Three Disappointments and a Whoopee

Disappointment 1: the lack of a really great critical study of Powell & Pressburger. Ian Christie’s Arrows of Desire was a fine starting point, and the coffee-table quality of the book, with glossy and lurid colour stills, makes it a nice visual companion to the Archers’ films. But Andrew Moor’s Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magic Spaces just seemed too DRY to evoke these lush romances, and Scott Salwolke’s The Films of Michael Powell and the Archers is hampered by the fact that he hasn’t seen all the films. Several times in the book we get the phrase “is hard to see nowadays”, which I might believe if I didn’t have copies of them on my shelves. I guess I’d admit they’re hard to see, but not IMPOSSIBLE. The author doesn’t admit to not having seen HONEYMOON, but since all he does is reproduce some contemporary reviews of it, it’s pretty clear he never managed to track it down. I guess since the book is ten years old, things were tougher then, but I can’t believe THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW would be completely inaccessible: Raymond Durgnat sold me a copy for a fiver.

Disappointment 2: What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting by Marc Norman. Norman wrote the script for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, which was then revised by Tom Stoppard (Norman professed himself delighted to have had Stoppard’s assistance), and this is his first non-fiction work. I was hoping to find some kind of thesis lurking in it, but it reads like a stack of anecdotes so far. It reads like *I* wrote it!

The early chapters on silent cinema fall for the old one about Mack Sennett not using written scripts (the half-page or page-long outlines have in fact been found — Frank Capra’s autobiography is not the most reliable source for ANYTHING) and he talks about BIRTH OF A NATION having a scene breakdown prepared from the book, but which was never seen on the set, but he misses my favourite Griffith script story: Griffith’s first short, THE ADVENTURE OF DOLLIE, had its scenario jotted down by Griffith and cameraman Billy Bitzer the night before shooting, on a piece of cardboard that came from the laundry with Griffith’s shirt wrapped round it.

Norman also refers to Chaplin’s first director as Henry Pathé Lehrman, missing the all-important inverted commas around “Pathé” (Lehrman got a job with Mack Sennett with a tall tale about having worked for Pathé: when the ruse was discovered, the name stuck) and says that Herman Mankiewicz worked on “some trifle” called CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY. It may sound like a trifle, and the casting of Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly might have lead contemporary audiences to expect one, but CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is a very dark film noir romance, and authors should resist making such statements about films they haven’t seen.

I’d still like this book to turn into an impassioned and informed account of the screenwriter’s role, so I’m going to persevere a little further — this isn’t a proper book review since I haven’t finished the thing. I will report back if I end up more impressed by it.

Disappointment 3: Hanno’s Doll by Evelyn Piper. I picked this up after belatedly realising that both THE NANNY and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING, films I like a lot, came from Piper novels. I wanted to read something else by her. Although it does have a nice, twisty plot, the book took me ages to finish, being written in an irksome baby-talk that’s supposed to simulate the thought processes of the protagonist, a fat German actor (Piper must have had an eye of Curt Jurgens for a possible movie adaptation, or Gert Fröbe).

Whoopee 1: Maja Borg, a recent graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art film course where I teach, has a show on next week, Thursday 21st August, 8.30 pm on More4 in their First Cut series. Happy Birthday, You’re Dead takes its inspiration from the fact that a fortune teller once told Maya that she’d die in a car crash before her 25th birthday. The documentary charts the “last” weeks of Maja’s life leading up to her 25th.

I’m rooting for her to survive.

60 Responses to “Three Disappointments and a Whoopee”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    I have never read any book on Powell-Pressburger. I once read a worn-out copy of the first volume of Powell’s autobiography only to find that it had 20 missing pages and then dropped it. Most of what I know comes from the commentaries on the DVD’s, that website run by Steve Crook and above all the movies themselves. I wanted to read ”Arrows of Desire” actually.

    And I agree with you about ”Christmas Holiday”(a really stunning film from Siodmak), it’s one of the most fascinating films of the 40’s and deserves much more recognition. I personally am not as much a devotee of Herman J. Mankiewicz as a writer but that’s a great screenplay he wrote and has some rich characters that remains rare in cinema.

