The Artist Essay

One of the most crucial evolvements in the history of cinematography is the establishment of sound. When relevant techniques were developed and people evolved an appetite for sound films, cinematography was modified to such a scale, which actually had a much bigger influence on people than extensive usage of color or emergence of digital technologies. In fact, sound has altered methods, with a help of which movies are created, as well as establishing innovative approaches to movie styles. The Artist is a modern silent movie. The current paper will decode and analyze movie The Artist, applying this film for investigation of the philosophy of communication on the basis of semiotics, dialogism, and relativity theory.

General Analysis of The Artist

The Artist is a very peculiar movie, which, in fact, won the Best Movie at the Academy Awards. It is a French romantic comedy drama produced in the form of a black-and-white silent film (Terreil). The whole plot occurs in Hollywood and concentrates on the connection of an old silent film in a form of a star George Valentin and a growing new film type represented by a young actress Peppy Miller (The Artist). The movie demonstrates that the silent cinema is no longer in fashion and, therefore, it is superseded by sound movies. As a matter of fact, this film demonstrates and expresses numerous findings revealed by psychological researches in the sphere of psychology of communication. One of the most outstanding revelations in the sphere of communication psychology stands for the fact that facial expressions of emotion are international as they are performed, understood, and acknowledged around the globe without regard to gender, culture, ethnic group, national background, or race. The movie reveals these findings in a form of emotions of Valentin, Miller, and other film characters as their emotions are plainly written on their faces (The Artist). The capacity of actors to express emotions so persuasively and naturally allows the audience around the globe to appreciate the depth of their feelings. In fact, this appreciation is not only the evidence of their acting capabilities, but also a demonstration of the power of facial expressions to commonly delineate emotions.

Moreover, The Artist  also involves a number of other nonverbal conducts, incorporating positions, gestures, and motions. On the contrary to facial expressions of feelings and emotions, gestures and corpus motions have always been believed to be culture-peculiar, observed and imposed in different ways in distinctive cultures (Chandler 74). Nevertheless, this film proves that a number of fundamental and basic gestures are globally performed and acknowledged, particularly as a result of mass media and internet proliferation around the globe. Actors performing in The Artist are capable of producing highly persuasive acting in their gestures, while corpus positions demonstrate that these channels convey universal messages for all audiences around the globe. In fact, close analysis of nonverbal conducts in The Artist depicts numerous spheres of research, which scientists have not profoundly explored yet. For instance, facial expressions do not only reveal emotions, but also express representative and symbolic verbal messages similarly to gestures. Moreover, facial expressions can also illustrate people’s verbal expressions. As a matter of fact, not all dialogues have been provided in a written form after the dialogue scene. For example, the audience does not know which words a policeman actually says when Valentin escapes from the Peppy’s house after finding out that she is the one who has bought all his things on the auction. Valentin stands in front of the showcase where his costume is sold. The reflection allows him to imagine trying on this costume and recall the time of his triumph. The policeman approaches him and starts talking. His face expression reveals derision and the audience feels negative feelings emanating from him even despite the fact that they cannot hear or understand his words (The Artist). Therefore, facial expression plays an extremely important role in illustrating people’s verbal expressions. Thus, actors in The Artist have been able to masterly portray all feelings and emotions without words. In fact, their gestures, body positions, movements, and facial expressions allow providing a highly limited amount of written text as everything is understood and felt without words. However, it does not mean that absolutely all dialogues can be reconstituted without words. There is a quite small number of parts of the movie, which have to be expressed with words, and directors together with producers have masterfully interposed text in these parts. This reminds the audience that words are also significant and that nonverbal conducts are not the only way of communication, at least, for human beings. Moreover, this has also helped to understand the major idea of the film, which stands for the connection of a silent movie with a sound one. It is absolutely inconvenient to read phrases after the dialogue, especially when the major sense is already understood from the body language and actors’ gestures or facial expressions (Chandler 74).

