the mechanics of style. The proof is in the story.
Had there been no story, I wouldn’t have been stretching from my makeshift seat yelling at the leading man, trying desperately to stop his self-destruction. Had there been no heart, I wouldn’t have begged for our heroine Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) to save the day just once more. Had there been nothing but novelty, I wouldn’t have found myself on the floor of my basement more content than any wide-eyed cinelover could have hoped for. I hadn’t needed anything oversized or grandiose or traditional, just in the way that George Valentin didn’t need his voice. All we needed was our will to find a new, innovative way. If you have someone, as George had Peppy and I had Woody, to remind you of your will and show you that there is a way, grab for that someone and go for the ride. If you don’t have that someone and you need a set of wheels, start with The Artist, now on DVD.