  2. Chistmas Holiday is a masterpiece. Adapted from a Somerset Magham story of the same name it’s set in New Orleans where a young soldier (who roughly serves as the equivalent of William Alland in Citizen Kane) has an unscheduled layover and is directed to a “roadhouse” (ie. whorehouse) on the outskirts of town where he finds a very adult abd very beautiful Deanna singing “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” — written by the great Frank Loesser expressly for this film. In a trice it’s time for the flashbacks where we learn of Deanna’s romance with a moody “mother-fixated” (read queer) homicical maniac — Gene Kelly. When the action returns to the present so does an on the lamb Kelly who, in a last ditch effort to murder our heroine, is shot down in ahil of police bullets. He dies in her arms and she goes off to midnight mass to sing “Ave Maria.”

    THE END!

    I have never seen a film better representative of the true spirit of Christmas — a holiday invented by our pagan forebearers the better to ward off the depression or what’s known today as “Seasonal Affect Distorder” that accompanies that time of year.

    It rarely plays on TV, and NEVER at Christmas, where it belongs.

    And to think in the same year Sidomak directed Phantom Lady AND Cobra Woman”!

  3. Arthur S. Says:

    He dies in her arms and she goes off to midnight mass to sing “Ave Maria.”

    Maybe there are two versions. The version which I saw(a monh ago) ends with her staring at a star in the sky while Wagner music(the same from that breathtaking opera scene early in the film, from ”Tristan und Isolde” I think) fills the screen. The mass scene happens much earlier, before the flashbacks in fact. And Gene Kelly says something like, “you’re free now” before he dies. It reminded me of the ending of ”They Live by Night”. Vaguely of course. In that there Farley Granger is an innocent shot down by the cops while Gene Kelly isn’t. But in both cases it ends with the girl having an epiphany of sorts and being all alone.

  4. Arthur S. Says:

    The main thing that I liked about ”Christmas Holiday” was the performance by Gene Kelly, who’s both convincingly menacing and understandable and charismatic. I especially like the scene where after his character escapes from jail he asks that reporter friend to make a call to Deanna Durbin’s character and then he walks into a bathroom to clean up while the guy walks out sneakily and then he says, “I’ve got a gun!” The line delivery is both menacing and nonchalant. Proves what I always believed that Kelly was just as talented an actor as he was a singer/dancer.

    Oddly although people will see it as against-type today, I heard that Kelly in real life was a fairly intense guy. One of those ironies I guess.

  5. Arthur, you’re right about the music cues. I misremembered them. The Wagner is a call-back from an early scene in the film where they go to a concert. The shot of the clouds parting as Deanna looks up into the sky has to be seen to be disbelieved.

    Kelly arrived in Hollywood fresh from Broadway where his performance in Pal Joey marked him as an actor skilled at playing charming heels. He did one expertly in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland. But in Christmas Holiday he’s WAY beyond heel.

  6. As for P&P I’m in some ways rather glad that a “definitive” book has yet to be written on them. They’re a weird mob, you know — multi-dimensional in nature. For P& P also means Hein Heckroth, Brian Easdale, Jack Cardiff, Christopher Challis, Debroah Kerr, Leonide Massine, Moira Shearer, and the great Anton Walbrook

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    The shot of the clouds parting as Deanna looks up into the sky has to be seen to be disbelieved.

    You mean it’s a sort of a fake-happy ending?

    He did one expertly in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland. But in Christmas Holiday he’s WAY beyond heel.

    I’ll check out ”For Me and My Gal”. He’s well beyond heel for sure in this film. The way his mother keeps talking about him having “traits” which Deanna Durbin was to fix-up and the like and the fact that he seems to be persecuted and the like.

    The one possible flaw with ”Christmas Holiday” is that for a film set in New Orleans and Gene Kelly’s character having a Creole name and the like, the film doesn’t have(or attempt) any sense of regional identity and certainly not accents(but then that might be a good thing since actors not affecting an accent can turn out to be deadly).

