The Artist starts with the marquee for, "A Russian Affair" starring George Valentin. Our hero is on screen being tortured with electrodes to his head. The villains in white medic coats keep asking for the information, and he refuses to tell them what he knows. They put the voltage as high as it can go. He passes out. The screen goes to the audience who are dressed up in formal wear, with jewels, fans, tuxedos and a full orchestra playing for the movie background music. As our hero is dragged back to his cell, and left unconscious, the audience is clearly disturbed and worried as they whisper to one another and put their hands on their chests. Back on screen in the background, you see the shadow of an animal come to the bars of the jail cell. It’s a Jack Russell terrier that proceeds to lick the face of the hero, and he regains consciousness. The audience is relieved. Back stage of the movie, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), has arrived in a tuxedo with tails and is greeting everyone. The producer (John Goodman) is smoking a cigar, waiting to hear the response from the audience, sitting next to him is a woman dressed up in twenties flapper outfit. Onscreen, the hero and the dog get out of the cell, knock out the guard, and rescue another prisoner in another cell the woman dressed up sitting back stage. Back stage, George greets the female lead, and she gives him a fake smile and is brooding. George watches the end of the film from the back of the movie screen where they race to the airfield and successfully start a plane and fly away to freedom. The movie ends. The lights go up, and the audience wildly applauds.
George steps on stage to the applause from the audience. He takes his time drinking in the attention, and deliberately does not invite the leading lady out. Next, he invites the dog out, and he does tricks with the dog. FINALLY, he invites the leading lady out, gives her a very short time to enjoy the applause before escorting her back off the stage and going back out himself with the dog for more applause. The leading lady is very angry and leaves in a huff.
Outside the movie theater, George stops for photos. There are many women behind a velvet rope, anxious to have him sign programs, or simply touch him, as he steps back so the photographers can get better photos. A woman (Bérénice Bejo) drops her purse and has no option to pick it up unless she goes under the rope. As she picks up her purse, she bumps into George. They all freeze for several seconds, each wondering what to do, and finally George smiles and makes light of the situation. She then smiles and poses flirtatiously and gives him an impulsive kiss on the cheek that is caught in one of the photos.
The next morning, George is eating breakfast with his wife and she is not speaking to him due to the gossip rag that shows the picture of the kiss on the cheek, and the headline, ‘Who is that girl?’. When he realizes what is upsetting her, he laughs and picks up his dog putting him on the table next to him. Together they go thru a very cute routine of being contrite and asking forgiveness. As they both high their heads under their arm/paw the artist’s nose gets whip cream. The wife leaves the table in disgust and he turns to his dog. The dog licks off the whipped cream from his nose.
Next, you see the woman from the photo, holding that gossip rag and riding the bus. She gets dropped off at Kinoscope pictures and auditions for a part as an extra in a film. The guy asks for 3 ladies that can dance so she and two others audition and get the part. The guy asks her name, and she says Peppy Miller and strikes a pose.
Next, you see a chauffeur driving a fancy car enter the same Kinoscope lot and George is in the back seat with his dog. They get out and are filming a new silent movie A German Affair. The producer is angry about the gossip rag. ‘So much attention on the first page from the antics, that they don’t mention the name of the film until Page 9!’ George waves this off and then he notices the shapely legs of one of the dancers who is practicing behind a screen that only shows from her knees down. She is facing away from the screen as she practices. George mimics her dance moves for fun. You see the legs stop dancing and turn towards the screen and then do another part of the routine. George mimics that too. He then asks the guys to move the screen as she is dancing and they both recognize each other from the incident. The producer is so angry that it’s that woman again, and Peppy is so embarrassed that she turns away and thinks she is fired. George steps in and says come on, we have a lot of work to do today. The producer backs down, and she smiles and realizes he stepped in to save her job.
Next you have the first few takes of the new movie ‘A German Affair’. George walks across a room of dancing people. He first bumps into Peppy, dances with her, then moves on to dance with a really big bouncer type man, and then finally makes is to a table to sit and pass coded messages to a German officer. Through a sequence of takes, you see chemistry between George and Peppy where they enjoy the same humor and playfulness during the dance scenes.
Afterwards, Peppy goes to George’s dressing room to thank him. He is not there, so she leaves a thank you on his mirror. Then notices his tux, she does a pantomime as if as if his jacket were holding her. You see that she really likes him. He comes in and sees her pantomiming with his jacket she is embarrassed. He tells her if she wants to stand out as an actress that she needs to have something the others don’t and he puts a small beauty mark on her upper lip. They almost look like they are going to kiss, but the chauffeur comes in and so she leaves.
Peppy decides to heed his advice and keeps the beauty mark. The next is a montage of Peppy in several films and you see her name rising higher to the headliner position.
