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Michel Hazanavicius had the opportunity to fulfill his dream of a silent era film with his Oscar-winning work ‘The Artist’ and found another enthusiastic colleague in costume designer Mark Bridges, a lifelong fan of silent cinema who remembers seeing classics like ‘Wings’ as a child.
Over the course of his career, Bridges has outfitted films set in virtually every era of the 20th Century, making key contributions to the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s early 20th Century epic ‘There Will Be Blood’ and 70s-era drama ‘Boogie Nights’, and David O. Russell’s 80s boxing drama ‘The Fighter’.
For ‘The Artist’, Bridges happily immersed himself in research, studying silent films, old publicity stills and day-in-the-life candid photos to get a feel for the impeccable tailoring of the era and the elegant clothing that a movie star like George Valentin would have worn in his leisure time.
For the character of Peppy Miller, he found inspiration in early Joan Crawford films, which capture her evolution from average chorus girl to dynamic jazz baby and finally to glamorous star. The silent backstage comedy ‘Show People’ provided clues about what studio workers wore, as did a short film, ‘1925 MGM Studio Tour’, made on the MGM lot.
Bridges found both garments and ideas in Hollywood’s professional costume shops, including The Collection at Western Costume, Motion Picture Costume Company, United American Costume Company, and Palace Costume Company. “Here in Hollywood, we’re really set up to do a movie like ‘The Artist’. I could go to any of these costume shops I regularly use, go through 100 dresses or 50 dresses, and something would read to me ‘Peppy,’” he says.
Milliners freshened and re-blocked hats that had spent decades in boxes. Veteran tailors made duplicate formal wear for Jean Dujardin, and expert shoemakers copied vintage shoes. Some original garments were in fine condition and were used in the film, including a nightgown worn by Bérénice Bejo and a tennis dress Bridges found in a shop.
But many vintage items were too fragile or dilapidated to be worn, and were instead copied and made in new fabrics. Sometimes old was incorporated into the new; when Bridges found a panel of Art Deco-styled vintage brocade, he used it to trim the dress Bejo wears during the scene when Peppy is being interviewed. Hazanavicius was impressed by Bridge’s talent and work ethic.
“Mark Bridges knows everything, and I think he works maybe thirty hours a day!” the director enthuses. “He’s very perceptive and he knows that small details can be very powerful. For example, there’s an ellipse from ’29 to ’31, when George’s decline accelerates. I asked Mark to adjust Jean’s costume, and to make it a little bit larger so we have the feeling that his character has shrunken a little bit. And Mark did that, very subtly, with a lot of taste. His work throughout brought so much to the film.”
Music is an indispensable part of silent film storytelling, serving variously as emphasis and counterpoint to the actions and emotions onscreen. For this critical element, Hazanavicius turned to his longtime collaborator Ludovic Bource, who has scored all the director’s films since his feature debut, 1998’s ‘Mes Amies’.
Like the other collaborators working on the film, Bource did his homework, listening to scores by legendary Hollywood composers such as Max Steiner, Franz Waxman and Bernard Hermann; music written by Chaplin for his films; and the 19th Century composers whose work was the foundation of Steiner, et al. With that knowledge absorbed, Bource was then free to write the score that would help tell the story of ‘The Artist’.
He began working on the score before production began, coming up with melodies and themes based on the screenplay and storyboards. Once production began, Hazanavicius sent him rushes on a regular basis. “I immersed myself in the rushes as they came in, and in the performances of Bérénice and Jean,” Bource remembers.
“Watching these magnificent images as they arrived was very inspiring. The hardest thing, particularly with Jean’s character George, was to respect the combination of comedy and emotion. As a result, rather than pastiche or spoof, we worked – a bit like Chaplin – along the lines of a light sophistication. And for the tap dance sequence, I wrote music that was essentially big band/jazz, which was a pleasure.”
Work continued on the film’s music during the editing process, when Bource worked with Hazanavicius to refine the music and match it to the final scenes. Bource recorded the score in Brussels with the Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra. Says Bource, “I recorded with 80 musicians: 50 string players, 4 French horns, 4 trombones, 5 percussionists who ran around all over the place, a harpist, 10 technicians, 5 orchestrators, 3 mixers – it was sublime.
I was lucky enough to get marvelous people. They told me it had been a long time since they had felt this way while recording the music for a film. It was very moving and gratifying.”
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