Individual Critical Analysis: The Artist (2011)

Music has shaped our experience of film from the earliest of time, “one of the most powerful emotional prompts in film, encouraging us to empathise with onscreen characters.” (Kathryn Kalinak 2010, p.5) 

This critical analysis aims to explore the silent film The Artist (Hazanzvicius, 2011). I will investigate how important and relevant music can be within film, how music has impacted film throughout history and why it still continues to do so. I will also be looking into the historical aspects of music within film, and whether music is essential within the film industry.

The Artist’s (2011) narrative and music soundtrack will be analysed to determine if music can truly make a difference in film to an audience, how music alone allows films to have a greater potential. 

Music within the film industry now receives a great deal of recognition; this can be seen by the abundance of music awards available for film scores, including the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, César Award for Best Original Music and Golden Globes Best Original Soundtrack. In a contemporary society it’s clear now, how music can stand alone against a films backdrop, wheres in the past film music was seen as secondary. There is clear link between a powerful music score or soundtrack and the audiences ability to connect with the film. As Peter Rothbart states, “good film music supports the story, and a skilfully composed musical cue can serve both technical and aesthetic functions.” (Rothbart 2013, p.12) 

The Artist uses music to strongly support the film throughout. Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, the stories narrative centres around the history of silent film. The Artist opens with us being introduced to the protagonist, famous silent movie actor George (Jean Dujardin) with the fame of the silent film at its peak. We are then shown the slow decline as the film production companies began to invest in sound. We follow his journey as he struggles through a lost phase, with the invention of sound comes the death of his career. George’s character epitomises actors of the silent era who’s careers were cut short. The most notable “John Gilbert, one of the most famous stars of silent films, saw his career crumble because his high tenor voice didn’t mesh with the public perception of him as a dashing romantic hero” (Dixon, Foster, 2008, p.95) 

The narrative also crosses over with Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) an upcoming actress and dancer, who first meets George at the height of his career, when upon meeting she poses for photos with him. The next day making the front page, opening her slow journey to fame. Through the new use of sound in film Peppy becomes a rising star, however she doesn’t forget how George’s fame from the silent era helped initiate her place within the film industry. The Artist is a tribute to what the silent films had to offered. This is mirrored within its narrative. 

The Artist was the first black and white film since 1993 to win an Academy Award for best picture. Demonstrating how even without colour or action packed drama, music can really capture an audience on another level. The Artist’s use of music was crucial in capturing the structure of the narrative, because of no dialogue. Cohen states, “As narrative film developed, along came the music—the single piano accompanist or, in the movie palaces, the organ or full-scale orchestra.” (Cohen, 2001, p.162) 

Film score reviewer Broxton pointed out The Artist’s music had to show every direction of the films narrative without overwhelming the film. (Broxtom, 2011) 

Evidence to show how music works so well within the film, can be seen by the films Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture, and also Best Original Score (Golden Globes, 2012), again linking how successful both platforms can be together. A study from Kurt London in 1936 stated how music’s ability to provide harmony through structured, recognisable rhythms made it indispensable to film. (Kalinak, 2010) In keeping with the films tribute to the silent film era, the music was exhibited as it would during the early 1920s. As the composer for The Artist Bource states “the screen was small like the golden age, and the sound mix wasn’t surround sound.” (Ludovic Bource, 2013) 

Music has shaped the experience of film from the creation of cinema, films have been mostly accompanied by music. From piano players in the corner of the screen churning out popular tunes, to the movie theatres where large orchestras accompanied the images on the sliver screen, film music flourished. (Miller, 1983) . 

Music also had a practical purpose as it muffled the noise created from the projector. Film historian Kevin Brownlow stated that “It was the aim of the exhibitor to eradicate the silence from silent pictures.” (Brownlow, 1968, p.338) 

For silent films there were various ways in which music could be used. Miller pointed out how different kinds of accompaniment developed for the silents. Improvisations performed by a pianist or organist, allowed the music to fit with the mood and pace of the film, sound effects (bells, door knocks) were often integrated, creating a connection to the screen. Another musical accompaniment was the pre-arranged musical extracts performed usually by an orchestra. (Miller, 1982-1983) The Artist demonstrates how the sound was used within the silent film era. Sound is presented in the opening scene as it’s set within a cinema, were an orchestra is used to enhance the audiences emotional response, much like how orchestras are used in the theatrical performances.

