Archive for The Passion of Joan of Arc

Full of Loonies

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by dcairns


Once, when Fiona was suffering from severe clinical depression, she tried to gain admission to a psychiatric hospital, but the doctors didn’t want to admit her. They said it wouldn’t be the best place for her. When she reported this and I asked her what reason had been given, she replied, “Full of loonies,” and it was the closest thing to a smile she had managed in some time.

Most psychiatric hospitals are somewhat grim places, though no grimmer than any other kind I guess. And you probably have a better chance of recovery in a psych hospital. The problem with them is the kind of people they tend to attract, which is to say the insane. If you are feeling frail and vulnerable, other frail and vulnerable people are probably not the best company, especially if they are running about shouting about it. The other problem is the staff, some of whom are brilliant but the non-brilliant ones, the ones with compassion fatigue or a sadistic approach to the wielding of power, may easily undo all the good done by the well-meaning ones.

Have you seen Nicolas Philibert’s documentary EVERY LITTLE THING? The French asylum seen in that is about as idyllic as you could ever get, and the film has probably done a lot of good just by making people realize that the mental hospital is not a place of gothic terror. But it’s usually pretty depressing.

(Philibert was at first reluctant to make the film, telling the inmates that he was afraid of exploiting them. “We won’t let you,” they said. “We’re mad, not stupid.”)

What got me onto the subject was reading on Wikipedia in the list of rediscovered films that TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION (1927) was rediscovered in a French asylum in the 1990s. HIS BUSY HOUR (1926), from the same director, James Pierce, was rediscovered the same way, although I don’t know for sure if it was the same asylum or a different one. It’d be kind of weird if it were a different one. Did Pierce donate all his films to this place? Or bring them with him when he checked in?

Anyway, it reminded me that Dreyer’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC was likewise found in a mental hospital in Oslo. Not a film I would show to someone with a shaky grasp on reality. It’s practically a schizophrenic’s charter. And quite distressing.

It got me wondering about what kind of movie shows they would have in the psych wards. They must have a rare old time. Tarzan, Joan of Arc, who knows what else? Would a systematic trawl of the world’s institutes for the very, very nervous throw up more discoveries? Are Brazilian paranoiacs even now enjoying the complete cutting copy of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS? Is LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT entertaining the bewildered of Barcelona, or THE DRAG NET the depressives of Dusseldorf?

Actually, Fiona spent some time on the ward, so bad did her condition get, and we watched a film there, or anyhow a TV show, one we’d written. The tape arrived from the producer at this delicate time. Fiona’s plan, before falling ill, had been to have a big party and watch it with friends. I’d advised against that, because if it turned out to be bad we’d probably want a bit of time in private. In the end, Fiona’s version of th big party was persuading a bipolar patient to sit down and watch with us, but the poor thing physically couldn’t stay sat down for half an hour at a time.

The show was a horror comedy, again probably not the most therapeutic viewing. It certainly wasn’t therapeutic for us, since the director had rewritten it and then done an utterly incompetent job of filming it. It gives you a new respect for the auteur theory, because that was not a bad script to begin with. And that is why I will throw something at that director if I ever see him again.

Flames of Passion

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 1, 2013 by dcairns

Happy New Year!

Your Pathe-Natan film of the week. Raymond Bernard, who made the truly great PN films WOODEN CROSSES and LES MISERABLES, started his career at the company with FAUBOURG-MONTMARTRE, which somewhat defeated my benshi translator David Wingrove since the copy I’d obtained had pretty cruddy sound. Add to that the vagaries of early thirties recording and early thirties French slang, and you have a film that’s pretty hard to understand — and it might be hard to understand even if you had perfect audio and spoke 1930s French like a native.

The romantic plot inexplicably yields sway to a riotous fire festival in a small town, in which the lovers are burned in effigy by no less a figure than Antonin Artaud — if you’re going to have a burning at the stake in your movie, qua THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, Artaud will turn up, it seems. I suspect his toothsome shade mingled among the crowds attending Edward Woodward’s immolation in THE WICKER MAN, perhaps pausing to pinch Britt Ekland’s bum.

Bernard flings himself into the festivities, concocting an expressionistic frenzy that ends with an anthropomorphic building like something from a Fleischer brothers cartoon. Then the film goes back to normal, the villagers say they didn’t mean any harm, and shortly afterwards the film just kind of stops. Was the director wrong to build this sequence up so much that it ruptures the surrounding movie? Perhaps not, since the surrounding movie is kind of dull by comparison, and this sequence is AMAZING.

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…”


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