  8. Not fake so much as “over the top.”

  9. Arthur S. Says:

    Yeah. The Archers were like a theatre troupe or like that ballet company in ”The Red Shoes”. One of their films is like five films in one. Like ”A Matter of Life and Death” left me unenthused when I first saw it but I saw it repeatedly and the film on each successive viewing became more delirious and romantic than ever. It nearly gave me stendhal syndrome when I saw it thrice in one day.

    And to that weird mob, one must add Roger Livesey, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Cyril Cusack, Alfred Junge, Georges Perinal. It’s interesting because the auteur theory has huge problems with the Archers because their films are distinct and unlike anything else but it can’t be pinned down to one creator even if Powell was definitely a major drive of that group.

    Oh and Reginald Mills and David Lean, their editors. David Lean on ”One of Our Aircraft is Missing” removed a scene about an old officer telling a younger officer that he doesn’t know what it means to be old. He told Powell and/or Pressburger that the premise was worth of a film in itself. The result – ”The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” the first in their cycle of masterpieces in the 40’s(and my personal favourite of their works). Although ”One of Our Aircraft” is a fine film in it’s own right and ”49th Parallel” is a curious fascinating propaganda film(though does not transcend it’s genre).

    One idea for a book on the Archers would be to look at the production methods of each film like that book, ”Hitchcock at Work”, the only problem is that there it was centered on Hitchcock while this one would have to look at various different personnel and all the nuts and bolts that made it work.

  10. A great suggestion. Love to know what it took to make THIS!

  11. Not to mention THIS! (featuring my hero, Sabu.)

  12. Maybe this is the book I should be pitching — I’ve heard a lot of the stories from people who were there, and my film-making experience, extremely modest though it is, is helpful in unpicking truth from bullshit. It could be a useful corrective to Powell’s wonderful but far-from-factual autobiographies (which should be celebrated as among his best fictions) and weave a critical appraisal through close analysis.

    Massive task though!

  13. Arthur S. Says:

    Massive task though!

    Well rome wasn’t built in a day. The first thing is to ask all the needed questions among the survivors(those who worked on the films and are still with us and friends and the like). Some have obviously been interviewed but as Krohn noted in ”Hitchcock at Work”, they aren’t asked all the questions.

    Kevin MacDonald wrote a book on Pressburger, his grandfather which I haven’t read. How is that? Maybe you can get some notes from him.

  14. What does the Powell book have to say about Lazybones?

    The fortune teller story reminds me of my schooldays when walking to my house with a friend he suddenly turned to me and intensly said he’d recently had a vivid dream in which I was run over by a car at a nearby junction, so I should watch out.

    It hasn’t happened in the last fifteen years, so I’m not sure how much of a fortune teller he was, but I still can’t stop myself from feeling a little nervous whenever I cross that junction!

  15. MacDonald’s book, and documentary, do a thorough job tracing Pressburger’s background. It’s great to see the town he came from. I don’t recall getting that much insight into the work, but I need to look again.

    Colin — I’d move! But then you’d probably arrive in Tasmania and be struck down by an Audi and then your last sight would be a sign saying that the junction had been transported stone by stone from your home town.

  16. CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is an excellent dark drama with Durbin giving an amazing performance especially the last scene!!!

  17. The last scene has provoked comparisons to Un Chien Andalou (Ah, Night, Youth, Wagner, and the Moon!). Hope to do more on Siodmak sometime because I love him.

    Gotta love anyone who wore a sign on his back in Hollywood reading “It’s See-Odd-Mack”.

    People said, “You can’t wear that, it’s beneath your dignity.”

    “I don’t care about dignity, I just want to make good pictures.”

  18. God, Preminger was a marketing genius! “Laurence Olivier is immense.” It’s practically his only good film performance, in fact.

  19. Arthur S. Says:

    There’s also Wyler’s ”Carrie”, ”Wuthering Heights”,(the film sucks as far as Bronte goes but his Heathcliff is superlative), Mankiewicz’ ”Sleuth”(not the best of plays but he and Caine make it a lot of fun). And some others I can’t remember now. He’s also good in ”Spartacus”. Apparently on ”Spartacus”, neither he nor Laughton listened to Kubrick’s direction since they hated each other and were having a competition about who can chew more scenery. I’d call it a draw.

