French filmmaker Michel Hazanvicius’ delightful 2011 Oscar Best Picture, which dips its toes into Singin’ in the Rain territory, The Artist, has been released on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.. The 100-minute film is presented in full screen format and is in black and white, and there is no dialog, although the story is so drenched in emotion and wound so tightly around the traditions of cinema that it makes Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie seem depthless. The story is about a successful silent film star, played by Jean Dujardin, who is unable to make the transition to talking pictures, and a What Price Hollywood?-type rising starlet, played by Bérénice Bejo, who cares for him. There is a lovable dog, too. The film plays out the melodrama of the actor’s decline and fall, however, in an almost pointillist fashion, in that every sequence is also a quotation from some film or some types of films, so that the closer you look at it, the more you see other movies. This even extends to the lovely original musical score—a marathon effort, to be sure—by Ludovic Bource—which drops its originality in one sequence and draws instead, lengthily and hauntingly, from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo. There is the adage in filmmaking that, ‘it has all been done before,’ but The Artist is more deliberately allusional. It celebrates moviemaking from every conceivable direction at once, whipping the viewer into its maelstrom of motion picture joy.
The black-and-white image is crisp and captivating. The quality of the BD presentation enhances, among other things, the film’s fabulous production design, so that the locations—such as the Bradbury Building stairwell, evocative of a Jerry Lewis production design, which shows Dujardin’s character on the way down meeting Bejo’s character on the way up, as extras breeze past them and around them in a mysteriously perfect rhythm—and costumes pelt the viewer continually with refreshing stimulation. The DTS sound gives the musical score—and a sequence or two that have audio effects—a rich, enveloping presence that saturates the viewer in the film’s immediacy. One warning, however, is in order. Because the film is so visually oriented—even more so than the standard, linear silent feature, it requires more concentration and attention than other movies, so make sure all of your distractions are tied down or battened up before you begin.
There are English subtitles (for the sound effects) and Spanish subtitles, along with a cute 2-minute blooper reel (mostly of the dog missing its cues), 34 minutes of good production featurettes (which lets you see some of the sets and costumes in color) although there are redundancies among them, a 5-minute piece about the many Los Angeles locations that were utilized (they didn’t just use Mary Pickford’s house—they used her bed), and a rewarding 45-minute question-and-answer piece with the filmmakers and stars in front of an audience. They talk quite a bit about the film’s unique nature and how that uniqueness affected the creative environment, sharing not just stories about the film’s production, but reflections on the meanings of what they wanted to accomplish. Supporting star James Cromwell, for example, analyzes in depth how the perspective of performing is altered when the inflections of dialog are not a priority of concentration. And everyone politely avoids mentioning that proud French tradition, so despised in America, without which the film could never have existed—mime.