There never was a movie like The Artist. A French movie without dialogue, it became an immediate success when first shown at the Cannes Film Festival, and after that, there was no stopping it. It won the New York critics award, the Golden Globe, the Academy Award, the British Academy Award ...- in fact, over 140 awards that year. And audiences loved it.
It was the year of Hugo, The Descendants, Moneyball, not to forget Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids. But The Artist conquered them all. All of the film’s exteriors were shot in Hollywood for obvious reasons. It was about Hollywood during the silent era, focusing on the relationship of an older silent film star and a rising young actress, just as silent cinema fell out of fashion and was replaced by the talkies. Director Michel Hazanavicius chose his actor-friend Jean Dujardin and actress-wife Bérénice Bejo to play the lovers. Both were nominated for dozens of awards, Dujardin winning both the Golden Globe and the Oscar as Best Actor. Hazanavicius won the Oscar but not the Golden Globe. Martin Scorsese claimed that prize for Hugo.
The only negative reaction concerned three minutes of music borrowed from Bernard Herrmann’s love theme from Vertigo. Critic Todd McCarthy was the first to point this out and it was greeted with a resounding so what. But Kim Novak, the once reigning queen of Hollywood who had starred in Vertigo, accused the film of no less than “rape” and the controversy flared.
Hazanavicius responded, “The Artist was made as a love letter to cinema, and grew out of my (and all of my cast and crew’s) admiration and respect for movies throughout history. It was inspired by the work of Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Lubitsch, Murnau, and Wilder. I love Bernard Herrmann and his music has been used in many different films and I’m very pleased to have it in mine. I respect Kim Novak greatly and I’m sorry to hear she disagrees.” The matter died when the Academy gave the film its Oscar for Best Score. Ironically, the excerpt used wasn’t taken from the Hitchcock film, but from a 1992 Elmer Bernstein recording of a later Herrmann composition “Scene d’Amour," which had been licensed. The other surprising irony, the film didn’t do that well at the box office, grossing only $45 million in the U.S. and Canada. It did much better overseas. Among American actors appearing in the film, there were John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missy Pile, and Ed Lauder. Malcolm McDowell also had a small part. And then, of course, there was the lovable Jack Russell terrier Uggie, who was honored with a special Uggie at the Cannes Film Festival.
He died two years ago, aged 13.