I slightly regret the sarcastic quip which began my last feature on Sofia Coppola's Somewhere. 'Most films have a soundtrack' I jibed. Ha ha. Turns out The Artist doesn't, per-se. It has a various and varying array of bombastic sounds that narrate, voice and create delightful pastiche; all in honour of the bygone silent movie generation.

Landing at the deep end of an unknown, silent-movie-shaped pool, we instinctively use music to help grapple with the concept of Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, which centre's upon the 1920s equivalent of an fashion intern: rising star Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo, and her relationship with ageing actor George Valentin, delivered well by Jean Dujardin. It all looks, and sounds, pretty fantastic.

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It's a pretty obvious subversion of expectation which comes with the absence of dialogue. Essentially, we don't have a choice when sponging all we can off of the music: we have nothing else to fall back upon. In this sense, it doesn't even really matter what we're even listening to. It's the drive of sound that makes an impact.

It is music's ability to honour a story which is the main function of the soundtrack. Simply, The Artist isn't saying anything new; musical accompaniments have honoured cinematic releases for around a hundred years. But there is a purpose for the return of the silent franchise besides its rather trendy, current against-the-grain status: it allows us to celebrate the arts in their entirety; image and sound; as both raw products, shone bright in a movie which is entirely conceptual.

The film's success hasn't sprouted out of an essentially menial award season-based context; or in fact because it was shot in black and white; or even necessarily because it's 'different'. It's all of these things, combined: Hazanavicius rightly notes that the movie is a celebration of the last 100 years of film.

And my gosh does it get large. There is no guessing on the headcount of orchestral personnel that create the buoyant, pompous and sincere sounds permeating through the stories' jagged narrative, but the music reminds us that like any good 'Artist', the film understands its purpose.

Getting to specific tracks, 'A Russian Affair's sinister string ensemble does best to make us 'feel' an old-school Hollywood sense of dramatic urgency, and is a favoured inclusion of mine, but Ludovic Bource's score isn't just big dramatic sounds. It's more often intricately beautiful, articulate and poised. The Main Theme nods to a Chaplin-esque cheek; melodic wind and cheeky percussion skit about in ode to a simple whimsy so often lacking now; in an 'ironic' sub-culture that so often attacks art in our age. Other responses to the notion of 'cinema' are dealt with romantically: charm and unkempt passion is at its' best in the beautiful 'Waltz For Peppy'. Naturally, the healthy feminine response to all this comes from Billie Holliday's 'Pennies from Heaven', "There'll be pennies from heaven for you and me."

Bringing The Artist up-to-date, Valentin's concern with relating to a 'modern' world (a silent movie actor refusing to transfer to the 'talkies') seem less novel in 2012 than they would have done in 1930: The Artist's internal message is displayed against the current moral and passion-fuelled challenges the music industry currently faces, as we turn to logical reasoning to piece together how our industry will survive in a world where physical product need not exist in order to enjoy the sounds of the studio. Perhaps, if there is a need for further relation to The Artist, this is it.

The film reminds us that music's truest function is to please, whilst provoking emotive responses which make us grapple with our inner-expectations and thus re-allow ourselves to love art for art's sake, once more.

Here's to the next hundred years.



Tracklist:

  • 1. The Artist Ouverture
  • 2. 1927, A Russian Affair
  • 3. George Valentin
  • 4. Pretty Peppy
  • 5. At the Kinograph Studio
  • 6. Love Fantasy
  • 7. Waltz for Peppy
  • 8. Estancia Opus 8 – Brussels Philharmonic
  • 9. Imagination – Red Nichols & His Five Pennies
  • 10. Silent Rumble
  • 11. 1929
  • 12. In the Stairs
  • 13. Jubilee Stomp – Duke Ellington
  • 14. Like a Rosée of Tears
  • 15. The Sound of Tears
  • 16. Pennies from Heaven – Rose Murphy
  • 17. 1931
  • 18. Jungle Bar
  • 19. Shadow of the Flames
  • 20. Happy Ending
  • 21. Charming Blackmail
  • 22. Ghosts from the Past
  • 23. My Suicide (Dedicated to 03.29.1967)
  • 24. Peppy & George