3D, phooey. IMAX, meh. Motion-capture, whatever. If you want real movie enchantment, forget the technical geegaws. "The Artist," a gleefully inventive, gloriously entertaining black-and-white silent, proves that less is more. It's a rocket to the moon fueled by unadulterated joy and pure imagination.
The story is set in Hollywood in the waning days of silent film. Yes, yes, you've heard this one before, but the old story has never been this well-told.
"The Artist" opens with a tuxedoed hero undergoing electroshock torture at the hands of Leninist-looking villains. As they amp up the voltage on machinery that looks borrowed from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," they command the prisoner to break his silence. "Speak! Speak!" the intertitles bellow. But they underestimate his determination. In short order the gentleman spy escapes, the adventure ends, and the film reframes itself as the glittering premiere of the feature we've just sampled, with the charmingly cocky star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) taking bows on the stage of a packed movie palace.
Valentin soaks up the crowd's adulation, upstages his leading lady and hams it up with his faithful Jack Russell terrier (played by the adorable Uggie). There's a clown's poetry in his body language, alongside the physical confidence of a matinee idol. When he exits the theater, so many autograph seekers crowd the red carpet that aspiring starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo ) is virtually pushed into his arms, and he good-naturedly invites her to pose for some gag photos.
George is on top of the world, but, as we know from "Sunset Boulevard" and "Singin' in the Rain," the arrival of talking pictures cut down silent stars like a plague. George's producer friend Al (a wonderfully expressive John Goodman) warns that times and tastes are changing, and audiences want the novelty of sound and fresh new talents.
Talents like Peppy, who has become the season's high-spirited "it" girl thanks to those gag photos with George. …