What I Learned from “The Artist”

Last night I saw “The Artist” thinking, “so how can a movie with no dialogue be worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Picture?”

Mystery solved. The story centers on Valentin, a big star of silent movies, who misses the shift to the “talkies” and his relationship with Peppy as she becomes America’s sweetheart. I am still thinking today about how much there was to learn from this unique movie.

Resist change at your own peril. The movie spans just five years from 1927 to 1932.  At the start of the movie, Valentin, was on top of the silent movie world. Yet, he made one big mistake when he assumed that “talkies will never make it – the public will never want this.” By 1932, silent movies were nearly a thing of the past, as well as the silent stars who made them. Valentin’s pride and success left him too comfortable to accept that the ground was shifting and fast.

I’ve seen this “movie” before! My mind wandered to “social media is a fad,” “no one will ever buy music one song a time” or “that won’t work, we have always done it this way.”  Those who embraced the new way moved on and left the others behind in a blink of an eye.

Communication is a lot more than words. It was amazing that I could follow the plot and emotions of the actors without one single word. It reminded me that the words used are far from the whole story. Non-verbals deserve some new attention.  Didn’t “body language” disappear as a fad of the 90’s? After this movie, I have a new appreciation for it today. But, it would be a lot simpler if life had a sound track.

Big careers have big mentors. I won’t spoil the story, but both Valentin & Peppy greatly benefit by someone with power saying “if you want me, you’ll need to include this person too.” They each did that for each other, but in different ways. In the grab for power, money and prestige, the real difference in their careers came down to a mentor willing to stick their neck out when they needed it most. This truth is not limited to the movie business.

Old school can be made new. Can you imagine the producer or writer who said, “I have this great idea. We’ll make a silent movie and use music and a few statements on the screen to tell our story. I’d love your help.” Think of the rejection and dismissals along the way. I feel sure that no one was asking for a new silent movie! But, they made this fresh, yet nostalgiac movie to big applause by making an old experience very new and relevant.

This will be like no movie you have seen before. It did take me a few minutes to mentally downshift to this new style and what must have been the norm 90 years ago. If you are borderline, go to the theater and get some popcorn. It just won’t be the same silent experience in front of your TV at home.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @pattibjohnson or her company PeopleResults @people_results.