The Artist pays tribute to the history of music and shows how important and relevant music can be, as at first we do not see that the orchestra is producing the sound. As Kalinak states “In fact, mood music became so central to silent film accompaniment that it was often played on the set to motivate the actors during filming.” (Kalinak, 2010 p.44) 

Silent films relied upon music to portray the narrative of the film, without the use of dialogue music played a vital part in conveying the emotional journey of the character. “Film music can also create and resonate emotion between the screen and the audience.” (Kalinka, 2010, p.4) 

The Artists composer Ludovic Bource, states that his inspiration for the film’s music was taken from the style of the golden age composers, such as Max Steiner, Franz Wazman,  paying specific tribute to composer Bernard Herrmann. “For me the music is just a love letter to the golden age.” (Bource, 2013) 

The Artist even used ‘Love Scene’ composed by Bernard Herrmann at the end. Bournce also researched scores from Charlie Chaplin’s films, to identify the way in which music strengthened silent films. As Broxton pointed out, Bource had to look back at how the silent films used sound, since the release of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, (Chaplin, 1936) seen as at the last significant conventional silent film, no one had scored films like it since 1936. (Broxton, 2011)

Another reason an audience can connect to a film more through music, is from the use of melodic motifs. Melodic motifs are used to establish a character through music, linking the music to the emotion of the character. Franz Waxman in the film Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, 1935) uses a three note motif to portray the Bride. The Artist itself contains similar music styles to Waxman’s Bride of Frankenstein. Bource uses motifs in the Artist particularly for the main characters, George Valentin and Peppy Miller, the motifs associated with George are reflected in his theme “George Valentin”. We first hear George’s motif in the initial premiere scene, when he appears on stage to thank the audience, he is full of humour and energy. The music contains an upbeat string based strut, together with a notable xylophone contrast and a virtuoso piano line, the music supports the scene as it emphasises his relaxed attitude to life, light humour and carefree life of a man during the golden age of silent cinema. (Broxton, 2011) 

Peppy’s theme “Pretty Peppy” first used in the scene with her on the bus, the music’s lighthearted struts conveys her bright energy, matching her wide smile and laughter on screen. Bource’s use of motifs links the characters through the music, similar to composer John Williams who uses motifs in all of his film scores. His most recognisable motif shown in the film Jaws (Spielberg, 1975) being a two-note motif used to represent the shark. Though the use of this, the connection has already been established between the motif and the creature, the music shapes the experience and emotion of the audience as we know to feel fear when we hear the motif.  

Music can create an overall emotional effect, as well as specific emotional characteristics. Sloboda and O’Neil’s (2001) study on the experience of music in everyday life, found that music could revive audiences, making them feel more positive, alert, and focused. (Ebendorf, 2007) 

Bource also uses music to signal shifts in characters tones, giving further understanding to the characters emotions. As George’s situation worsens, with the divorce from his wife and end to his career, the harmonic range of the score darkness. Minor key harmonies and the deep pitch of the low paced string accompany, mirrors George’s life on the skids. (Lochner, 2017) 

Throughout The Artist music is used to strengthen the narrative, music parallels the characters mood and emotions, benefiting the audiences experience. The music reachers an emotive highpoint in the burning house scene. When George begins to tear apart his room in a drunken fiery rage, the violins pick up crescendo and pace. (Broxton, 2011) The use of tremolos and trills, parallel the music with what’s shown giving a musical voice to the flames. 

The increased pace chromatic strings, piano and use of brass music mirrors the dogs action to run and get help. (Lochner, 2017) 

The Artist features a song with lyrics, Pennies from Heaven, the song plays while Peppy is getting more famous, shown through the montage of magazines she features in. The music emphasis Peppy’s success in the talkies, but also presents her as only receiving money and fame, when George received laughter and love from the audience. 

Sloboda and O’Neil (2001) found that music has different emotional functions depending on the context of the exposure. A person’s emotional response to music is a complex combination of the reaction to the material itself, including related associations, and to the social context in which the music is embedded. (Ebendorf, 2007) For instance, a love song such as Love Story by Taylor Swift can evoke different feelings regarding context. Strong feelings of happiness can be expressed at a wedding, or sadness and longing at a funeral. In this case, the music’s impact results from its structural characteristics and lyrical meaning as well as the context such as other listener’s emotions.

Unconventionally, The Artist also uses diegetic sound in one scene, without a music underscore. In the scene George can only hear sound made by the objects, dog, other people, this scene reinforces sounds power over George. Realising his career is at an end, the scene is a representation of how even sound without the use of a musical backdrop within a film can be used to guide an audience. During the 1950’s the movement towards realism led many directors to eliminate music from their films, due to the realist approach that life doesn’t contain music, film must capture the real world. Dialogue took precedence over music, this not only affected the way audiences perceived the films, but also the composers.“In life there is no music which accompanies our day and punctuates the ebbs and flows of our dialogue with the world.” (Fischoff, 2005, p. 2) 

However, this movement didn’t last long, as music can heighten a film. “No music is a problem when the film is flat, or worse, dead.” (Fischoff, 2005, p. 2)

