'The Artist' is the buzz at the TCM Classic Film Festival
A silent black-and-white homage to Hollywood's early days, "The Artist" was name-checked several times at festival Q&As, in concession lines and in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel where attendees mingled between films.
The ubiquity of "The Artist" at the festival, which was attended by more than 25,000 people Thursday to Sunday, suggests the symbiotic relationship the movie has had from the beginning with ardent classic film fans. Outlets like TCM, which plays silent films on Sunday nights and programmed several silents at its festival, have helped stoke the fan base, while a well-funded Oscar campaign for the French movie about a silent era star (Jean Dujardin) having trouble transitioning to talkies brought newcomers into the fold.
At a sold-out screening of Douglas Fairbanks' "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924) on Sunday night at the Egyptian theater, Fairbanks' biographer Jeffrey Vance described meeting "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius at a party and learning that Fairbanks had inspired the character played by Jean Dujardin.
"Thanks to 'The Artist,' people are curious about Douglas Fairbanks now," Vance told the crowd, seeming almost stunned to be newly hip.
"I love your Peppy hat!" a festival-goer shouted across the courtyard, a reference to Peppy Miller, the character in "The Artist" played by Berenice Bejo.
"The Artist" wasn't the only 2012 Oscar contender sparking interest over the weekend -- Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," in which Ben Kingsley plays turn-of-the-century cinema pioneer Georges Melies, helped draw a crowd to a collection of films from the era curated by French film producer and historian Serge Bromberg.
Festival chatter around both films was a combination of gratitude-- for highlighting a beloved era -- and superiority.
Debbie Reynolds noted the similarities between the story line for "Singin' in the Rain," (1952), which she was on hand to discuss at a screening at Grauman's Chinese Theater on Saturday night, and "The Artist," both of which detail Hollywood's evolution from silents to talkies.
Reynolds told The New York Post she preferred her own film, saying of "The Artist": “It’s not in color, and it doesn’t have Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. And its musical numbers aren’t as good."
The silent era's vocal fan base will have plenty of outlets for debate in coming months. "The Artist" will be released on Blu-ray on June 26, and TCM announced that its festival, introduced as a branding experiment in 2010, will become a permanent fixture on the film festival circuit, returning to Hollywood in April 2013.
— Rebecca Keegan
Photos: Top: Fans line up outside Grauman's Chinese Theater for the TCM classic film festival; "Girl Shy" screens with a live orchestra at the Egyptian Theater. Credits: TCM