Archive for Bernard Natan

The Event

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , on November 28, 2014 by dcairns

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La Femis is the French national film school. It’s based on the Rue Francoeur in Montmartre, in what used to be the studios of Rapid Film, Bernard Natan’s production company. When he bought Pathe Cinema he merged the two companies together.

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The building still has its unique 1920s/30s character. The buildings surround a narrow lane into which the companies trucks could make their deliveries. From the balcony on the second floor you can look down on the works and feel like an emperor of cinema. Here, Marine Multier, Chargee de la communication, surveys her kingdom.

Down in the alley there are memorials to the dead of two world wars, studio employees who gave their lives for France, but until this week there was nothing making mention of the man who created the studio and who also died during WWII — a victim of Germany and France working together to destroy him because of his race.

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It has taken fifteen years of campaigning by the family to get the plaque put up. Things were slow because the French state owns th building so it’s all bureaucracy and committees that meet once a year. It took less than a year to strip Natan of his French citizenship, earned by service in WWI (he was wounded and decorated for bravery: they had to pass a special act to take away his citizenship), thereby rendering him stateless and ensuring his deportation to Auschwitz. But I guess that’s one difference between democracy and dictatorship: democracies move slower.

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Patient under his black curtain, Bernard Natan awaits his unveiling.

 

Inaugurated

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 27, 2014 by dcairns

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Well THAT was satisfying. The grand-daughters of Bernard Natan, Lenick and Francoise, know how to put on a show, like their esteemed forebear. A plaque was unveiled at La Femis, the French National Film School, finally honouring the man who built the studio on Rue Francoeur which houses it. As speeches were read by the sisters and by historian Serge Klarsfeld (one of the stars of NATAN the movie), the curtain covering the plaque refused to obey the schedule and undraped itself. The attendants duly covered the brass plate again, but again it denuded itself, and still again, always just as the name “Bernard Natan” was being spoken. The message was clear: I’ve been covered up too long! I want to see the light!

The occasion brought together more of the people associated with the film than any previous screening, including translator, researcher, editor, and most of the interviewees. Sad that Paul Duane could be there but happy that what kept him from coming was a buzzing career.

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Then we trotted upstairs to the Salle Jean Renoir, a beautiful projection room where Jerome the projectionist did a fine job. The movie was preceded by the newsreel footage of Natan at the inauguration party for the Rue Francoeur studio, and I was able to supply MC Serge Bromberg with a bit of info from our research period, gleaned from the memoirs of filmmaker and close Natan associate Henri Diamant-Berger’s memoirs. The piece of film was shot at the start of the party: Natan poses with a cabinet minister and other luminaries – then the negative was rushed over to the lab and processed at top speed, in time to be printed and projected at the end of the party.

After the screening – to a particularly attentive and serious crowd – I was introduced to the grandson of Diamant-Berger, which was a spectacular surprise. Someone it would have been nice to speak to while we were making the bloody film, but we didn’t know he existed, and that he’s extremely knowledgeable about his ancestor’s work. Our editor Eoin McDonagh also made it over, so I enjoyed a meal with him and ace film detective Lenny Borger (who discovered the missing scenes from LES MISERABLES among many other classics).

All in all, a rather gratifying experience. And in Paris, too.

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on November 26, 2014 by dcairns

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To the newly-opened, lushly-appointed Fondation Seydoux, a museum/cinema commemorating the history of Pathe and Gaumont. Phoebe Green and Christine Leteux introduced me to the exhibition of old movie cameras and projectors, and posters currently themed around WWI. There was Abel Gance’s J’ACCUSE and Raymond Bernard’s CROIX DES BOIS, currently screening elsewhere in its new 4K restoration. Naturally, there were a few stills on display I wish we’d had copies of for our documentary on that movie’s producer.

The screenings are similarly slanted towards the Great War, so we experienced one of Leonce Perret’s relatively few American films, UNKNOWN LOVE, a kind of epistolary war romance in which a society lady falls in love by mail with a soldier in the trenches, one of Perret’s few American films (produced by Pathe’s American wing).

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Stunning cinematography: Perret stages nearly all his interiors by open windows and exposes for outdoors, so the characters are backlit, their faces boldly modelled by the light. A scene at a shrine to the war dead, with silhouetted woman, flowers and cross against the setting sun, which is also reflected in a lake, was almost too beautiful. All those elements are traditionally photogenic, so slapping them altogether could have gotten tacky, but it certainly didn’t. Christine, who has written the first book on Perret’s long and fascinating career (from the early 1900s to the early 30s making operetta-films at Pathe-Natan), pointed out that he wasn’t working with his usual DP on this film, so the consistency with the rest of his work shows how much of the visual style was his own doing.

The Fondation hire in students from the Conservatoire to act as accompanists, a policy which has proved so successful that the Cinematheque has followed suite. No longer, I am told, do silents unfold to the solo whirring of a projector at M. Langlois’ palais de cinema.

Afterwards, I toyed with the idea of a Charley Chase retrospective, but my energy is flagging and my feet hurt, so I retired early and am typing this instead. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the big day: Bernard Natan returns home, honoured at the studio he built, which is now France’s national film school.

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