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Film / The Artist

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"I won't talk! I won't say a word!"

The Artist is a 2011 French film emulating the style of cinema in the 1920s written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius and produced by Thomas Langmann.

The movie stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a silent movie star in 1920s Hollywood whose career goes into decline with the Great Depression and the advent of talking pictures. He falls in love with a young ingenue named Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo, whose Hollywood career arc is the exact opposite of Valentin's. John Goodman appears as Al Zimmer, the studio producer who tries to convince George to get over himself and make a talking film.

The Artist is unique not just for being shot in black-and-white, and in the old 4:3 Aspect Ratio, but being an almost completely silent film, possibly the first feature-length Silent Movie to receive wide distribution since Mel Brooks put out Silent Movie in 1976.

Compare Blancanieves, a Spanish movie released in 2012 that was similar, being a silent, black-and-white film in Retraux style set in the 1920s.

The Artist provides examples of:

  • Almost Kiss: Happens once between Peppy and George. What's amazing is that they don't kiss even once in the film, despite being the Official Couple. This is, of course, a throwback to No Hugging, No Kissing rules enforced by censors back in those days.
  • And Starring:
    • "And Uggie — The Dog" in the closing credits. Really. (Uggie also gets an additional Easter Egg mention in the credits to one of Peppy's films.) Uggie even attended the Oscars.
    • Also used in-universe as the sign that Peppy has made it big and continues to climb up the ladder.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: The standard film stock of that time was nitrate, which is extremely flammable (see Inglourious Basterds). So when George sets his film on fire, it should have erupted into an unsurvivable mass of flames in seconds, though it does reach near-lethal proportions very quickly.
  • Ascended Fangirl: Peppy is an In-Universe example, having caught the attention of the press by inadvertently getting on the other side of a police man blocking George's fans from him. Throughout the film it is very clear that she is a huge fan of George's movies, even going so far as to attend the opening night showing of his movie rather than her own.
  • Aspect Ratio: The Artist was shot in 4:3 aspect ratio. 4:3 was standard for all of Hollywood from the dawn of moviemaking, until widescreen caught on in the 1950s.
  • Ate His Gun: Just barely averted for George!
  • Attention Whore:
    • Constance, George's costar, is livid when he keeps forcing her off the stage at the first film showing.
    • Peppy is a bit of this too, both when she first runs into George, and later when stardom briefly goes to her head.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Doris. She and George can't stand each other.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: BANG!
  • Beard of Sorrow: 1920's-style. George's mustache is still groomed, but it's not impeccably waxed like in his big-screen days.
  • Benevolent Boss:
    • John Goodman's studio exec, who was obviously hoping to help George make the transition to sound films until he gets stubborn about it. Later, he wholeheartedly endorses the idea of giving George a comeback bid as a dancer, albeit only after Peppy blackmails him into it.
    • George letting Clifton go, realizing that he'll just continue to work in lieu of pay (which George can't afford).
    • Technically applies to Peppy, since she subsequently hires Clifton.
  • Box Office Bomb: Tears of Love, in-universe.
  • Break the Cutie: George gets crushed by his refusal to transition to talkies, in a somewhat uncommon gender-reversal of this.
  • The Cameo
    • Malcolm McDowell as one of Peppy's fellow extras. (Despite this he gets a major billing, something the actor has poked fun at in interviews.)
    • Elizabeth Tulloch as Norma, George's female co-star in his last silent film.
    • Bill Fagerbakke as a police officer near the end.
  • Canine Companion: George even takes his dog to the movies. And it saves his life... twice. He even showed up in the real-life Oscars ceremony!
  • Career Resurrection: In-universe. George seems to get one at the end of the film, apparently as a dancer in the vein of Fred Astaire.
  • Call-Back: In the final tap-dancing scene, Peppy does her little step-dance that got George's attention at the start of the movie and effectively made her career.
  • Chekhov's Gun: George's stuff getting sold at auction.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • The Black Bottom Dance that George and Peppy do behind a scene curtain. There are several hints throughout the film that George is a born song and dance man.
    • The dog's ability to play dead whenever a gun is fired.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Peppy's lipstick on George's mirror, and again when she gives him her phone number.
  • Corpsing: In-Universe, Peppy and George's first interaction, when she's still an extra and they can't keep straight faces in a dance scene.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-universe, George suffers one of these after the jump to talkies and the failure of his silent films trashes his career.
  • Creator Killer: In-universe. The Epic Fail of Tears of Love, as well as his reluctance to adapt to sound films, destroys George's movie career.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: When Clifton won't take the hint and quit after George has been too broke to pay him for a year, George coldly tells him he's fired, throws him out the door and leaves him standing on the porch all day.
