Archive for Natan

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.

Night! Youth! Paris! And the moon!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 21, 2014 by dcairns

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From tomorrow until Thursday I will be in Paris, France (pictured).

On Wednesday there will be a very special screening of NATAN at the French national film school, La Femis, which is housed in the Rue Francoeur film studios founded by Bernard Natan, but which has had no memorial to him — until now! In fact, so forgotten was the man who built the studio, that we were able to interview students at the school, none of whom knew who built it, and according to private information, even some of the staff were unaware of this part of its history.*

So there may be only light blogging this week — I had planned to prepare lots of stuff to post while away, but after a busy teaching week, I got nothing. And I will be racing to get stuff ready for the Late Show Late Movies Blogathon after that.

*Full disclosure: as a film lecturer, I knew only too well that only a tiny number of film students know any film history at all. You’re lucky if they know any history history. One student from a few years back began a presentation with “Since human civilisation began, two thousand years ago…”

4th of July

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2014 by dcairns

On the 4th of July I was in Bologna — this is what I saw.

For once I managed to struggle out of bed early enough to see the 9 am show, something I always INTENDED to do, and which I convinced myself I was achieving more often than not. It’s only looking back from this angle that I realise what a fantastic slugabed I really was. But on this occasion it meant I got in to see the gloriously restored FANTOMAS CONTRE FANTOMAS, featuring my fave of all the master-crim’s disguises –

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Wonderful. It makes you realise that, for all their national pride and aloofness, the French not-so-secretly still regard American is the mainspring of all modernity and the source of all coolness. The doubly-casual Tom Bob easily trumps our intrepid plodder Juve of the Sûreté, just by virtue of that insouciant prefix Americain. Juve is honest, fearless and dogged, but he is inescapably, gallic and therefor mundane. A fantastic inversion of the way we look towards France as a source of glamour and genius.

Neil Brand, who provided the piano accompaniment, confessed afterwards that he had initially regarded FANTOMAS and its serial kin as “meaningless running about,” which is indeed the trap a lot of serials fall into. Surrealism, elegance, and a blatant admiration for his evil characters helps Fieulliade escape this.

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I should have crossed to the next auditorium and seen the ten-minute fragment of Sternberg’s THE CASE OF LENA SMITH but I think I craved sunshine and coffee and conversation, so my next show was at 11.30, a discussion of Pathe’s restoration of WOODEN CROSSES, which I felt duty-bound to attend since I’d collaborated on a film about the movie’s producer, after all. It was interesting stuff, including as it did the revelation that the new version Pathe are releasing is mostly derived from a whole other negative, shot by a camera standing next to the one that filmed the previous release. It’s the same action and mostly the same takes, but technically speaking it’s a different film… Fans of the previous release need not worry, though, it carries the same authority and charge, as I confirmed later the same day.

After lunch, I enjoyed an episode of Riccardo Fellini’s STORIE SULLA SABBIA, already covered here. The real hot ticket was WHY BE GOOD?, a newly-restored Vitaphone soundie which I’m fairly sure I’ll get a chance to see again when Warners release it on DVD, but it would certainly have been fun to experience it on the big screen with such an audience as Bologna gathers…

Staying in my seat, I was blown away by WOODEN CROSSES all over again, which packs a severe wallop. The final barrages, and the protracted bleeding away of life at the end, left the audience drained, which is the only explanation I can think of for the fact that rather than staggering outside to inhale the evening air, I stayed where I was and saw MARRIAGE: ITALIAN STYLE, which was the perfect tonic. No falling asleep possible in this one (shouty Italians; genius choreography of actors and camera). Having revelled in De Sica’s acting the day before, I was favourably inclined to see more of his directing. That title had always put me off seeing the film before, which is silly — it’s perfect, and rather ironic. Maybe it’s the various movies that riffed on it that cheapened it. After all, GHOSTS, ITALIAN STYLE is a stupid name for a film.

Marriage Italian Style

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder at the opening out of the source play with extensive flashbacks, and you’ll marvel at how Marcello Mastroianni manages to make a character who does such loathsome things seem somehow attractive enough to spend time with and laugh at and even feel sorry for. Loren, of course, is magnificent, even in a series of sometimes unfortunate wigs. De Sica’s daughter introduced the movie, and she has her father’s smile.

“Marcello Mastroianni was a very handsome man, but he liked very much the vodka and the grappa, so that some mornings he would come in with his face looking like an unmade bed. My father’s main direction to him on such days was, ‘Marcello, tomorrow, try to be younger.'”

I think I must have had a really good dinner after than, because I don’t seem to have seen anything else that day. It would have been hard to top De Sica at the height of his international entertainer period anyhow. I do wince a little at what I missed, but realistically I wouldn’t have made it through CABIRIA, in the opera house with live score, which didn’t finish until nearly midnight. That was one of the extra shows you have to pay for outwith the price of a pass, but get this, it was five euros. Proving my contention that Bologna offers the best value film festival on the planet.

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