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From Under A Rock: The Artist

October 1, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: The Artist  


Would it be appropriate to stay silent about this week’s film? Maybe, but we’re writers, so don’t count on it.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Twin Peaks. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him The Artist.

The Artist
Released: October 12th, 2011 (France)
Written and Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Jean Dujardin as George Valentin
Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller
John Goodman as Al Zimmer
James Cromwell as Clifton
Uggie as the dog, Jack

Aaron Hubbard: This is one Michael requested, but I am a fan of the film. It’s one of the first movies I went out of my way to see because of the critical praise, as I was transitioning from being invested in writing about wrestling to wanting to be a film critic. So it has a bit of nostalgia for me.

Michael Ornelas: My roommate told me this was a silent film right before I started watching it (somehow that escaped me or I forgot), and I was ready to be bored out of my mind. I watched the movie in three separate sittings (because my work schedule has been crazy this week) and I kept falling asleep because there wasn’t any dialogue to dissect, and the music was soothing (and I’d be watching at 1AM). All that said, I absolutely adored this film.
Movies About Movies
Aaron: I don’t know if it’s big enough to really be considered a genre, but there a lot of films about Hollywood over the years. From Sunset Boulevard and Singin’ in the Rain in the 1950s to last year’s La La Land. Unsurprisingly, it’s a pretty popular topic in Oscar Bait films. Hell, another 2011 Best Picture nominee was Hugo, itself a love letter to classic films and the fight to preserve them. The Artist is one of the most affectionate to the history of film, taking place in a critical moment as movies transitioned from silent to talkies. And it goes to great pains to recreate films of its era; the expressive actors, the dancing and physical comedy, the way sets are shown in camera, and the aspect ratio. While the “silent movie” premise is a gimmick, it’s fully committed to presenting it. How do you feel about “movies about movies”?

Michael: I can take them or leave them, in that it’s not going to compel me to see something if it doesn’t look good. That said, a couple of my favorite films are in that subcategory (such as Bowfinger). I probably appreciate them a little more now because I work for Paramount, so I understand them a little bit better). This movie got a great deal of its charm by being easy and breezy about Hollywood while still having something to say. It wasn’t this huge critique saying that the industry itself is problematic; it simply covered one man’s struggle to cope with his newfound irrelevance as the industry passed him by with a sudden shift.

Aaron: I think that last bit is what keeps the movie timely. Obviously we don’t have jumps as big as going from silent movies to talkies, but technology is always advancing and adjusting to it can be difficult. How can smaller films hope to compete with $150 million blockbusters? I really enjoyed that concept.
The Technique of Reliving the Era
Michael: While my gut reaction to knowing this would be a silent film was negative, I immediately bought into it when I saw just how well they recreated the techniques of the era. First off, despite lacking dialogue, this may be one of the most perfect musical scores of all time. The live orchestra aspect was pitch perfect and swapped tone as quickly as a character could change expressions. The foley work was kept to a minimum, but still enhanced the film in its opportune moments, and hearing the sound completely drop out a few times reminded us what we were watching. It was an expertly executed film, and I can see why The Academy loved it.

Aaron: The technical aspects of this film stand out most to me. When we hear total silence is critically important, but the film also makes great use of sound when it wants to. The nightmare sequence where sound creeps into Valentin’s life is probably the film’s best scene. And it makes it a little less jarring when sound is used for the ending.

Michael: Yeah, and it also had a lot of fun little tongue-in-cheek references to the fact that the audience couldn’t hear what was being said. They reveled in denying us ultimately unimportant information whenever the characters spoke at length without a dialogue box.
Poor Characters, Great Casting
Aaron: Jean Dujardin’s Oscar-winning performance here is a testament to his tremendous talent and charisma. He has to rely almost entirely on his physical acting, but he makes George Valentin a memorable character. And after a few viewings, I have to say that’s impressive. Valentin is not a particularly layered character, or one who has a lot of likable traits, except for his charm and talent. If Dujardin didn’t have the actual charm and talent to pull it off, the film would likely just be a curiosity. For me, the casting elevates a so-so story with poor characters.

Michael: I don’t necessarily view the lack of depth to the characters as a flaw of the movie, as much as a limitation of the medium. Without words to express what the characters think, it really is tough to flesh them out as fully. I wholeheartedly agree that the casting was perfect though and gave these characters everything they required to stay afloat. The simplicity of the plot and the characters is also a throwback to the times, so as far as I’m concerned, that actually elevates the movie for me.

Aaron: The best idea here was that George’s refusal to transition to talkies mirrors his inability to communicate in the real world; his marriage falls apart, he can’t express his problems to Peppy or accept her help. But for me, when he gets depressed, there just isn’t a lot of reason to cheer for him. Aside from the fact that the film and Peppy want us to root for him. It was clever enough the first time but I need more substance to make it something worth watching over and over.

Michael: I liked everything about this film from a technical perspective, as well as a performance perspective. It’s not the most compelling story, but it’s told in a compelling fashion, and there’s a dog in the movie. An adorable, Hollywood-trained dog. And I love dogs.


Aaron: I’ve seen this movie a few times now, and while I definitely still like it a lot, some of the flaws stick out a bit more. George Valentin is a pretty shallow character and I have trouble caring about the last stretch of the film. As a showcase of film technique and charismatic actors, it’s still worth a look.


Michael: I didn’t expect to like this more than you!

Aaron: I was charmed the first time, I just probably didn’t need the repeat viewings.

What is your favorite Hollywood throwback?

Next week:

Michael: I’ve only seen my next pick one time, but it left a huge impression on me and I’m excited to see how much I love it on second viewing. I’m sure I’ll like it even more.
Aaron: Ah, back to horror month. This one’s reputation precedes it and I’m pretty excited.

Michael: Horror month is my favorite month we do. Say, what if we did exclusively themed next year?

What themed-months should we do for picks next year? Foreign? Best Picture Winners? So Bad They’re Good? Leave us ideas down below!

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth, Raging Bull, Thank You for Smoking, John Wick, Mulholland Drive, The Karate Kid, Lucky Number Slevin, The Searchers, Black Dynamite, Labyrinth, Rick & Morty, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Abyss, Seven Samurai, Bio-Dome, Memento, L.A. Confidential, Tangled, T2: Judgment Day, Wonder Woman, The Way Way Back, Rebel Without a Cause, Predator, Before Sunrise, Evil Dead II, Planet of the Apes, Wet Hot American Summer, Tombstone, The Core, American Graffiti, León: The Professional, Steel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Logan, Tusk, Ghost in the Shell, Twin Peaks, The Artist

Aaron Has Another Column!
Stanley Kubrick Month ends with his underappreciated final film, as Tom Cruise stars in Eyes Wide Shut. Next week: Blade Runner!

Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for almost 900 films. Recent reviews include It, The King’s Speech and Boyhood.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
The Artist is definitely worth seeing once, even if you don't think you'll buy into a silent movie. The actors are charismatic and talented, the story is fun, the technical aspects are impressive and the dog is just the cutest thing. But repeat viewings probably aren't necessary; it's more of a showcase film than a timeless gem.