    Olivier and Laughton fans would take their heroes of course. His film as a director ”Three Sisters” is well worth watching as well. There’s also a side-splitting camp(avant-la-lettre) turn as a gay French-Canadian trapper in ”49th Parallel”, he’s let down by the whole travelogue of Canada aspect of the part but he’s a lot of fun and it was propaganda anyway(and compares nicely to the equally miscast Walbrook as a Hutterite farmer). He was apparently first choice to play the title role of Blimp by both Archers. Livesey is spellbinding of course and I wouldn’t dream of replacing him but I wonder what Olivier would have brought to it.

    “I don’t care about dignity, I just want to make good pictures.”

    Which he did. I’ve seen seven. ”Criss Cross”(his masterpiece), ”The Killers”(a tad mannerist but still great), ”The Spiral Staircase”, ”The Dark Mirror”, ”The File on Thelma Jordan” and of course, ”Christmas Holiday”. ”Phantom Lady” is also a fine film though hindered by the story. One of his german films ”Abschied” is adapted from a Pressburger screenplay(just to connect the two main topics of this discussion board). Wonder if it still exists and if it’s of interest. Then ”Menschem am Sontag” has him as a co-director alongside Ulmer.

    One film of his that I’d love to see but is thoroughly rare is ”The Great Sinner”. It has a screenplay by Christopher Isherwood. Stars Ava Gardner, Agnes Moorehead and Gregory Peck. It’s an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s ”The Gambler”. That book by that most strange and unstable of Russians was apparently his way of writing himself out of his legendary gambling addiction. It failed but he fell in love instead with the woman who worked as his stenographer. Since it’s an autobiographical account of his own failed romance with a courtesan. I’m guessing Ava Gardner plays Polina Suslova and Gregory Peck plays Alexei Ivanovich(a.k.a Dostoyevsky).

    I’d love to see it. The title doesn’t sound promising and I’ve read reports which says that the last half rips from ”Crime and Punishment” but should be interesting.

    Another adaptation of ”The Gambler” is Scorsese’s modern-dress and much adapted and more looser ”Life Lessons”, his short for ”New York Stories”.

  20. My favorite Olivier performance is in a teriffic TV production of Pinter’s The Collection. Directed by Michael Apted it stars Olivier, Alan Bats, Helen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell. Talk about a dynamite cast!
    Olivier really gets Pinter. I love the moment where he explains to Bates how he met McDowell. “He’s a slum boy you see. I happened to be in a slum one day and — there he was.”

    Life Lessons is one of Marty’s very best. It’s his tribute to Rosanna Arqutte. Especially her ankles. And if you look closely you’ll se it also contains a cameo appearance by . . .Michael Powell!

  21. I loved The Collection last time I saw it. Can’t agree about 49th Parallel — for me, Walbrook aces it just by being brilliant even if he is miscast, but I can’t work out what Olivier thinks he’s doing. Welsh? Pakistani? It’s all accent and no performance, as bad as his ludicrous Othello.

    The Great Sinner was cut down from a six hour rough-cut or something, but it has amazing bits. It’s a sort of Dostoyevsky mash-up. One scene, with a voice-over meshing precisely with the characters it’s describing, reminds me heavily of Goodfellas. MGM Russia is a joy.

    Uncle Harry is an amazing fever dream where even the audience-tested happy ending adds to the delirium. Cobra Woman is a hoot. I love Phantom Lady FOR the story (the original Woolrich is even better, but still). Pieges is superb: maybe has the edge on Sirk’s (faithful) remake, Lured. Of the later German films, I’ve only seen Midnight and the Devil Comes, about a serial killer in Nazi Germany. Some kind of minor masterpiece, I think.

  22. Here’s the Cobra Woman trailer. Talk about a move that had everything AND the kitchen sink.

    Poor Sabu looks overwhelmed.