The Artist and Philosophy of Communication

A movie as an artwork is considered to be a particular type of medium, which is completely grounded on communication. All of the film elements are placed in front of the camera with a particular purpose. Each element has to express a specific message (Terreil). Even inner challenges or problems of characters are frequently demonstrated in order to become prominent to the audience. Without communication, the movie would stop to exist.
The majority of (if not all) current movies are performed with sound. It seems that it is much easier to communicate with words. However, the film The Artist has demonstrated that practically all feelings, desires, and moods can be illustrated nonverbally. It is important to analyze the film from the viewpoint of communication philosophy in order to properly decode The Artist.


Philosophy of communication is closely connected with dialogism (Peters 159). A literary scientist who was specifically concerned with different communication aspects was Mikhail Bakhtin (Holquist 54). He particularly concentrated on parole, meaning existing speech in an existing context. The scholar discussed the dialogic character of discourse and established a subdivision into monologism and dialogism. Bakhtin’s theory can be easily applied to movies as their major objective stands for the establishment of communication with viewers (Holquist 55). A film is believed to be a medium, which is grounded to a large extent on dialogue similarly to literature (Terreil). Determination of dialogue is not indefinite in this case due to the fact that it can be cognized in a number of ways. Firstly, it might apply to comments and exclamations of characters in a film, which may be afterwards subdivided into dialogues (discussion) and monologues that can be perceived and answered by other characters of a specific movie artwork (Holquist 55). All of them formulate a communicative condition between characters on the screen (Terreil). In case of the analyzed film, the audience is not able to hear dialogues, except for the last communication when characters shift to a sound movie. All dialogues are recreated with the help of facial expressions, body language, and gestures. Some of these dialogues are presented in boxes after the dialogue scene. Sometimes, phrases can be read on lips, especially if characters say “thank you” or “bye” (The Artist). Nevertheless, there is another important manifestation of a dialogue. It stands for a contact retained between characters and the recipient, meaning the audience. Similarly to the previous manifestation, this one can also be subdivided into dialogues and monologues on the screen. Dialogues allow the audience to infer information that the creator of the film desires to express (Holquist 57). In turn, oratorio or inner monologues are typically appointed to the audience and not other characters in the film. Therefore, a voiceover or narration comes from outside the film. The Artist, being a silent movie, intensifies the second manifestation.

In fact, all facial expressions, gestures, and body language are selected in such a way that the audience understands the major idea of each dialogue and the movie on the whole. In addition, boxes with written dialogues appearing in extremely complicated moments only intensify this manifestation. This can be explained on a basis of two scenes from the movie The Artist. The first one stands for the act when characters have to shoot the scene of Valentin and Peppy dancing. They have to reshoot the scene numerous times because characters constantly behave in a wrong way, particularly because of the chemistry between them. Other characters are talking with them, they are talking with each other, discussing their failure to shoot the scene properly, but these dialogues cannot be heard and they are not recreated in a written form as they can be understood without words by the audience (The Artist). The major goal here stands for recreation of a feeling conception between two characters and the audience as a major recipient is able to cognize this clearly. The second scene stands for the monologue. In a typical sound film, the character, meaning Valentin, would obviously say a dialogue during this performance. This silent film allows recreating feelings and emotions with an even stronger and more dramatic mood. Valentin is already bankrupt and he has sold all his property on an auction. He is watching his private collection of films and, when the film ends, he can see the shadow of his figure on a shield. He talks with his shadow and asks it to see into whom he has actually turned. He understands and states that he has been an arrogant fool. The shadow walks away and Valentin calls himself a loser (The Artist). The audience is able to understand inner feelings of the character without the sound and tone of his voice. His despair is obvious through his facial expression, his eyes, and his gestures. This monologue is addressed to the audience and it clearly and successfully establishes communication with the film recipient (Terreil).

