|Actors Jean Dujardin (L) plays George Valentin and Berenice Bejo plays Peppy Miller in a scene from the film "The Artist". (Courtesy The Weinstein Company/Handout)
The Artist proved that the impossible can still happen. It may never happen like this again.
Enjoy the magic, especially because The Artist is now available in a gorgeous combo pack (DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy), as well as on DVD and as a digital download. You can luxuriate in a marvellous movie that defies logic.
I was there at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival when French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius' opus made its world premiere. Expectations were modest, even after it charmed audiences, created a buzz and generated a best actor prize for Jean Dujardin from the Cannes jury.
It was not difficult to understand the scepticism. Many Cannes award-winners go missing-in-action later, especially when they lack elements thought to guarantee worldwide success.
The Artist was lacking the obvious. It is a French-made film about the 1920s era of silent filmmaking in Hollywood. Movies about movies usually die at the box office. The leads are (or were) unknowns outside of Europe: Hazanavicius' Argentinian-born wife, Berenice Bejo, and their actor pal Dujardin, who plays the handsome matinee idol at the heart of the story. Even the international support players, such as John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell and James Cromwell, are not marquee names.
More critically, The Artist is a black-and-white silent film itself. In addition to lacking sound dialogue -- except for two brief lines heard at the end as a tease -- it was made in the style of a real silent movie, with a reverence for the techniques of the era and a surrender to the 1.33:1 film ratio of most early movies.
So The Artist was doomed. Even Hazanavicius was resigned to failure. Yet people around the world did finally pay to see it, albeit on a small scale compared to a Hollywood blockbuster.
The Artist started winning awards. Then, in February, it became the first silent film to win the best picture Oscar since the first Academy Awards in 1929. Extraordinary! Hazanavicius won as best director. Ludovic Bource earned the Academy Award for his exceptional music score, essential to a silent picture.
"I still can't believe it," Dujardin told me, with champagne glass in hand, at the closing night of this year's Cannes filmfest. "It's still a dream!"
Dujardin beat George Clooney for the best actor Oscar on a night when The Artist earned a total of five awards out of its 10 nominations.
That dream is fully realized on DVD and Blu-ray. A series of making-of docs and featurettes take us behind the scenes, in particular with Hazanavicius, Bejo, Dujardin, Goodman, Cromwell and femme support players Missy Pyle and Penelope Ann Miller.
Intelligent outsiders, such as film critic and producer Wade Major, provide historian context for the silent era, including how sound "rocked an entire industry."
Cromwell sets a modern context. "It's movie magic," Cromwell says. "It's a love story, not only about a man and a woman, it's a love story about motion pictures!"
The Artist, which kicks off in 1927, chronicles what happens to Dujardin's matinee idol -- who was inspired by Douglas Fairbanks -- when sound is introduced. Bejo plays the "It Girl" who thrives with the new technology. Their love story stings, because of circumstances, but is pure and elegant.
"He's created an experience that moves an audience that is used to not paying attention to what happens within the frame," Cromwell says of Hazanavicius' magician's trick. Audiences must now pay close attention to every nuance and gesture.
Some years ago, legendary silent film actress Lillian Gish told me that she wished all pictures had remained silent. She thought silents were more universal and expressive than talkies. Gish would have loved The Artist.