  • Dance of Romance: During the filming of A German Affair.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Doris enjoys doodling over George's photographs. Trouble in paradise?
  • Decade-Themed Filter: The film completely evoked the film styles of the late 1920s from the intertitles to the aspect ratio.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Better to invoke the style of movie the film is paying homage to.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Peppy's trademark mole, although it's artificial (it was also George's idea, as she needed something to make her stand out from other actresses). It's even the name of one of her films — the one that really hammers home George's downfall.
  • Domino Mask: George's screen persona.
  • Dream Sequence: With a unique effect to get the unreality across when the lead character starts experiencing synchronized sound around him in ever more exaggerated forms while he is still silent.
  • Downer Ending:
    • Don't worry! It's in-universe! The ending to the Film Within a Film Tears of Love ends with George's character sinking into quicksand, and telling the female co-star that he never loved her.
    • Though for those who interpret The Artist as a metaphor for those who reject new technologies such as e-books and downloads, the ending in which George finally becomes a convert could be seen as a downer too. (See the Earn Your Happy Ending entry below.)
  • Drives Like Crazy: There's a reason Peppy needs a chauffeur.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Poor George.
  • Dutch Angle: Used in the scene where a drunk, depressed George sets fire to the negatives of his old movies, possibly another homage to period techniques. It's also seen during George's, well, "noisy" nightmare.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Subverted by George's character at the end of Tears of Love.
    "Farewell, Norma. I never loved you!"
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It takes a lot of convincing from Peppy, who is determined to help him, but she shows George that he has a future in sound films as a star of dance musicals.
  • Electric Torture: Complete with Torture Technician and Mad Scientist in the first Film Within a Film.
  • End of an Age: The film set during the twilight of silent cinema and the emergence of sound films.
  • Environmental Symbolism:
    • George walking beneath a marquee reading, "The Lonely Star".
    • An unhinged picture frame in the bar George gets sloshed in.
    • George catching Peppy in his dressing room, in front of a poster for the film The Thief of Her Heart.
    • Peppy starring in a film called Guardian Angel.
    • When the studio cancels George's contract and hires Peppy, the two meet on a stairwell. He is heading down the stairs while she's heading up, mirroring the trajectories of their careers.
    • During a montage of the Valentins' unhappy marriage, a pair of spouse statues appear to separate from each other with each scene of George and Doris interspersed until the only the wife statue behind Doris is visible.
    • The final dance scene is for a film called Sparkle of Love.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When Peppy finally figures out how to help George.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: During the German Affair shoot, George keeps deploying this in take after take.
  • The Flapper: Peppy is one — and plays one!
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: George and Peppy are audibly panting after their dance routine at the end, hinting it's no longer a silent film and now a talkie.
  • Flipping the Bird: George's co-star when he hogs the limelight from her during a film premiere.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the first Show Within a Show, George's character is being tortured, being commanded "SPEAK!" He refuses to speak, just like he later refuses to speak on any film.
    • After being released from his contract with the studio, George meets Peppy in a stairwell. After their brief conversation, he walks down the stairs while she walks up. As the movie unfolds, George's career is on a downward trajectory, while Peppy is on her way up.
    • During one point when George is seemingly at his lowest point, he passes by a poster for Peppy's new film Guardian Angel. Peppy ends up taking on this role for George, determined to help him set up a comeback.
  • Genki Girl: Peppy. It's even in the name.
  • Genre Throwback: The film is deliberately stylized to look like a late '20s melodrama and, later, a 1930s musical in the final scene.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Peppy's beauty spot, which triggers her rise and George's fall. The onset of talkies doesn't help matters at all.
  • Gray Rain of Depression:
  • Graceful Loser: While George does not take his sinking career well, he never shows any anger towards Peppy's rise to stardom.
  • Hands-On Approach: George and Peppy dancing together in a scene. At first, the pair erupt into some harmless laughter. With each take, though...
  • Heroic Dog: Mostly entertaining but definitely becomes heroic considering a played-straight Timmy in a Well moment. Later he tries desperately to dissuade George from his suicide attempt — it almost seems to be working at first, but ultimately it's Peppy who stops him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: George helps Peppy make it big, which hastens his own downfall.
  • Hollywood California: Shot on location in buildings authentic to the time period. Peppy's mansion is Mary Pickford's mansion, and George wakes up in Pickford's bed. Ironically, of the 2012 Best Picture Oscar nominees, The Artist was the only one completely filmed in Hollywood. Even though it's a French film.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Valentin's dog.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Bang!
  • Iris Out: Another nod to silent cinema.
