Euphoria #23

run fat boy run 
Danny Carr, Shadowplay informant, offered a plethora of marvellous suggestions for our regular Euphoria section, all of them gold-plated cinematic pulse-pounders. He climaxes, metaphorically speaking, with this un-toppable offering:
“Or actually the infectiously brakes-off and anything goes first few minutes of Jules et Jim. has a movie ever been more fun?”
There’s quite a lot to be said about this sequence, but let’s start with Scorsese’s “I had never seen anything so exhilerating” and take it from there.
(No subtitles on this clip: go learn French)
 
Truffaut’s big innovation is to throw together what looks at times like a random selection of out-takes. Organising principles are provided by Georges Delerue’s ebullient bombast on the soundtrack, which the images cut to, and by an ilustrative approach, some of the time: we see the actors as their credits come up, some of the images seem to relate to some of the technical credits. What has been gloriously abandoned is narrative sense: that can come later. I don’t think anybody else had started doing this at the time, although maybe it was happening in T.V. The device certainly became a mainstay of television credits a little later:
Scorsese’s adulation is worth returning to because, though maybe it’s just my imagination, I’m posi-sure (as Dan Dare would say) that the J&J opening had some kind of effect on Scorsese’s approach to GOODFELLAS. Jeanne Moreau’s voice-over on black screen (stolen by me for my short CLARIMONDE), followed by that boisterous theme, seems to be distantly echoed in the Scorsese flick by Ray Liotta’s first V.O., “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” mopving into a freeze frame, with “From Rags to Riches” blasting in on the soundtrack a couple frames later.
 
Scorsese’s use of an unusually FAST V.O. also ties his work to Truffaut’s. Since Scorsese’s major influence on GOODFELLAS was the abrupt cutting seen in movie trailers, it’s natural that he’d have thought of Truffaut, since that’s kind of what this title sequence is: a trailer for the movie we’re about to see.
Another filmmaker who sometimes starts his films with a trailer is Richard Lester, much on my mind at present as I’m teaching a class about him on Friday (plus, he was nice enough to contribute some funds towards the aforementioned CLARIMONDE). Lester, A Truffaut fan, begins A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM with a piece-to-camera by Zero Mostel which climaxes in a fast-cut musical montage of scenes from the upcoming movie. And Harold Pinter’s unproduced screenplay for Lester’s proposed film of Joseph Conrad’s VICTORY, begins like so:
A boat becalmed, far out to sea. The mast slowly sways. Heat haze. Red sun. 
Gulls encircle the boat, screeching. 
Screeching violins. A ladies’ orchestra. Bare arms. White dresses. Crimson sashes. 
A wall of foliage. Bamboo spears pierce the foliage, quiver, stay pointed. 
Camera pans up to see, through leaves, impassive native faces. 
An island. Moonlight. Silence. 
Figures of men seen at a distance at the door of a low, thatched house. The door is kicked open. The sound reverberates in the night. Explosion of shrieking birds. 
Driving rain. Leashed, barking dogs leading men with rifles through jungle. 
One of the men suddenly turns in panic, raises gun to shoot. 
Champagne corks popping. Two men standing on a jetty. Champagne is poured into glasses. In background a freighter leaving. Natives waving, cheering. The freighter whistles. 
A cylinder gramophone playing in a room. Rosalia Chalier singing. 
Moonlight. 
A girl’s figure in a sarong passes, carrying a bowl of water. 
In background a mosquito net canopy over bed. A man’s body on the bed. 
The girl parts the netting, places the bowl on the bed, kneels on the bed, looks down at the man. 
The gramophone hissing. 
A creek. Night. Crackle of fire. Two figures seated in foreground. 
Fire burning. 
Beyond the fire two Venezuelan Indians poking long knives into fish. They eat. 
The two foreground figures remain still. 
One of these raises a hand and wipes it on a silken handkerchief. 
High up on a hillside two figures in the grass. Bright sunlight. 

A girl’s stifled scream.

*

I love how Pinter writes the opening montage, breaking every rule of screenwriting and format. The fragmented, snappy sentences are also quite close stylistically to Carl Mayer’s work for Murnau…

More on screenwriting soon!

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6 Responses to “Euphoria #23”

  1. I would cite the opening scene of Muriel in this regard.

    But what has always marked Jules et Jim for me was its infectious high-spirits. I had never seen a “period” film in which people were behaving exactly like me and my friends. It made all previous costumes pics seem unspeakably flat-footed and dull.

  2. Atrociously, I haven’t seen Muriel. But then, it’s unavaliable over here. Have been hoping to see it for some time, and rest assured, it’s on my list of things to buy from the US (but that’s a long list).

    I have some other Resnais stuff to watch and blog about soon, hopefully.

    Michael Winterbottom (my nemesis) said he wanted get a Jules et Jim feeling for Jude, but then he just stole Marie Dubois’ cigarette trick outright.

    J&J has an incredible freshness still.

  3. I’m going to be writing about some Resnais that has just come out on DVD for DVD Beaver. Muriel isn’t among them. I have a teriffic Region 2 of it with Japanese subtitles.

    Another otherwise very different movie with J & J freshness is George Roy Hill’s The World of Henry Orient. It captures perfectly the New York I knew growing up in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and has a truly superb Elmer Bernstein score.

  4. Ah, I’ve only seen bits of that. It did have a lot of nouvelle vague borrowings and energy, which surprised me for a film of it’s period — I tend to think it took longer for Hollywood to be influenced by that stuff, and even then, indirectly by way of Lester, but it’s all there in that 1964 movie, before A Hard Day’s Night could have had any impact.

    George Roy Hill probably doesn’t get enough credit among cineastes, I feel.

  5. His DP on The World of Henry Orient was Boris Kaufman — Jean Vigo’s DP on L’Atatlante and Dziga Vertov’s brother.

  6. WOW!
    That’s quite a career Kaufman had! I had no idea of the Vertov connection.

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