Archive for Luc Besson

The Sunday Intertitle: Night at the Museum

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2012 by dcairns

Bloody hell, he is, too! He’s Rene Navarre, alias Fantomas, here cast as “Chantecoq, King of Detectives”.

“I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.”

(I’d love to see a movie with the King of Detectives vs the King of the Beatniks from THE HYPNOTIC EYE.)

Just as M. Vidocq turned from crime to detection, proving that it takes a thief to catch a thief, so Navarre has converted from being the terrorist master of disguise, to cop monarch Chantecoq.

BELPHEGOR, a four part serial from 1927, is a little slow-moving by the standard of these things, with much time spent on various characters’ domestic arrangements rather than running around the Louvre firing pistols at ghosts (in the inspirationally-named  Room of Barbarian Gods). But it has atmosphere, romance, and lovely art deco rooms. The hero’s wallpaper is thrilling, and if you run a bar code scanner over it you’ll find out what it cost.

Veteran director Henri Desfontaines’ four-part serial has a funereal pace for a thriller, but striking compositional sense and art direction. The effect is exactly as dreamlike as we Feuillade fans might wish it to be. There’s the masked phantom of the title, a sinister hunchback in Dickensian muttonchops, disguises, escapes, a historical flashback, and an unusual example of product placement. The story was originally serialized in Le Petit Parisian newspaper, and the hapless hero is himself a reporter for that organ. Instead of merely placing the product in the story, the publisher placed the story in the product too, creating a potentially infinite reality regression of the kind you get when you stand between two mirrors. Vertiginous.

Since there are four episodes, each nearly an hour, but only about half an hour’s worth of plot, interesting padding is devised. Random characters at various times see Belphegor, the Phantom of the Louvre, even when he isn’t there. In episode one he appears inside a loudspeaker broadcasting news of his criminous exploits, and also superimposed over a newspaper article. He’s clearly less a man than a media-spread terror meme, like Bin Laden.

BELPHEGOR later became a sixties TV show with Juliette Greco (acclaimed) a comic strip, an animated series, and a Sophie Marceau mess — it’s also a major influence on Luc Besson’s intermittently forgivable LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRE D’ADELE BLANC-SEC.

Arc Light

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by dcairns

For my thoughts on Dreyer’s PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, read this old piece. But for a review of the OTHER 1920s Joan film, the one contemporary audiences flocked to in preference, see this week’s edition of The Forgotten, the first in a short series celebrating the productions of Pathe-Natan, a short-lived incarnation of the French film company Pathe…

Can you treat a production company as an auteur? Certainly, if you give any credence to the genius of the system. (And, sure, the system can be idiotic at times, but so can the most respected geniuses.)

While on the subject of Joan of Arc and idiocy, I feel it’s not too late to say that Luc Besson’s JOAN OF ARC is an awful, awful piece of work, so putrid that it’s a source of wonder to me that people to this day do not point, and laugh, and hurl tiny stinging pellets of owl-shit at Besson when he appears in public. The reason for my distaste is not the director’s girlfriend, Milla Jojobabitch, who I think is perfectly adequate given the kind of Joan she’s been asked to play. My dislike is based on one scene — one of the foulest messes ever splashed upon a screen.

Besson invents for Joan a sister murdered by the English, in best BRAVEHEART manner (OK, it wasn’t William Wallace’s sister, but you get my drift — apparently a movie hero needs to be motivated by a thirst for personal revenge, not patriotism or religion). Said sister is not only murdered but raped, and in that order. And Besson sees fit to throw in a bit of comedy relief at the same time.

Said sister is actually skewered by a broadsword, nailed to a wall behind which Joan is hiding (so Besson can shoot the bloody blade emerging inches from Joan’s horrified face, of course). Then the murderer has his way with the corpse. Then he turns to two companions, resting at the kitchen table, and says something along the lines of “Who wants to go next?”