  • It's All Junk: Although on second thought burning the items may have been a bad choice for other reasons.
  • It Will Never Catch On: What George believes about talkie films.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The studio executive, Al Zimmer. He's willing to give George another chance, but George finds talkies idiotic and passes it up. Later, he effectively gives George a third and fourth chance first when Peppy convinces him to give George a part in a movie, and then when Peppy and George convince Al to make a musical.
  • Job Title
  • Jump Scare: At the end of George's Dream Sequence, a small feather is seen drifting lazily to the ground, with no other sounds playing... and it lands with the sound of a ten-ton weight. This is what wakes George up.
  • Large and in Charge: John Goodman's studio boss.
  • Large Ham:
    • George in front of an audience.
    • His costar, Constance Grey, is seen hamming it up to a painful extent when she's playing Juliet in a talkie.
    • Peppy, most definitely, though endearingly so.
  • Laughing Mad: George setting his reels on fire.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Repeatedly, starting with the first title card, which is the page quote.
  • Living Shadow: Possibly related to a Pink Elephants type moment.
  • Made of Incendium: Inverted. When George burns the film reels, they take quite a while to get a good blaze going. However, since film of that era really was made of incendium (a.k.a. nitrate), it should have turned into a massive fire in seconds. Nitrate films (made prior to the introduction of Cellulose Triacetate (safety) film in 1948) had to be stored in thick-walled concrete bunkers because they were so flammable. This video shows some examples in its first 2 1/2 minutes, and an even more spectacular example starting at 4:25. Safety film is non-flammable. Get it hot enough and it will melt, but it won't burn, as this video shows.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Peppy Miller
  • Meaningful Background Event: The movie names, all over the place.
  • Medium Awareness: George's Dream Sequence — he's visibly shocked when events around him come with sound effects.
  • Meet Cute: How Peppy accidentally strikes off her career.
  • Mirror Monologue: George has an argument with his shadow projected against a wall.
  • Monkey Morality Pose: Appropriately enough, stubborn George has a "three monkeys" statue.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When George jolts back to his senses after burning his precious films and realizes he might have also destroyed his precious raw footage of dancing with Peppy.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: Clifton, you're fired.
  • No Antagonist: The real problem is George's refusal to change with the times, and his downfall as a result. Al Zimmer is somewhat depicted as the antagonist, since his firing of George sets him on his downward spiral.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Valentin actually is, apparently, a hero to his valet, but he is both a jerk to his costar and a neglectful husband.
  • No Name Given: George's dog is listed in the credits as "The Dog".
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: At the beginning of the movie, Valentin's character is locked in a cell very securely. The movie cuts to the audience reaction as they gasp at his escape and then the movie cuts back to him out of the cell.
  • Old Retainer: Clifton. By choice, though.
  • Pet the Dog: A literal example. George's devotion to his adorable dog indicates right from the start that he's a good guy at heart.
  • Pink Elephants: While getting hammered in a bar George hallucinates a tiny vision of himself (and some of the African supporting players) from the Film Within a Film Tears of Love.
  • Pornstache: George's pencil mustache is eventually replaced by this.
  • Postmodernism:
    • This film establishes very clear boundaries for its medium, then breaks them. Specifically, the scene in this otherwise silent movie that begins with George audibly placing his glass on the dresser, and then the entire scene spiraling out of control as he learns everything makes sound BUT him. It is, of course, a nightmare, but still. The end also violates the boundaries of silent film, indicating George's acceptance of talkies.
    • In addition, the way George is shown putting the gun in his mouth is another modern-day touch that would never be seen in a film of the era.
    • Peppy's "dialogue" scene with Al in which she says "it's either him or me" and then sputters though a few "what I meant to says" is a dialogue trope more common to modern-day cinema in part because silent films could not rely on such wordplay.
    • Constance gives George "the finger" early on in the film, an act that would not have been allowed in American cinema of the day. (Except for that one time when it was!) As noted below, lip-readers may also detect the F-word as well; there is a longstanding Hollywood legend that many actors did swear on screen during the silent era, assuming no-one could read their lips.
  • Precision F-Strike: A visual one: George's leading lady gives him the finger. It also serves as a clue to the audience that this film won't quite behave like an old silent-movie. Though if you pay attention to her lips, you can see she's also a silent Cluster F-Bomb...
  • Pride: George's biggest fault. Clifton even warns him against it when Peppy wants to give him another chance.
  • Punny Name: Peppy Miller, after "pepper mill", a pepper grinder.
  • Quicksand Sucks: The ending to George's movie Tears of Love, complete with a Last Grasp at Life.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: George tipping his drink over his reflection in a table.
  • Reality Subtext: In-universe, the final scene of Tears of Love where George's character sinks in quicksand.