Nevertheless, later the European inspired Dogma filming style, resurfaced a no-music policy, excluding all music scoring from it’s film. Dogma styled The Celebration (Vinterberg, 1998) contained no music throughout the film’s performances. Sparking the debate for whether or not film needs music. Film reviewer Janet Maslin comments upon The Celebrations “confused hush at dinner after one shocking pronouncement creates much sharper emphasis than any garden-variety music cue would.” (Maslin, 1998)  Showing how audiences don’t necessarily require music as a way of engaging into the film. Nonetheless, many composers and directors would agree film needs music, “music is the simplest and most direct way of making a statement” (Fischoff, 2005, p. 3) As suggest by Theophrastus “hearing is the sense that most deeply stirs out emotions.” (Kalinak, 1992, p.22) By eliminating the use of music within film you could be easily damaging the audiences engagement and enjoyment. (Fischodd, 2005) 

Throughout The Artist music is used to strengthen the narrative, music parallels the characters mood and emotions, benefiting the audiences experience. Film music interprets the films expression, looking at the soundtrack titles as well clearly shows the connection, each tittle of the music score is a chapter, moving the narrative forward. As composer Bernard Herrmann stated “I feel that music on the screen can seek out and intensify the inner thoughts of the characters. It can invest a scene with terror, grandeur, gaiety, or misery. It can propel narrative swiftly forward, or slow it down. It often lifts mere dialogue into the realm of poetry. Finally, it is the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience.” (Herrmann, 1972) 

The ending fleet- footed dance scene, rearranges music from both George’s theme and Peppy’s, titled “Peppy and George”. The new score represents how they are now together at last, providing an even more upbeat and lively jazz score. (Broxton, 2011) The end scene illustrates the importance aspects of linking visuals and music, the upbeat jazz shift of George’s original theme, conveys the narrative of how he has changed as a character, and returned as even more humorous. 

The success of how well music works within film, can be shown by the early sound films. Warner Brother studios bought the Vitaphone sound system, enabling the recording of synchronised sound. On October 6, 1927, they released The Jazz Singer, (Crosland, 1927) the first feature film with synchronised speech as well as music and other sound (Jacobs, 1939). The first sound film’s were mainly consisted of musicals, proving the effectiveness music had within film, only developed and strengthened with the production of the talkies. Within one year, WB had increased their profit margin by 745% (Barrios, 1995). 

Today, film music is seen as a great value to film. Not only in how it can help guide an audience’s emotions, and strengthen the film’s narrative. With the popularity of film soundtracks growing, production companies can now make an added profit by selling the film’s soundtrack separately from the film. The Artist’s soundtrack can be brought from Amazon at the price of £7.59, whereas the DVD from Amazon is priced at only £3.98 (Amazon, 2019). Clearly indicating how audiences are effected by a film’s music and are even prepared to pay a greater cost then the film to listen separately, benefiting the film industry. Exceptional music scores become additional profit for production companies, highlighting a film’s music should not be taken lightly. Music adds to The Artist, it allows the narrative to be followed more clearly, the music makes it deserving of both the best picture and music Golden Globe Award’s. “A great sound system can make a great movie experience even if the movie actually watched is not great at all.” (Fischoff, 2005, p.26) 

Word Count  2, 710


Amazon, 2019. The Artist DVD [online] 1996-2019,, Inc. Available from:

Amazon, 2019. The Artist Soundtrack [online] 1996-2019,, Inc. Available from:

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Classic FM, 2013. How I Wrote… The Artist – Ludovic Bource [online]. London. Available from: [Accessed 10 January 2019].

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Dixon, W and G Foster, G,. 2008. A Short History of Film [online]. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Ebendort, B., 2007. The Impact of Visual Stimuli on Music Perception [online]. Psychology Senior Thesis Project. Haverford College. 

Fischoff, S., 2005. Movies Without Music. The Evolution of Music in Film and its Psychological Impact on Audiences [online]. p. 2, 3, 22. Available from: [Accessed 6 January 2019]

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Maslin, J., 1998. FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; A Family Making Orphanhood Look Good [online]. The New York Times 

Miller, P., 1982. Music and the Silent Film. Perspectives of New Music [online] Vol. 2  No 1/2 (Autumn, 1982 – Summer, 1983), p. 582-584.

Modern Times,  1936. [film,DVD]. Directed by Charles Chaplin. USA: Charles Chaplin Productions. 

Rothbart, P., 2013. The Synergy of Film and Music: Sight and Sound in Five Hollywood Films [online]. Scarecrow Press, Inc. 

The Artist, 2011. [film,DVD]. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius. France, USA, Belgium: Studio 37. 

The Celebration, 1998. [film,DVD] Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Denmark, Sweden: Nimbus Film Productions. 

The Jazz Singer, 1927. [film,DVD] Directed by Alan Crosland. USA: Warner Bros.

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