The Twinkler

When top cinematographer Henri Alekan came to the Edinburgh Film Festival, I think I was the first person in the audience to shoot my hand up with a question (helpful hint: there’s usually a lull before anybody volunteers, so if you have a question ready, jump in there).

The Beast Must Eye

I asked about Jean Marais’ first appearance in Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE. As “The Beast” steps briskly into view, sideways, his eyes appear to FLASH. I asked if this was deliberate, and if so, how was it achieved?

Well, I should’ve known better. The Great Cameraman affixed me with his bright gaze.

“It was deliberate,” he replied, through his interpreter. But either the second (non-dumb-ass) part of the question hadn’t been translated, or old Henri preferred to be enigmatic on the subject, because he never answered it.

And then everybody else in the audience took their cue from me and asked a lot of questions about whether the colour in WINGS OF DESIRE “was deliberate”, or whether the beautiful lighting of Audrey Hepburn in ROMAN HOLIDAY “was deliberate”. Embarrassing.

Anyhow, freezing the image, or going thru it in Still-Advance seems to provide an answer: the eyes have probably been retouched somehow, either with an optical or with neg-scratching. I didn’t want to believe this because I like the way low-tech FX work predominates in LA BELLE and Cocteau’s other films. The effects literally harken back to the days of Melies, and we don’t have to spend any time “wondering how they did it” — we KNOW at first glance how they did it, and so we get over that and just accept it as magic.

Of course, it’s just possible that Marais has little pieces of mirror affixed to his eyelids and is blinking as he emerges in order to sharply reflect the strong light that’s hitting his upper face…

I love that effect, quite unreal, where somebody has particularly bright light on their upper face. Of course such lighting CAN happen in real life, but in movies it can and should happen MUCH MORE OFTEN.

She's got Melina Mercouri eyes.

Alekan shot Jules Dassin’s continental caper TOPKAPI using a lot of lurid opticals, filters and gels, to create a kaleidoscopic, quintessentially silly ‘sixties vibe. I love it, but seemingly not everybody agrees. One film archivist I met, who was given the job of scanning the movie for location shots of Istanbul (dunno why) said it gave him a headache for a week. This miracle advance in Neurological Cinema is only possible when you have fine artists like Alekan and Dassin who are willing to lay aside all the good taste they’ve cultivated over the years and just wallow in glorious photochemical kitsch:

this kind of thing makes me Very Happy.

Filmed in Sillicolor

and here I go.

This last image features another favourite thing of mine: an obviously fake set!


One Response to “The Twinkler”

  1. […] 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 […]

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