  23. Cobra Woman and The Dark Mirror, Siodmak’s two twins films (One Good, the Other Evil!) make a fascinating pair. Take away Maria Montz and technicolor and it would be hard to say which was the more gleefully absurd.
    A good Siodmak is likely to have either a discussion about astronomy (The Killers, Uncle Harry) or some demented cod psychology (The Dark Mirror, The Spiral Staircase, Phantom Lady).
    Forgot to mention: The Suspect. Fantastic film which even manages to make a plausible romantic couple out of Charles Laughton and Ella Raines.

    Forgot to acknowledge: Olivier is indeed awesome in Wyler’s Carrie — my first ever article, at Senses of Cinema, pays tribute.

  24. Arthur S. Says:

    MGM Russia is a joy.

    Really! ”The Gambler” is set in a spa at Baden-Baden, where Dostoyevsky hid out to hit the tables for a game of faro and also to hide out from his many creditors.(When they wised up and started staking out Baden-Baden he went to Italy where he wrote much of ”The Idiot”.) So MGM Russia is a case of thoroughly misunderstanding the book. ”The Gambler” is about the Continental decadence of Mitteleurope and not set in Russia at all. The last bit is set in Paris.

    One story set in Russia about gambling(and perhaps influenced Dostoyevsky) is of course Pushkin’s fable ”The Queen of Spades”, adapted into a stunning film by Thorold Dickinson starring Anton Walbrook. It’s a big Scorsese favourite. The odd thing is that Walbrook’s character feels more Dostoyevskian(Raskolnikov especially) than the character in the Pushkin story. The great thing about the film is the period detail of Russia(all the more remarkable for the film’s low budget). It was made in the late 40’s as well around the time of ”The Great Sinner”.

  25. Arthur S. Says:

    Can’t agree about 49th Parallel – for me, Walbrook aces it just by being brilliant even if he is miscast, but I can’t work out what Olivier thinks he’s doing. Welsh? Pakistani?

    Well the film was a propaganda set in Canada divided into these segments. The first is French Canadian, the second is a Hutterite, the third is Leslie Howard and the last is Raymond Massey, an actual Canadian(who deservedly gets to beat up the bad guy). Olivier instead of offering a sober and serious Canadian trapper goes out THERE and makes him a humourous character in what is an otherwise serious topic. This makes his death scene all the more shocking and depressing to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Powell encouraged him to go over the top and be outrageous. He’s essentially Walter Brennan in ”To Have and Have Not”.

  26. Trailer for Olivier’s very last film (Yoiu can hear his voice briefly at the start)

  27. Arthur S. Says:

    Thanks for the trailers David. They just don’t cut trailers like these now. The trailer of ”Cobra Woman” brought memories of ”Rose Hobart” and makes me want to see it. Even though it looks preposterous(amazing that they actually used ”Pagan” in the titles back in the 40’s) but it’s probably better than piece of crap like ”National Treasure” and other stuff. Some of the sets look as if Lang took a good look at it for his Indian Epic.

    The trailer for ”Bunny Lake” is also good though I think it gives the wrong idea for the film. I think it’s a great late Preminger, maybe his last great film.(60’s Preminger is much underrated – ”Advise and Consent”, ”The Cardinal”, ”In Harm’s Way”, even ”Skidoo”, I think ”Advise and Consent” is his best, it gives you a sense of how politics work like few films).

    A trailer was an interesting and creative part of advertising that isn’t there anymore. Now all trailers look like they’re selling the same film and you can pretty much get the film by looking at the trailer. In some cases the film would be better edited if they just released the trailer.

  28. Can I have the phone number of the girl in the last picture?

  29. David, I recently acquired an essay collection put out by BFI (and dedicated to Durgnat) called “The Cinema of Michael Powell: International Perspectives on an English Film-Maker” edited by Ian Christie and Andrew Moor. It definitely belongs in the scholarly camp, but has a good variety of writers and pieces for those leaning in that direction. There’s also an “essay in pictures” by Thelma Schoonmaker and Ian Christie. Most of the pieces engage with the films with some seriousness (Tom Gunning, Laura Mulvey and Lesley Stern are all in here) but don’t generally ‘evoke’ them.

