This week, a minor controversy erupted online when Kim Novak, star of the 1958 film “Vertigo,” took out an advertisement in Hollywood trade publications to object to “The Artist,” an utterly charming silent film set during the transition from silents to talkies in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In question was the film’s use of the “Love Theme” from “Vertigo,” a music cue so utterly and completely married to Hitchcock’s classic that while I found its use in “The Artist” unobjectionable, I did find myself listening to the music more than watching the movie for a few minutes!
Director Michel Hazanavicius has defended his use of the music, which is unfortunately overshadowing Ludovic Bource’s original music for the film. Bource’s score fills all but four of the tracks on the official soundtrack to “The Artist.” And while the soundtrack does not include the Bernard Herrmann cue from “Vertigo,” a sharp-eared listener will find references to Herrmann’s score for “Citizen Kane,” which are matched visually in the film, itself a loving tribute to the movies.
As befitting a silent film, the soundtrack opens with an overture, and then introduces the characters and setting through melodies that are alternately lush and romantic, or bouncy and jovial, evoking the happy-go-lucky era 1920s Hollywood – or, at least the way we thought it was.
Both “George Valentin” (named for the title character) and the “Fantasie D’Amour” are based on a jazzy riff that’ll put a spring in your step. The “Waltz for Peppy” is love in full bloom. Later in the score, we get to the long, linear lines of “In the Stairs,” as Valentin’s star begins to fade, and his love Peppy Miller ascends to superstardom as a singing, dancing, talking movie star. It’s at the end of this cue that you may hear a faint echo of the opening chords of “Citizen Kane,” by Bernard Herrmann.
As the plot of “The Artist” develops, the music becomes a more urgent. Valentin, obsessed by his inability to keep up with the times, becomes despondent and almost does the unthinkable. His plucky puppy comes through for him, and the film ends with a triumphant dance number. Bource’s music here is reminiscent of the classic big band sound favored by Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson, with a touch of Hollywood thrown in.
“The Artist” was one of my favorite movies of 2011, and had me smiling for most of its running time. The soundtrack is equally as magical to listen to!