How can an obscure art film, made for $15 million, shot in black and white and without any stars or dialogue have become so successful? The Artist has either featured in or topped many top ten lists of best movies of 2011, and with the added bonus of being nominated for 10 Oscars (going head to head with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo) and the high possibility of walking away with all, if not most of its nominations then those behind the film can give themselves a huge pat on the back. So I ask again, what is the secret to The Artist’s success?
The first time the film ventured into my consciousness was when it was given positive feedback from Tom Brooks on BBC’s Talking Movies back in May last year, as part of his Cannes coverage. The bloggers also gave it the thumbs up too; the highly influential Ultra Culture and The Incredible Suit had both championed the film. Its triumph at Cannes attracted the attention of the Weinstein brothers who enthusiastically picked up the UK, US and Australian distribution rights.
In the UK alone it has picked up at least £4,000,000 at the box office and has so far made approximately $49,415,742 worldwide. It’s success can be attributed to the strength of the film alone and its word of mouth generated by positive reviews (The Artist currently has a 97% rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes). This obvious theory does not however hold up. There has been scores of brilliant films that have been criminally overlooked at the box office by the average foolish cinema goer in favour of something like Jack and Jill which is devoid of any artistic merit. No the key to The Artist’s economic and glory accomplishments will lay firmly on the shoulders of its P. R. Campaign.
Let us first go to exhibit A. Part of a good P. R. Campaign is the ability to infiltrate the news without anyone noticing that you are doing it. On the 17th of January this year The Telegraph reported that complaints were made to an Odeon cinema in Liverpool regarding the film. A group of customers who had seen it had demanded a refund because the screen was too small and more importantly because there was no dialogue. The absurdity of such a claim bearing in mind that the screen was deliberately made smaller to give it the authentic look of the original silent films and that there was deliberately no dialogue because it is a silent movie made sure that this particular story concerning The Artist got picked up by most media outlets. It got people all over the world talking (check out the irony in that statement) but did we identify who were the ignorant philistines who complained? Of course not but rest assured that Premier Films (the. P R firm behind the film) might have had something to do with this.
Exhibit B: There is no such thing as bad press. All press coverage is good press; so when on the 9th of January Kim Novak took offence to a couple of minutes of music in the Artist which was also used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo of which she starred in opposite James Stewart, she felt it appropriate to air her views. She felt the need to stress her point by placing an ad in Hollywood trade paper Variety stating:
“I want to report a rape…my body of work has been violated by The Artist”
Though her point is absurd, bizarre, offensive to sexual abuse victims, and more importantly valued as mute, (Bernard Herrmann wrote the score and his music has been stolen and used in everything from Kill Bill to Busta Rhymes) her actions upped the ante in getting more press coverage for The Artist. All that was needed was an old Hollywood great, an ad in Variety and a few disturbing, misguided words.
Yet the ace in the publicity pack of cards belongs to small cute Jack Russell named Uggie. Although the golden rule is never to work with animals or kids, this rule book seems to have been ripped up, spat at, and then set on fire Uggie first came to attention in the 2011 film Water for Elephants but his talents for promotion was not utilised until The Artist. Television shows, newspaper interviews, the internet and Twitter, Uggie had become a one dog (ahem) hype machine for the movie. So much so that there has been reports of Lady Ga Ga buying Uggie to gain more Twitter followers (this is my attempt at satire).
Another awesome thing about using a dog for promotion of your film is that he can also be in two places at the same time, if you know what I mean.
Anyway because of his retirement we will unfortunately be hearing less about him, although there is a Facebook campaign called Consider Uggie for him to win an Oscar. Click here to get involved. Below is a series of Uggie’s best and successful attempts to gain exposure for The Artist:
Graham Norton Show:
Golden Globes’ red carpet:
Visit To Guardian:
So there you have it: a Hitchcock blonde, a group of Scousers and a Jack Russell. If by any chance The Artist shall fall short of winning any of it’s Oscar nominations, they should however find solace in the fact that their P. R. Campaign is worthy of a plethora of awards and for that you have to be impressed. Not bad for a French-made silent black and white film.