Archive for April 2, 2008

No Future

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2008 by dcairns

Wanda's Early Morning Cafe 

What better way to spend an evening than by watching a 1939 French melodrama by a German director, dubbed into Italian and given a simultaneous translation into English by our own private benshi film narrator David Wingrove?

SANS LENDEMAIN (Without A Future), directed by Max Ophüls, is perhaps a minor work by this great director, but it beats the pants off DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO, made the next year. That curiously flat follow-up to Anatole Litvak’s highly successful MAYERLING (Litvak, Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer — Hollywood contracts all round!) never quite takes off, has few Ophülsian flourishes, and ends with a weird newsreel montage intended to stir the people of France to intense resistance to the oncoming Nazi threat. Since France’s active participation as a combatant in WWII ended about 30 seconds later, the need for Ophüls’ propaganda exercise was swiftly obviated, and he fled the country.

But this slightly earlier film has lots and lots going for it. Edwige Fieullére plays the lead, as she would in DMAS, and she’s a classic Ophüls suffering woman sacrificing all for love. In a great film like LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN or THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… this would be completely convincing and compelling, both psychologically and sociologically. This being merely a good film, the thrust of the story doesn’t carry as much wait, and it’s possible to object to the tragedy: “If only…” or “Couldn’t she just…” But it still has an impact.

Ophüls attempts plenty of broad stylistic effects in this one, and there are several of his long tracking shots as well, plus elaborate crane movements following characters up staircases, an Ophüls staple. One weird moment sees a snowfall of what appears to be feathers, pouring slowly past a cabin window. I was reminded of the amazing moment in MADAME DE… when a torn up letter thrown from a carriage dissolves into a snowfall.

Avalanche

Fieullére plays Evelyn, a fallen woman working as a stripper and dance hall hostess at La Sirene, a sleazy yet oddly Paris beautiful night spot. The director and his crew — designer Eugène Lourié (a favourite of Renoir’s) 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 curtains. The Divine Max also fills the screen with tits, much as he did in DIVINE, the ’30s French answer to SHOWGIRLS.

Stage Door

Showgirls

Meeting the great love of her life (and probable father of her child) after ten years, Edwige concocts an elaborate and expensive charade to convince him that she’s still the virtuous woman he once loved — not to deceive him into marriage, but simply to experience a few days of the love she once shared with him. Since she cannot afford an expensive apartment to carry off the deception, she borrows money from a gangster and pimp. The stage, as they say, is set…

Street with No Name

(Murdo, Hound of Zaroff, runs past La Sirene clutching a human hand in his jaws.)

Quite a few of the director’s effects don’t come off in this film, and there are sometimes so many ravishing compositions to choose from that the editor apparently gets confused, and confuses us in turn. But Ophüls frequently impresses, and finally attains the sublime, right at the end of this film, with three shots of desolating ABSENCE. The places seen minutes before are shown once again, minus the characters.

It’s like a thirty-second sketch for the end of Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE.

gone...

..gone...

...like a turkey in the corn.

“I adore the past. So much more restful than the present. So much more dependable than the future.” ~ Anton Walbrook, LA RONDE.

Advertisements

The Chills #5: What time is love?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2008 by dcairns

The Clock 

Jules Dassin definitely deserves a Shadowplay Chills moment of his own. NIGHT AND THE CITY arguably has several — it certainly has the sweatiest leading man performance, from the atomic-powered Richard Widmark. Somebody recently described his character as a manic-depressive, and I thought that was probably a good diagnosis but it somehow takes away from the film. If Harry Fabian has a medical condition, his mistakes are not really his own. The left-leaning film-makers’ noirs tend to be very consciously about WRONG VALUES, like Joseph Losey’s THE PROWLER. They can be taken as a guide to how not to live your life, what not to desire. Maybe the best thing is to simultaneously hold the idea of Fabian as a psychologically tormented victim, and also, contrarily, as a product of a society that values success at any price — and it must be EXTRAVAGANT success.

The Crowd

A society.

Be that as it may, the clip I’ve plumped for is from the amazing 10.30PM SUMMER. Not everyone will approve. David Thomson, in his Biographical Dictionary of Film, recommends Dassin’s European art-house efforts as a cure for depression — he finds them unintentionally hilarious. I think Dassin is courageous for being unconcerned whether people like Thomson snicker.

The Old Crowd

Everybody’s a critic.

He’s attempting to fuse the qualities of European art-house movies — Antonioni, the nouvelle vague, the shade of Fellini’s TOBY DAMMIT to come, with the overwrought, operatic effusion of silent melodrama. Catalogue this one next to NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and MOONRISE as a headlong plunge into cinema antiquity, coupled with a few paths not followed — it’s a vision of cinema from an alternate universe. OK, maybe it’s a universe where people think Melina Mercouri looks good as a blonde, but with a little imagination we can all go there.

10.30PM SUMMER is available on DVD in France and the USA.

Pardon the Intrusion

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2008 by dcairns

WORLD EXCLUSIVE from Shadowplay. This is INTRUSION, the first film by ’60s UK horror-film enfant terrible Michael Reeves.

Unfortunately, in the years since its production, the soundtrack has gone astray. Also unfortunately, since Reeves made the mistake of making his film exactly 34 seconds too long for YouTube, I’ve had to omit the opening title that reads, “This film is dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard.” It’s a dedication that makes me smile. Godard dedicated A BOUT DE SOUFFLE to Monogram Films, makers of low-grade quickies. Reeves dedicates his low grade quickie to Godard, without a trace of detectable irony.

dedicated to the one I love

The film isn’t exactly good or anything, but it’s historically very important and it’s been unavailable for years because the people who have their hands on the only print charge a fortune for video copies. Even Reeves’ biographer, Benjamin Halligan, got stung.

So now here it is for free, so you can all enjoy the first film performance of future Reeves star Ian Ogilvy as the Obsequious Butler (?) the fact that the bad guy wears Jean-Luc Godard shades, the novelty of a would-be hard-edged thriller being performed by public schoolboys in the leafy English countryside, and the complete lack of irony or plot twists.

Neon Ogilvy

It’s an early work, owing more to Reeves’ hero and mentor Don Siegel than to Godard, and probably of interest only to Reeves completists. We get the sex (sort of) and violence (sort of) and the rural and distinctly English setting, which connects it to other Reeves movies, even if it is basically a home movie by precocious teenagers. We’re certainly not talking TWO MEN AND A WARDROBE here. The rest of you should check out psychedelic psycho-thriller THE SORCERERS and vicious allegory WITCHFINDER GENERAL to see Reeves at his height, and mourn the loss to British cinema — Reeves died of an accidental overdose at age 25.

(I love the fact that for some reason INTRUSION is “A Leith Production,” since that’s where I live in Edinburgh. The name has fulfilled itself.)