  30. Chris — I could put you in touch with Maya, but I don’t think you’re her type… if you know what I mean.

    “I felt guilty when I was attracted to another girl. My brother had just come out as gay, so I felt that my family’s homosexual quotient had already been filled.”

    I have seen that book around, Girish, and I must check it out in more detail. I must say, the concept of a “Powell at Work” type book does sound interesting.

    Preminger’s trailers always give a strange idea of the film. The trailer for In Harm’s Way is hilarious! But then, the Psycho trailer is pretty odd when you compare it to the actual movie.

    The highlights of Cobra Woman are Montez’ “sacrificial dance” (she can’t dance) and, for some obscure reason, a moment when the evil Montez points (she can’t point). It made milk come out of my nose.

    Part of my trouble with Olivier may be that his reputation as “great actor” caused directors to let him get away with murder. I can imagine Powell being tickled at the idea of Olivier playing him eccentrically, and the role is written with a great deal of “colour”. But I still cringe when I see it.

  31. PS I think I may be misremembering The Great Sinner — most of it probably does take place in Baden-Baden, I just remember some fake minarets visible from a train window, hence my joy.

    Some good tragic playing from, of all people, Frank Morgan.

  32. Here’s a clip. Man is Ava ever fabulous!

    Being that it was Dostoyevsky, Isherwwod really through himself into work on this script. Only parts of his efforts were utilized. But I know he was crazy about Ava.

  33. Arthur S. Says:

    That clip is fantastic. I’ll have to talk to my friends in Spain to see if they can get a print. From my experience, a lot of forgotten Hollywood gems tend to gather there. Ava Gardner looks fascinating in that clip but Gregory Peck seems to be interesting as well. Really got into the whole neurosis of gambling which the book deals with. That most gambling addicts get more of a thrill in losing instead of winning. At least that’s what I got from that clip. Interesting too that the character’s name is Fyodor instead of Alexei. Nice touch.

    This might actually stand as the most significant adaptation of Dostoyevsky from Hollywood. There’s Sternberg’s ”Crime and Punishment” which is visually interesting but is plainly not ”Crime and Punishment” and Peter Lorre is just miscast as Raskolnikov. Then the less said about Richard Brooks’ ”The Brothers Karamazov” the better. Outside Hollywood there’s Kurosawa’s ”Idiot”, Bresson’s ”Une Femme Douce”. I haven’t seen his ”Four Nights of a Dreamer”. Visconti’s ”La Notti Bianche” made from the same story is more famous but I didn’t like it very much(save for the dance scene). In Russia, there’s that ”Die Morder Dimitri Karamasoff” which was a favourite of Bernard Herrmann’s, don’t know about others.

  34. Don’t forget Bertolucci’s Partner adapted from Dostoyevsky’s “The Double.”

    I quite like White Nights. Mastroianni is very touching in it, in a key not found in his Fellini films. He wored extensively in the theater with Visconti. Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer is fascinatingly low-key for him. No one dies or suicides out in it. His star (or “model” as he preferred to call his non-actors) is Guillaume des Forets — son of noted French experimental writer Louis-Rene des Forets (some of whose works were adpated by Raul Ruiz.)

  35. The Great Sinner was a prestige picture made to celebrate MGM’s anniversary, so it was intended to embody all Mayer’s dubious notions of “classiness”, but it winds up being more interesting than that. Siodmak warned them that it was going to wind up massively overlong, but they didn’t listen, and then they had to cut it down. What’s left is surprisingly coherent and excellent in places. Ava is sumptious and Gregory is more than usually interesting. I have a copy on tape if you’re keen to see it, Arthur.

  36. California Split is superb. I also really liked Karel Reisz’s searing The Gambler, scripted by James Toback.

    Polanski tried to film The Double, of course, but John Travolta pulled out mid-shoot after an argument about nudity. Casting around for a replacement, Polanski found Steve Martin was willing, but co-star Isabelle Adjani then pulled out, seemingly aghast at co-starring with the wild and crazy guy. She should have stuck it out, Martin’s a better actor than Travolta. I just wish he’s stop making the kind of crap he’s been making.