The Artist and Semiotics

Semiology and semiotics can also help to decode the analyzed movie. They are particularly helpful for silent movies. Semiology as a discipline originated owing to Ferdinand de Saussure (Peters 67). In turn, semiotics was established by Charles Sanders Peirce (Peters 114). It is crucial to define that Saussure distinguished a linguistic unit as a ‘double entity,’ which practically means that it consists of two constituents. Thus, a linguistic unit was viewed as a combination of sound-image (signifier) and meaning (signified concept) (Peters 67). These concepts apply to literature; however, in case of a movie they can be analyzed though scenes and phrases. For example, the scene when Valentin fires Clifton (his chaffer and valet) is the best illustration of this model. Valentin asks Clifton when he has paid him for the last time and the chaffer tells it was done during the previous year. After that, Valentin tells Clifton that he ‘is fired” (The Artist). The sound-image here stands for the fact of being actually fired, but the signified concept is different. The actual meaning is that the phrase can be perceived as “I have no money to pay you, therefore, you should not work for me”. Clifton does not perceive the phrase seriously and does not understand the signified concept, whereas the audience understands the hidden message. Moreover, there is also semiotics founded by Charles Sanders Peirce (Peters 114). This scholar actually improved Ferdinand de Saussure’s model. Pierce’s model is known as a triadic model of a sign. It actually identifies a word or image sign (1), which stands for (in somebody’s mind) (2) some other object, meaning, or concept (3) (Peters 115). This model can also be utilized to decode the movie The Artist. The scene when Al Zimmer (the studio director) announces to Valentin that the studio stops producing silent films may be considered as the best illustration of this model. The phrase “the production of silent films” can be considered as a sign. The referent here (meaning the sense for which this sign operates) stands for the shift to sound movies, at least in the Zimmer’s opinion (The Artist). However, the interpretant (meaning Valentin) perceives this sign not as “I should shift to sound movies”, but as summon and dismisses the possibility of performing in sound movies. This example illustrates complexity of communication as such. Each person invests some peculiar meaning and sense in every pronounced sense and performed act. Sometimes, people do not share the common motivation of action and, therefore, they face misunderstanding, which can lead to serious problems. This is obvious in the movie. For example, Peppy wants to support Valentin and help him when she buys his property on the auction, but Valentin understands this as humiliation, which leads him to dismay (The Artist). This misunderstanding has resulted in the Valentin’s desire to commit suicide. Luckily, Penny arrives in time to stop Valentin. The same scene can be used to illustrate audience’s cognition of a particular sign. When Valentin presses the trigger, the audience hears and reads a bang. Thus, ‘bang’ is a sign in this case. The referent here stands for the bang of the revolver. However, the interpretant (meaning the director and producer of the film) utilizes this sign for the surprise effect as this sign stands for the car crash (The Artist). All these examples demonstrate that the process of communication, encoding, and decoding is quite complicated and requires serious understanding and cognition of the person encoding the message.

3.1 The Artist and Connotation/Denotation

Semiotics also deals with connotation and denotation. Thus, beyond the ‘literal’ sense (meaning its denotation), a particular word also has specific connotations (Danesi 127). These connotations can be positive, negative, related to particular sphere, etc (Danesi 129). These term can also be applied for the film analysis as movie, just like an image, might have an explicit meaning (that stands for denotation) and a connotative meaning (that stands for an idea, which is associated with this movie). Therefore, The Artist is a silent movie on a denotative level. It means that The Artist is a film with no synchronized sound, especially spoken dialogues and monologues.
Dialogues are performed with the help of gestures, body language, facial expression, and title cards with written dialogues. This is an explicit meaning of the movie The Artist. Nevertheless, the idea associated with this movie is much broader. This movie is an attempt to overcome oneself, as well as one’s principles and arrogance in order to shift to the next level of development, similarly to how silent movies have shifted to sound films. This idea stands for representation of the connotative level of The Artist. Valentin conveys connotation of arrogance and ‘silent film’, whereas Peppy presents connotation of change in the form of a ‘sound film’.

