Archive for La Ronde

Thinking in the round

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by dcairns

Watching LA RONDE again with an audience of one student (at this time of year they tend to be busy on shoots — but Joachim wrapped one project and came along to the screening the same evening, bless him: “I can go to the pub anytime.”) — struck as always by new details I didn’t remember seeing before.

When Simone Signoret rotates into view she’s standing under a little lamppost — an unlikely accoutrement for a carousel, but an apt one for a carousal.

Of all the guys in the film, Serge Reggiani may be the luckiest, getting to score with both Simones, Signoret and Simon, and he’s certainly the least grateful lover.

Always loved the scene where Walbrook leads Simone Simon through time, by walking in between sets, but this time I started wondering about the avenue of movie lights they pass — where does it lead? To other scenes in this movie, or to other movies altogether?

There’s something of an irony in Fernand Gravey playing Danielle Darrieux’s husband, since he was moonlighting as a resistance fighter during the war, spreading terror by night and shooting LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE by day, whereas Danielle’s record was slightly more spotty — she went on a goodwill tour of Germany (with Clouzot’s girlfriend) and got condemned to death by the Resistance for her troubles (a sentence which was later commuted to “Oh alright then we’ll let you off this time”). Her story seems to have been that she was trying to secure the freedom of her boyfriend, Porfirio Rubiroso, from the Gestapo. She succeeded, and being an international playboy he subsequently dumped her.

(Porfirio Rubirosa… How to explain the romantic appeal of this dashing Dominican diplomat? You know those long pepper grinders you get in Italian restaurants? Those are, unofficially, known as rubirosas. Think about it.)

I’m struck once again by the final exchanges between Gerard Philippe and Simone Signoret — what’s going on here? There’s a suggestion that she reminds him of someone, and she may in fact BE the person he’s reminded of, although he probably doesn’t realize it. And perhaps he was the young soldier who set her out on her strange path, sleeping with soldiers for free? But it’s all quite mysterioso and allusive. I watch the scene again when I get home, using the extended cut of the film that abruptly surfaced on Australian TV, without warning. The scene is longer but seems, if anything, more mysterious than before.

Plus there’s this great Walter Sickert-NIGHT OF THE HUNTER composition.

Most of the added scenes in the extended version involves Walbrook, but Jean-Louis Barrault’s whole section is a fair bit longer too. This includes an amazing transition from Barrault’s scene with the “grisette” (Odette Joyeux) to his scene with the actress (Isa Miranda). In a post-coital scene in Barrault’s split-level bachelor pad (fin-de-siecle version) Joyeux asks Barrault to put out the candles. Then a voice echoes out, “Yes, put out the candles!” Barrault looks up, and discovers that his apartment has no ceiling, and that he has Anton Walbrook looking down at him from a lighting rig. He does as he’s told, and Walbrook swivels the spotlight off Barrault and onto an entirely new scene, the theatre, where Miranda is taking her curtain calls. Walbrook announces the new scene, “The poet and the actress,” (which sounds like the set-up to a smutty joke, and almost is).

It’s a dumbfoundingly wonderful transition. The rest of the extended sequences are very welcome, but not to the same level of awesomeness, although there’s another shot of the intersticial space-time-continuum between sets, with Walbrook sweeping off into it in his opera cape, and a scene between Walbrook and Barrault in the snow outside the love nest he’s rented with Miranda, where both actors’ exhalations are visible in the cold air — Ophuls must have filmed in an ice-house, if not on location (my money’s on the former).

The reason for this long cut is apparently as follows — it was Ophuls preferred edit, but a preview audience reacted badly, so he pared it down to the version familiar to us. Following a quirky logic of his own, he didn’t much trim the opening scenes, saving his most severe cuts for late in the picture, effectively moving the scene of Barrault and Miranda’s consummation back from the countryside to her dressing room in the process. While many of Walbrook’s appearances were shortened (there’s some more business with him as a head waiter), the more extreme verfremdungseffekt moments, such as Walbrook censoring one steamy love scene by editing the film, were preserved in essence if not in length. Now Marcel Ophuls has done his best to suppress this alternative director’s cut, which I guess is his version of protecting his father’s legacy, but I can’t say I understand his logic (he’s also barred the German version of LOLA MONTES).

Even with the additional material, the film doesn’t quite have an end shot, surprisingly. There’s a cluttered frame incorporating theatre, street and movie studio all in one image, which is a nice idea but doesn’t quite come off compositionally, and then a freeze-frame of the idle carousel, which looks like something from the end credits of a US TV show. But so what? As Sidney Lumet put it, “Nothing has to be perfect,” and in a film as downright SUBLIME as LA RONDE, perfection might actually be a vulgarity.

Congruence #2: Entrances

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-30582

vlcsnap-30264

vlcsnap-30281

vlcsnap-30326

A kind Shadowplayer sent me a copy of Thorold Dickinson’s SECRET PEOPLE, which features the first major performance by Audrey Hepburn, so always gets a sort of footnote position in the history books, but deserves better. A rather downbeat tale of terrorism and espionage, it stars Valentina Cortese as Hepburn’s big sister, lured into an assassination plot by her lover, Serge Reggiani. The film has an unusual narrative, perhaps not entirely successful in its jumps and re-starts, but intriguing to watch. The biggest narrative surprise is when the bomb plot is set in motion, and Dickinson then cuts to the aftermath. Reggiani, like the audience, is desperate to know what happened.