  37. Arthur S. Says:

    I’ve never seen ”Partner”. Will do so now. Polanski’s ”The Double” sounds interesting as well. Oh and Jean-Luc Godard’s ”La Chinoise” was a loose take on ”Demons”(old title ”The Possessed”) with Jean-Pierre Leaud playing the Stavrogin role apparently.

    Then I believe ”Taxi Driver” was (partly)inspired by ”Notes from Underground”. That scene at the cafe where Travis tries to convince Iris to go back home and the very artificial manner of his speech is similar to the bit near the end of the book.

    Thanks for the offer, but I’m not in the UK right now and I’m pretty sure that I’ll get it from my guy. I heard it showed on TCM two years ago as well.

    The thing with Visconti’s ”White Nights” that I didn’t like was the whole fairy tale aspect which Visconti brought about. Mastroianni is fantastic but Maria Schell isn’t. The girl in ”White Nights” isn’t a naive girl at all. At least it doesn’t come that way from the short story but hey a film is a film and there’s no point being overly pedantic on details, just that it would have been more interesting if they made that girl more believable. I also heard that Visconti was inspired by ”The Idiot” for ”Rocco and His Brothers” for the final section which is very reminscient of the book.

    Oh and ”California Split” is indeed the greatest film ever made about gambling. The last scene between Segal and Gould(wordless I think) is shocking and very cold.

  38. There’s a very glossy, quite good version of The Idiot by Christian-Jacque (a neglected figure now thanks to Cahiers and the nouvelle vague) starring Gerard Philippe (much of whose august career is also shrouded in shadows thanks to neglect of 50s French cinema).

    California Split is airing this week, Tuesday, ITV4, in the UK. Check it out, fellow Brits! An underseen Altman masterwork.

  39. My favorite version of The Idiot Kurosawa’s.

    Partner recently becmae available from a DVD company called “No Shame.” It also put out Love and Anger — an omnibus ilm with great episodes by Paolini, Bertolucci and Carlo Lizzani, and curious ones by Belllochion and Godard.

    Partner was very obviously inspired by The Nutty Professor. It features one of Morricone’s most interesting and original scores and great supporting turns by Tina Aumont and Stefania Sandrelli. But it’s real auteur is Clementi. In one scene he has a fit of some kind that goes on at great length until you hear Bertolucci yelling from off-camera “Ca suffit, Pierre!”

    Academics blather about Artuadian acting. Clementi simply did it.

  40. Kurosawa’s The Idiot features an amazing performance by a very un-Ozu like Setsuko Hara. Instead of the demure widow /dutiful unmarried daughter of those films in The Idiot she’s a lot closer to Maria Casares in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

  41. That Kurosawa film is the great lost project, brutally hacked down from Kurosawa’s much longer cut. The fact that this happened to AK just as he was becoming the most suvvessful Japanese director both domestically and abroad, by a huge margin, is testimony to the egomania of studio know-nothings the world over.

    I found the experience of watching it quite distressing, since barely a scene is allowed to play out to full length — interruptive wipes slice in and remove endings, beginnings and even middles.

  42. Arthur S. Says:

    Yeah. But even if it’s not set in Russia, it captures the spirit successfully. Many Russian directors loved that film. Tarkovsky(who planned to make his own ”The Idiot”) called it Kurosawa’s best and Mark Donskoi loved it too. And Setsuko Hara’s performance there although un-Ozu like on the surface reminds me of the darker bits in some of the Ozu films. She was a remarkable actress. ”The Idiot” has a fantastic cast. Masayuki Mori plays the Myshkin role, Mifune plays Rogozhin. Probably a re-run of their opposite casting in ”Rashomon”.

    Kurosawa was fascinated with Dostoyevsky and many of his crime melodramas are influenced by him. ”High and Low” especially. ”Drunken Angel” is obvious.

    The hacking of ”The Idiot” into pieces signifying the worldwide cult of studio-know-nothings reminds me of Renoir’s ”Madame Bovary”. I saw it today again and it’s a fantastic film in spaces and Pierre Renoir(Jean’s elder brother) is excellent. But the film was also hacked down by studio bosses from a 3hr film to almost less than that. One of the people who saw the film in it’s full form(according to James Leahy’s piece on Senses of Cinema’s Great Directors section) was Brecht who called it a masterpiece.

