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Silence that says so much

'The Artist' offers nostalgia, plus subtle dig at modern cinema

Then Michel tacked on a soundtrack that ranged from jazz and pop standards to melodrama, all fitting perfectly to the scenes. In every scene, Michel pleases the eyes instead of assaulting the ears, augmenting both senses in the process.

As the leads, Dujardin and Bejo are breathtaking, too. Dujardin’s rugged good looks and comic timing bring attributes that made women swoon over Douglas Fairbanks and Clark Gable, and when he descends into darkness, it’s devastating. Bejo is enchanting and winsome, the sort of woman every man, attached or otherwise, would have a difficult time not falling in love with.

Add the support of John Goodman (as the studio boss), James Cromwell (as the faithful driver) and Penelope Ann Miller (as the suffering wife), among others, and the picture only gets richer. And yes, Uggie, that little Jack Russell Terrier, steals every single scene.

Above all, though, is that we notice something as The Artist proceeds. Somehow a laugh, a smile, a teardrop, every emotion is magnified without the distraction of people talking. And when that sound does show up (at two well-timed moments), it’s jarring and almost scary.

You also notice the details up on the screen, whether it’s a portrait or a carving or a house or a set. Lacking the sound, you find that your other senses make up for it in an endless exploration of all the small details that might get lost if someone is making noise.

This brings us, perhaps, to the larger point of The Artist. Film in the early 21st century is a full-on assault on the senses because, well, that’s what the film companies have decided. They think we want 3D everything, big budgets, sequels, remakes, sequels of remakes, scant attention to quality. What’s more, anything old is a mortal sin.

What The Artist reminds us is that such sentiments are far from new. George Valentin is dead weight the moment pictures gain sound. It doesn’t matter how popular or beloved he is. Once technology advances and Hollywood sees other profit centers, human talent is cast aside.

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