The Artist definitely piqued my curiosity when I saw ia trailer for it at an an indy theatre months ago. After falling off my radar, it came to my attention again after hearing so many good things through my trusted network of curators.
As the trailer clearly shows, Artist is a contemporary silent film about the transition to talkies. And it is in exploring this once cutting edge medium that we gain a new appreciation for the role sounds plays in cinema, and storytelling in general.
When you take away the tool of recorded speech, the storytelling changes in a fundamental way, as everything must be conveyed visually. The acting is far more exaggerated, facial expressions become critical, and the entire film becomes a physical experience for the actors, relying on few queue placards here and there to fill in key pieces of dialogue.
Music is used throughout, and must carefully be dialed up and down to set mood, without overshadowing the performance of the actors. Just as dramatic is the absence of sound. In this way, I realize that Ajax speaks the language of silent film. And, if a story is good, you don’t actually need all the modern tools to convey it.
A similar example to this is found in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where the main character is actually mute (a chimp), and large pieces of the plot are conveyed entirely through body language and facial expressions. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that the Monkey is entirely CG.
When we take away some of the tools we are used to using to convey story, I believe it can make us better storytellers, as the core of the narrative now must come through, there is no relying on sound as a tool for compensation for a weak story, weak characters, weak plot.
There are some hidden treats in how Artist uses sound, and I highly recommend it both as a fun film and a great study in the mechanics of sound as a storytelling tool.