George is called into a room with the producer, and he shows him a talking picture. The leading lady from the beginning of the movie is cast as Juliet and waxing on about Romeo. You don’t hear anything, but you see the large microphone and get that this is a talking picture. George laughs and says the audience will not want to pay to see talking pictures.
He goes back to his dressing room, and you ‘hear’ him put a glass down on the table. He notices that sound too and other sounds, women talking, wind thru the trees, traffic noise, everything. He realizes how crystal clear all these sounds will be in the movies. He screams, "No" but there is no sound.
The next day George comes on site and all production of silent films has been stopped. Kinoscope is retooling to do only talking pictures. George storms into the producer’s office, sees the lineup of fresh new faces for the talking pictures, and see’s Peppy’s photo. He claims he doesn’t need the producer anymore and will create his own movies.
As he leaves he passes Peppy on a stairway. She recognizes him, is happy to see him, says she just signed with Kinoscope and hopes now they can be in another movie together. She gives him her phone number and has him promise to call her. He asks her about her entourage of two men, and she tells him ‘They are just toys’.
Next is a montage of George writing checks and directing ‘A Jungle Affair ‘ a silent film that he is bankrolling. It is set to open on Oct 24, and that is the same date as Peppy’s talking film “Beauty Mark”.
George is out to dinner, and behind him, Peppy enters the restaurant and does an interview with a radio show. They ask her why she is so popular and she says audiences don’t want to pay to see actors mugging to the camera they want to hear them. So, the old need to make way for the new. At this point, George gets up, touches her shoulder and says I am making way for you. He leaves the restaurant. Peppy is very hurt that she said those comments.
A few days before his film opening, George receives word that that stock market has crashed. He is washed up unless his film is a huge hit. On opening day, only a few people come to watching his film. Peppy is in the balcony with one of her beau’s and is truly caught up with the story and cries at the end. The Artist is disgusted with the lack of attendance and goes outside to see the line of people waiting to see Peppy’s talking movie. He goes home and sees a note from his wife that they have 2 weeks to pack up belongings and get out to the house, she wants a divorce. The doorbell rings. It’s Peppy, trying to tell him that she saw his movie and he provides a snub that she was right, no one wants to pay to see actors mugging to the camera. He beau comes up and says, "My dad loves your movies." Which shows George is outdated.
One year later, George now lives in a one room apartment with a bed that folds into the wall. He is divorced and lives with his dog. George is broke. He needs to sell all of his favorite art works and possessions. His popularity is so low that only 5 people turn out for the auction. Everything is sold. As he walks away, you see the Peppy is the one who purchased his items in secret.
George continues to spiral downward. He sells his tux for booze. While watching his old movies in his apartment he finally confronts his own pride. For being so proud, this is now where he is, broke and alone. He sets fire to all his old movies except for one that he clutches to his chest. He passes out from the smoke and his dog saves him by getting help. Peppy reads about the fire and goes to the hospital.The doctors tell her that he’s out of the woods and just needs to rest. She notices a film canister. They say he wouldn’t let it go. When she looks at the film, it’s the scenes of them dancing from their first movie together. She asks the doctor if he can rest at her house. George awakes in one of her bedrooms. Peppy and George share a fun chatty breakfast. When she has to leave for the studio he gets very quiet and sullen.
Back on the movie set Peppy convinces the producer to create a role for George in “A Sparkle of Love”. The producer agrees, and she has the script sent over to her house for George to read. George‘s pride comes back. He snubs the script. George goes downstairs, and the dog leads him to a room that has all his art that was auctioned off. He realized Peppy purchased all his items. He is disgusted by the pity and leaves to return to his burned out studio apartment. Peppy comes home, notices he’s gone and that he has found out she purchased his former belongings. She realizes he might do something drastic, calls for chauffer and finally drives herself to his old apartment.
At the apartment, George takes down a box and puts it on a foot stool. Peppy is weaving in and out of traffic. She is not a great driver. George opens the box and picks up a small gun. Peppy is still driving erratically to his house. George puts the gun in his mouth, his dog starts pulling on his pant leg. BANG! You see that Peppy has crashed the car into the tree out front. George has stood to see what the noise is, and Peppy enters the room. She apologizes. She just wanted to thank him for being so nice to her when she was starting out. She says he should do the film with her, and he says no one wants to hear him speak. Then her face brightens up and she has an idea.
You next see George and Peppy doing a dance routine to the producer. He’s leaning forward smoking his cigar and says ‘I love it’. Cut to Peppy and George dressed up in tux and white dress, you hear music and then hear them tap dancing. At the end of the dance, the music stops and you hear them panting.You then hear the producer breath and ask the camera man what do you think? He replies, ‘I think that’s a wrap.’
The producer says just one thing can I see that again?
You finally get to hear George say, ‘ With Pleasure,” in a very thick French accent.
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