  • Retraux: The whole film, really; not just a silent film but a silent film made to actually look like a movie from the silent film era.
  • Riches to Rags: George starts the film as a wealthy movie star and is brought low in stages: first the coming of sound and his failed attempt to continue the silent era, then the stock market crash, and finally his alcoholism and other bad decisions.
  • The Roaring '20s: First part takes place at the end of it, and the arrival of The Great Depression kicks off Valentin's downfall.
  • Rule of Cute: George toting his dog everywhere, including into a movie theater.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • The crooked frame in the bar where George gets smashed.
    • Also note that whenever there's a staircase in the movie, Peppy will no doubt be going up whilst George will only go down.
  • Running Gag: The dog plays dead whenever someone makes a motion like shooting a gun.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The score includes quite a lengthy sample of the love theme from, of all movies, Vertigo. George's nightmare about sound is also very Hitchcock-esque.
    • The old movie that George watches on a home projector just before his breakdown is an actual silent movie, The Mark of Zorro, with Jean Dujardin inserted in close-ups in place of Douglas Fairbanks. In fact, George's whole on-screen persona, as present in the Films Within the Film, pretty strongly resembles Fairbanks.
    • The solution to Valentin's career problems is straight out of Singin' in the Rain. The basic plot of the film is also similar to that film, and the character of Constance in particular is very reminiscent of Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont in the earlier film.
    • Valentin's very name is a Shout-Out to Rudolph Valentino, arguably the first and most famous silent movie star of the twenties.
    • Valentin's career problems mirror those of romantic silent film star John Gilbert, who drank himself to death when his career tanked after the transition to talkies. George eventually becomes an expy of Fred Astaire (complete with a set straight out of one of his films!), and bears a strong physical resemblance to Clark Gable.
    • Valentin's defiant effort to make a silent film with his own money with the rise of sound films is similar to Charlie Chaplin's stubborn efforts in making the largely silent films, City Lights and Modern Times, but Charlie's films were big hits. George... not so much.
    • The policeman running to save George's life from his self-inflicted fire is reminiscent of the next-to-last scene of The 400 Blows
    • Peppy gives a shout-out to Greta Garbo's famous line in the 1932 film Grand Hotel by telling her date, "I want to be alone."
    • George and Doris' simmering hostility at the dinner table recalls the same between Kane and his first wife in Citizen Kane. The Trash the Set scene may also be a Citizen Kane reference.
  • Show Within a Show:
    • We see a number of George's and Peppy's films.
    • And, of course, the closing number.
  • Silence Is Golden: Used to very great effect — three scenes total use sound, and they're all jarring. A couple of scenes are completely silent, with no music.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Peppy's first "big" role has her name misspelled as "Pepi".
  • Spinning Paper: Done as Peppy rises to the top of stardom.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Singin' in the Rain. Both movies take place in '20s era Hollywood during the time when studios were making a shift to "talkies". While Singin was a light-hearted movie about a studio's attempt to adapt to these changes, The Artist is a darker movie, showing what happened to the actors who couldn't make the jump from Silent Films to films with sound.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Peppy is a benevolent one towards George.
  • Stylistic Suck: Subverted. Tears of Love is set-up to be a terrible movie in the hands of a seeming Prima Donna Director like George... but it comes off as a surprisingly competent, powerful film. It doesn't stop the crowds from going to see the talkies instead.
  • Suddenly Speaking: The ending. Also doubles up as Suddenly Ethnicity, because George's accent reveals he's French.
  • Take That!: In-universe, Tears of Love is a thinly veiled rebuke to Peppy's success.
  • Timmy in a Well: Played straight, even if the policeman in question is skeptical at first.
  • Trampled Underfoot: George's poster, in the aftermath of Tears of Love bombing in theaters.
  • Trash the Set: George destroying his projector and film collection.
  • Undying Loyalty: Clifton refuses to leave George even after George can't afford to pay him, and ultimately lets George move in with him.
  • Unsound Effect: A Title Card reading "Bang!"
  • Visual Title Drop: In a newspaper headline that quotes George as saying "I'm an artist."
  • Wham Line: "Cut!"
  • When She Smiles: Invoked with Peppy's screen persona.
  • White Dwarf Star: George in the second half of the movie.
  • Whole-Plot Reference:
    • The premise is more than a little bit similar to the first two incarnations of A Star Is Born.
    • Singin' in the Rain is virtually a spiritual predecessor regarding the transition to talkies, though focused as a character piece on the emotional trials of the time period.
    • Charlie Chaplin's Limelight (though happier).
  • Wipe: Another effect from the silent era.
  • Women Drivers: Brakes? Telephone poles are Peppy's brakes!


Video Example(s):


George's Nightmare

For half an hour the viewer has been immersed in George Valentin's world of silent films, until immediately after a scene where he scoffs at the idea of talkies and synchronized sound, there's the sound of a whiskey tumbler on a tabletop, and it's just as jarring to the audience as it is to George. Things only get worse from there.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / NightmareSequence

Media sources: