"The Artist" is the first film I'm showing my film class tomorrow. It's a great film and a good one to start with because it is a silent film that celebrates old Hollywood when the sign on the hill said "Hollywoodland." Students will get to see a story told just in pictures--what Alfred Hitchcock referred to as "pure cinema."
This film got great reviews, five stars on Rotten Tomatoes, New York Times Critics Pick... It was nominated for ten academy awards and won five including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Costume Design and Best Original score.
The movie takes place in 1927, when silent films were golden, through 1929 with the coming of sound and the stock market crash, and all the way up until 1932. A silent film star, George Valentin, (surely a play on the silent film actor name Randolph "Valentino") gives a new star, Peppy Miller, her start and then their roles reverse and George is floundering in a world of "talkies" while Peppy flourishes. In this way it reminded me of the films "A Star is Born" (all three versions: Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand) though with a much happier ending.
Great supporting roles include a jack russell terrier, John Goodman as a studio boss, Penelope Ann Miller as George's first wife, Malcolm McDowell as the butler, and James Cromwell as George's chauffeur.
There are moments in the film that are so beautiful. One of them for me occurs when Peppy shows up at George's doorstep in the pouring rain apologizing for her film doing well and not his.
Hopefully my students won't find the range of emotions too melodramatic and hopefully they will enjoy the dance numbers that are Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers-quality. The best part of the film, for me, is how it portrays the ability of one person to bring another back from the brink of despair.