3.2 The Artist and Intertextuality/Intratextuality

The process of film decoding is impossible without concepts of intertextuality and intratextuality. These concepts have been developed by Kristeva (Chadler 207). The scholar appealed to texts in terms of two approaches: a horizontal approach, which implies connecting the creator of the text (or film) to the audience, and a vertical approach, which conjoins the text (film) to other texts (films). Thus, the concept of intertextuality reminds the audience that each text or film exists in relation to others (Chadler 207). This can also be explained as an allusion to other films (“The Artist: Homages, Tributes and Shoutouts”). The movie has a number of allusions.

Firstly, it alludes to “Sunset Boulevard”. This film demonstrates a star contemptuous of alterations who also has a kind chaffer. Valentin resembles Norma Desmond from this movie who has no use for sound filma and relives glorious days by reviewing her old movies (“The Artist: Homages, Tributes and Shoutouts”). In addition, The Artist also alludes to the movie Citizen Kane, especially in scenes when Valentin has breakfast with his wife and when he finds a room with his belongings, which have been bought by Penny (“The Artist: Homages, Tributes and Shoutouts”). Finally, The Artist alludes to one of the most famous films A Dog’s Life with Charlie Chaplin (“The Artist: Homages, Tributes and Shoutouts”). The intertexuality can be found in dog characters. Nevertheless, the concept of intratextuality is also very important. It stands for the fact that the movie refer to itself through mirroring, microcosmic, and mise-en-abyme structures (Terreil). Intratextuality is present in the movie and can be illustrated by several examples. Firstly, Penny recalls how Valentin speckles above her lip and this scene is demonstrated in the movie (The Artist). In fact, this action is very important as it has actually changed Penny’ life. Secondly, Penny reviews things saved by Valentin during the fire. This action returns the audience to the beginning of the film when Valentin and Penny have been dancing (The Artist). This scene also plays an important role as it demonstrates characters’ feelings, which continue throughout the entire movie. Thirdly, the moment when Valentin stands in front of a showcase and tries on his costume with the help of reflection also returns the audience to moments of the character’s glory at the beginning of this movie (The Artist). Intratextuality is highly significant in this movie as it accentuates the most important actions and events of the plot (Terreil).

The Artist and Linguistic Relativity

It is also significant to remember that film decoding cannot be performed without self and relativity theory. The notion of linguistic relativity demonstrates that the formation and framework of language influences ways in which its corresponding users form a concept of their world. This theory is also known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (Danesi 189). Typically, the problem of linguistic relativity appears when the original text or film is translated into another language (Danesi 189).

However, in case of this film, facial expressions, gestures, and backstage sounds are sometimes presented in the form of written dialogues (Terreil). This movie presents one good example of linguistic relativity. In fact, sound and written form of the word ‘bang’ are typically associated with explosion or a shot. This is an example of how language and language usage influence conceptualization of the world. However, this movie has proved that ‘bang’ is not always a shot. In fact, ‘bang’ stands here for the crash of a car, which encounters a tree.


The current analysis and decoding of the movie The Artist have demonstrated that this movie is more complicated than it may seem at the first sight. Despite the fact that this is an example of a silent film, it contains numerous dialogues, which are expressed using facial expressions, gestures, and body positions. Semitics is helpful for decoding of the movie as it demonstrates the genuine meaning of signs and ways they are decoded by film characters and the audience. This movie is rich in intertextuality/intratextuality examples, which allows the audience to connect it to previous films and inner film events for a better understanding of the idea. The process of decoding encoded messages is highly complicated as a result of linguistic relativity even in case of a sound dialogue. It means that silent movies pose a serious challenge, while understanding of communication philosophy facilitates the process and results in better comprehension of intended messages and ideas.

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