And the two guys turn to each other in a synchronized double-take, eyebrows raised. The comedy style is out of John Landis, and to say it sits somewhat awkwardly in the overall tone of the scene is a bit like saying a fart gag during the Auschwitz shower scene in SCHINDLER’S LIST might have seemed a bit out-of-keeping. I was really annoyed by the double-takes in THE EXTRAORDINARILY PROTRACTED TITLE OF ADELE BLANC-SEC, mainly because they always tried to force a laugh from the audience when nothing funny had actually happened, but possibly because the acrid tang of his JOAN was still in my mental nostrils.

So I dunno. If you live anywhere near Besson, or find yourself in Cannes when he’s got a film playing, maybe you need to make sure you have some owl pellets in your side pocket or purse. I’m just saying.

Fortunately, nothing as bad as the Besson atrocity happens in Marco de Gastyne’s LA VIE MERVEILLEUSE DE JEANNE D’ARC. Although, ouch:

“Non, je ne regrette rien…”

Sunken Rex

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on March 5, 2012 by dcairns

This is the Rex Cinema in Paris, a great slab of 30s art deco splendour. Thanks to Friends of Shadowplay Celluloid Tongue, Paul Duane and I heard about the tour, and decided to check it out while waiting to meet a contact concerning our top secret project.

What a wild ride that was! Like a very low-budget theme park ride based around the concept of existential nothingness, it produced a strange state of mind which Paul likened to coming down from a bad acid trip. A very specific bad acid trip — Brighton Pier in the off-season, with Paul Young singing his ill-advised cover version of Love Will Tear Us Apart in the background. I haven’t had that exact experience, but I have been on the Rex Tour, so I suppose I know what he means.

The ride starts with some gratuitous smoke and water being sprayed at the punters (we two had the experience all to ourselves, which added to the bleak hilarity of it all), then there was the first of several elevator rides. I’m convinced that none of these were real, but I suppose it’s possible that sometimes the elevators actually ascended or descended to a different floor. I suspect the ride MIGHT cover two floors. One of the effects of the ride is to produce a spiraling sense of dislocation, both physical and cultural (maybe if we spoke good French and had selected the French audio option instead of the lame American voices, the latter would have been reduced) as we were led through a maze of strange spaces which had some kind of physical connection, but certainly no conceptual one. The elevators were used principally as  holding pens — places where the punters can be forced to wait while a voice-over tells them random stuff, in order to pad the ride out to however long it is (as you take the ride, time seems to stand still, run backwards, then collapse in on itself like Mickey Rourke).

There’s a brief educational piece about the building of the Rex, hardly spectacular but at least grounded in something, though as the Tongue notes, the controversial and interesting bit about the cinema’s role as a soldatenkino (soldier’s cinema) for German troops during the occupation doesn’t get a mention.

Then it’s weirdness all the way, from looking through the windows of a dark projection booth to see a miniature mock-up auditorium screening Luc Besson’s THE BIG BLUE (as bad as ever) on a little video monitor doubling as the screen, to a dubbing session in which you attempt to fill in dialogue for a set of clips of old time movie stars (most of whom aren’t even saying the line you’ve been supplied with) — you hurry through to the screening room and you get to watch video of yourselves saying the lines — you never see the results of the “dubbing”.

The strangest moment is the “updating” — most of the clips on display are either golden age Hollywood, and a few French films, or else they’re 80s Hollywood. Apart from the terrifying apparition of a shop window mannequin peering from behind a dressing room door. This is a new addition but, obviously working to a tight budget, they’ve only given him French dialogue… oh yes, he speaks. He has George Clooney’s face projected onto what probably started out as Alec Baldwin, with an animated mouth, flapping open and closed in “synch” to the French script.

At the end of the show you get to watch a standing ovation at the Cesar awards, cunningly re-edited to deploy hidden camera footage of yourselves ascending a staircase, to make it look as if it’s you that’s getting the applause. However, since the tour is designed for a dozen or so punters, the staircase shot held for long seconds after Paul and I had trotted through frame, lending the whole thing a ludicrous yet stark emptiness, like a Three Stooges film made by Bresson.

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