Archive for Eyes Without a Face

Holy ****!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2013 by dcairns

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We loved HOLY MOTORS, now that we finally caught up with it. I have very little history with M. Carax and will now need to catch up with those I’ve missed. Thankfully, we HAD seen TOKYO! so we’d met M. Merde, which may not help understand anything about his appearance in this film but does allow one to greet him as an old friend. A terrifying old friend who eats flowers and has a dog’s erection.

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Basically, in this film Carax’ main man Denis Lavant drives around in a stretch limo (a Fever Dream Double Feature with Mr. Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS is a must!) and assumes various disguises/characterisations. He has a dressing room mirror and a shitload of wigs and noses and stuff in the back. Oh, and Edith Scob from EYES WITHOUT A FACE is his driver. When Lavant dons these costumes he enters storylines which have the appearance of complete reality — he can even die, authentically, in these mini-films (HM is kind of a compendium film but without actual “stories” as such) but always returns to life and his strange “job”.

Some flickering half-light is shed on this by a tense meeting with Michel Piccoli, seemingly an employer, who worries if Lavant’s character fully believes in his work anymore. Lavant admits that things have gotten harder since the cameras became miniaturized to the point of invisibility. So these are films he’s appearing in, and thus the whole thing can be seen as a metaphor for cinema, and for Carax and Lavant’s parallel careers — the explicit references to past Carax movies fit neatly into this context.

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This may also shed some light on the funny and beautiful coda when the limo is retired to a parking garage with dozens of similarly Tex-Avery-elongated counterparts. And the cars have a conversation, their headlamps flickering as they speak. It’s the kind of conversation that occurs in dormitories when a few annoying people aren’t quite ready to sleep. Carax himself is one of the automobile voices.

How this ties in to the main film isn’t exactly clear (nor are Lavant’s domestic arrangements, revealed in his last scene, but they made Fiona howl with astonished laughter) but it helps to realize that Lavant seems to be riffing on the deleted first scene of SUNSET BLVD. Billy Wilder deleted this because audiences laughed as William Holden’s corpse was fitted with a toe-tag, little realizing they were chortling at their own fate, some of them. Deleted along with that moment was a conversation between corpses in the morgue, their sheeted forms lighting up as they speak, echoed the flashing lights of Carax’s serried limos (those blinking lights also remind me of Daleks).

SUNSET BLVD, of course, is also a movie about movies, with an elegiac tone comparable, in a way, to Carax’s.

Paul Duane suggests that Lavant is channeling Lon Chaney in this movie, which I guess is what prompted us to finally watch it. It’s true — the actor creating his own make-ups… Merde’s milky eye echoes a specific effect (achieved with egg skin) produced by Chaney in THE ROAD TO MANDALAY… there’s even a random ape scene, which could be seen as a Tod Browning homage.

Grunge

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2010 by dcairns

Werewolf in mid-transformation.

The grotty, post-dubbed, low-res seediness of WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMITORY and ATOM AGE VAMPIRE kind of wear on you. Both films started out continental (German and Italian) and with classier titles: LYCANTHROPUS and SEDDOK. I like SEDDOK enormously as a title, for the same inexplicable reason I like Michael Powell’s quota quickie RYNOX — nonsense words with a manly sound to them!

In fact, according to the IMDb, what Denis Gifford calls SEDDOK was released as SEDDOK, L’EREDE DI SATANA. It’s a knock-off of Franju’s rather more poetic EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which was revamped in Spain by Jesus Franco as THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF. In the low rent Italian version, a go-go dancer suffers facial mutilation in an unconvincing car accident and agrees to experimental treatment by a couple of obviously dodgy medicos. Soon, everyone is lap-dissolving into scabby, unkempt “vampires.”

(If Freda could make THE HORRIBLE DR HITCHCOCK and Franco coughed out THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF, what other titles remain unused? THE FRANGIBLE DR FRANKENSTEIN? THE TERRIBLE DR TERWILLIKER?)

This is a product of the post-war years when Italian horror was briefly science-fictional, following the atomic and space-age concerns of American movies. Soon, the Gothic would assert itself, a surprising development for that place and era, only to be largely superseded by the cod-psychological mayhem of the giallo.

Poor Sergio Fantoni! From Visconti’s SENSO to SEDDOK.

Both these films look like they might have modest virtues (even if LYCANTHROPUS deploys an unpromising whodunnit approach to werewolfery) — SEDDOK in particular has plenty of interesting, expressive camera angles — shots which really tell the story, and shots which are just decoratively beautiful or atmospheric. And the killer’s raincoat made me think of DON’T LOOK NOW. But the poor quality public domain copies, dubbed and probably rescored, do the films no favours. Maybe I’d revisit them if better editions appeared.

Chalk off another two titles in my quest to See Reptilicus and Die!

Le Grand Franju

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2008 by dcairns

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I don’t know why Georges Franju’s short documentaries are so hard to see. Even if nobody wants to package them together as a set, they’re the best DVD extras anybody could wish for.

LE SANG DES BÊTES, of course, has served exactly this function, running as support to LES YEUX SANS VISAGE on the Criterion disc. And a fine, blood-soaked pair they are.

But why has it taken me this long to track down LE GRAND MÉLIÈS, albeit with an English dubbed V.O.? This one could not only fit with a Franju feature nicely, it could also be packaged with Georges Méliès films. The possibilities are quite literally several.

Franju begins at the end, getting the sad bits out of the way, as he puts it, before introducing us to Mme. Méliès, played by the real Mme. Méliès, and Georges Méliès, played by Melies Jnr. The casting is cute and works, and was facilitated by Franju’s role as co-founder of the Cinemateque Francaise. Mme. Méliès had been a friend to the institution, supplying a nude portrait of herself to the museum, although with the stipulation that it should only be displayed from the shoulders up.

At this point, aged 90, she looks exactly like a Ronald Searle drawing of an old lady.

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Then comes the best bit — although later sequences illustrating Méliès’ techniques and tracing his entry into film are also admirable.

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We meet Méliès, retired from film-making, at the toy shop be ran in a Paris railway station. Two children come to buy geegaws, but haven’t l’argentto pay for them. Kindly M. Méliès gives one boy a trumpet anyway, but when the little bugger keeps tooting it in an annoying fashion, the old wizard distracts him and his companion with a display of legerdemaine.

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A wallet of coins is produced. The children are impressed. The coins are vanished and then reproduced. Wonderful. Then M. Méliès transforms his head into a bouquet of flowers. For real.

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“Uh, okay… Back away, slowly.”

Franju cuts to them running, backwards and in slow motion, up the steps from the Metro to the safe, rational outside world.

Purists may argue whether this can really be called documentary, but it’s a lovely sequence, dovetailing from a kind of dramatic reconstruction into sheer fantasy. The flower-headed Méliès is a figure from Dali rather than from Méliès’ own work, connecting with the bird-headed avenger in JUDEX, himself influenced by Max Ernst rather than supposed inspiration Louis Feuillaide. The fleeing kids in reverse is an echo of LOVE ME TONIGHT, where a fox hunt is seen softly galloping backwards. And the setting is returned to at the end of the film, where we see the toy shop transformed into a florist’s (as it was in reality), where Mme. Méliès goes to buy flowers for her husband’s grave.

Now that’s magic!

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