Cortese. standing at the window of her London flat, begins to tell him.

As she talks, she moves left –

– and walks into the flashback she just started to narrate.

It’s a startling transition, and all the more striking when you imagine how it must have been shot. Dickinson would have had the bedroom set constructed next to the terrace where the party is unfolding, a dreamlike conjunction of entirely separate places.

There are a few uses of this kind of technique elsewhere in cinema. Dickinson might conceivably have been influenced by the moment in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP where Roger Livesey swims back in time forty years in a single continuous shot. But it just occurred to me that he would have made a point of seeing LA RONDE, since it stars Anton Walbrook, directed by Dickinson in two of his best perfs (GASLIGHT, THE QUEEN OF SPADES). And in the five-minute opening shot of LA RONDE, Walbrook walks from a nocturnal Viennese street onto a theatre stage somehow erected in the midst of it, back onto the street, which then becomes a movie studio, then a street again, then daylight, then night again…

vlcsnap-47975vlcsnap-47997vlcsnap-48025

And then there’s this moment in THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, where the Baron begins to narrate his tall tale from the stage of a theatre. He speaks of the Turkish court and its seraglio. Gilliam cuts to an actor playing the Great Turk being shepherded onto the stage –

But as he enters, we find it’s a real Turkish harem, and the actor is now therefor a real Great Turk. We’re inside Munchausen’s tale, having not just moved back in time, but into a slightly more slippery form of reality, the lie-truth of a Munchausen memory, and again we’ve done it without a cut or dissolve.

The effect, like the film, is somewhat Felliniesque, but Gilliam’s trick  shot does feel akin to Dickinson’s, and it’s thus interesting to note that both SECRET PEOPLE and MUNCHAUSEN feature Valentina Cortese, who for Gilliam plays the Queen of the Moon (a giantess with a detachable head). Did Gilliam check out some of her earlier work and get inspired?

6266420_82274ec03f

Thanks to Susan VandenBergh for SECRET PEOPLE.

UK shoppers: The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition) [DVD] [1988]

No Future

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2008 by dcairns

Wanda's Early Morning Cafe 

What better way to spend an evening than by watching a 1939 French melodrama by a German director, dubbed into Italian and given a simultaneous translation into English by our own private benshi film narrator David Wingrove?

SANS LENDEMAIN (Without A Future), directed by Max Ophüls, is perhaps a minor work by this great director, but it beats the pants off DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO, made the next year. That curiously flat follow-up to Anatole Litvak’s highly successful MAYERLING (Litvak, Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer — Hollywood contracts all round!) never quite takes off, has few Ophülsian flourishes, and ends with a weird newsreel montage intended to stir the people of France to intense resistance to the oncoming Nazi threat. Since France’s active participation as a combatant in WWII ended about 30 seconds later, the need for Ophüls’ propaganda exercise was swiftly obviated, and he fled the country.

But this slightly earlier film has lots and lots going for it. Edwige Fieullére plays the lead, as she would in DMAS, and she’s a classic Ophüls suffering woman sacrificing all for love. In a great film like LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN or THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… this would be completely convincing and compelling, both psychologically and sociologically. This being merely a good film, the thrust of the story doesn’t carry as much wait, and it’s possible to object to the tragedy: “If only…” or “Couldn’t she just…” But it still has an impact.

Ophüls attempts plenty of broad stylistic effects in this one, and there are several of his long tracking shots as well, plus elaborate crane movements following characters up staircases, an Ophüls staple. One weird moment sees a snowfall of what appears to be feathers, pouring slowly past a cabin window. I was reminded of the amazing moment in MADAME DE… when a torn up letter thrown from a carriage dissolves into a snowfall.

Avalanche

Fieullére plays Evelyn, a fallen woman working as a stripper and dance hall hostess at La Sirene, a sleazy yet oddly Paris beautiful night spot. The director and his crew — designer Eugène Lourié (a favourite of Renoir’s) and cinematographers Eugen Schufftan (the man with his own PROCESS) and Paul Portier, assisted by Henri Alekan(!) go all Von Sternberg on us, bisecting and trisecting the screen with lace and veils and curtains. The Divine Max also fills the screen with tits, much as he did in DIVINE, the ’30s French answer to SHOWGIRLS.

Stage Door

Showgirls

Meeting the great love of her life (and probable father of her child) after ten years, Edwige concocts an elaborate and expensive charade to convince him that she’s still the virtuous woman he once loved — not to deceive him into marriage, but simply to experience a few days of the love she once shared with him. Since she cannot afford an expensive apartment to carry off the deception, she borrows money from a gangster and pimp. The stage, as they say, is set…

Street with No Name

(Murdo, Hound of Zaroff, runs past La Sirene clutching a human hand in his jaws.)

Quite a few of the director’s effects don’t come off in this film, and there are sometimes so many ravishing compositions to choose from that the editor apparently gets confused, and confuses us in turn. But Ophüls frequently impresses, and finally attains the sublime, right at the end of this film, with three shots of desolating ABSENCE. The places seen minutes before are shown once again, minus the characters.

It’s like a thirty-second sketch for the end of Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE.

gone...

..gone...

...like a turkey in the corn.

“I adore the past. So much more restful than the present. So much more dependable than the future.” ~ Anton Walbrook, LA RONDE.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 411 other followers