Lip-Reading, Silent Films, and Invented Voices

by William Jackson on 2012-10-29

Warning! If you have not yet seen The Artist and you intend to, stop reading right now and go away before I quite possibly spoil it for you.

We all know Rebecca is pretty good at lip-reading. So when we watched The Artist together she usually knew what the characters had said before the intertitles flashed onto the screen. I think this is amazing because I canʼt do it.

Anyway, we watched The Artist together. Before we started I wasnʼt sure I would like it. I donʼt remember much from the ʼ20s, after all. I was raised on talkies. But I watched it anyway, and I liked it.

While we were watching, I didnʼt really understand why the protagonist, George Valentin, was such a downer over talking pictures. Why did his anxiety give him nightmares? I just didnʼt get it.

Then came the very last scene and George spoke his only audible line in the whole movie, and the punch line hit me like a ton of bricks. He had a thick French accent! This blew me away.

First, you should understand that I really donʼt pay much attention to which actors are in a film. If I considered that sort of thing, I would have known beforehand that the actorʼs name was Jean Dujardin, and you canʼt get more Frencher than that.

The point I am trying to make here is that I had invented a voice in my head to fill in the gap left by the silent film. I somehow fabricated what I expected George Valentin to sound like, and to me, he sounded authentically American. This was Hollywood, after all.