  43. Wow. Tarkovsky must have been pretty insensitive to Kurosawa’s virtues and dedicated instead to Dostoyevsky’s to prefer The Idiot to, say, Rashomon. I’m glad Tark wasn’t a critic.

    I have Madame Bovary, I should run it in a double bill with Diary of a Chambermaid. Actually, the amount of unwatched Renoir I have is CRIMINAL.

  44. Arthur S. Says:

    My favourite Kurosawa is ”High and Low”, then ”The Seven Samurai”, ”Yojimbo”, ”Throne of Blood”, ”The Bad Sleep Well”, ”Stray Dog”, ”Ikiru”. I also love ”Sanjuro” and think parts of ”Ran” are wild and breathtaking. Don’t care for ”The Hidden Fortress” at all. ”Rashomon” I think is visually very creative and interesting but I don’t know what Kurosawa was aiming for with the final mish-mash flashback delivered by Takashi Shimura that kind of functions as an explanation of what-really-happened.

    The other thing is that Kurosawa dealt with the theme of the film(the unknowability of truth and human behaviour) more profoundly in the second wake section of ”Ikiru”. Where each of their singular recollections is truthful and honest but they still are unable to understand Mr. Watanabe at the end.

    Actually, the amount of unwatched Renoir I have is CRIMINAL.

    Well no Renoir should go unwatched. I’ve seen nearly all. All the post-war work, the American films, some of his silents, and most of his 30’s films save for his contribution to the anthology for the Popular Front ”La vie est a nous”(not very curious about that) and I’ve never seen ”Le Nuit du Carrefour” in a decent print. It’s the rarest of all Renoirs. It also stars his elder Brother Pierre(his role is his great turn as Louis XVI in Jean’s stunning ”La Marseillaise”, the fourth would have been Octave in ”La Regle du Jeu” which Renoir filled in after Pierre, who was president of Comedie Francaise then, couldn’t step in – One insanely talented family).

    ”La Nuit du Carrefour” has this wild history. It’s based on a Simenon novel but on the premier night, Jean Mitry managed to lose a whole reel and as a result the film doesn’t make much sense plotwise but has this weird palpitating mood of despair. The print I saw had bad sound and was unsubtitled(my french has a hard enough time with the best of sound) and parts of it were too foggy but it’s interesting for sure. Another Renoir is ”La Tosca” which was started by Renoir and completed by Carl Koch(who wrote ”Grand Illusion”) and marked the third and last time he worked with the incomparable Michel Simon.

  45. Visconti was also involved in La Tosca

    For me the key Renoirs are Toni, La Bete Humaine, Le Crime de M. Lange, Woman on the Beach, French CanCan, La Carrosse D’Or and Le Petit Theatre de Jean Renoir.

  46. Of which I have all but the last, but have seen only two!

  47. Also Le Testament du Dr. Cordelier

  48. Have got that one, and I’m definitely looking at it soon. in fact, since Fiona wants an excuse to watch Mamoulian’s Jekyll and Hyde again, maybe a Hyde Week is on the cards.

  49. I also like The River and La Chienne quite a bit.

    I know this is heresy, but I’ve never really cared all that much for either Grand Illusion or La Regle du Jeu.

  50. The River is stupendous. I had an underwhelming experience with La Regle de Jeu first time round, then a student showed a bit during a talk and I found myself thinking “This is unbelievable stuff! I have GOT to see this again!” Still haven’t, but I’m gonna.

  51. Arthur S. Says:

    I know this is heresy, but I’ve never really cared all that much for either Grand Illusion or La Regle du Jeu.

    I love both of them. But yeah I suppose them being canonized makes them a load to carry. I love all the Renoirs you like. One Renoir film that to me is insanely underrated is his ”La Marseillaise”, I suppose in this world where the idea of nationalism has gone to the dogs, this film practically comes from Mars but it’s still a great moving masterpiece. One of the finest historical films and among the handful of great films about the French Revolution(which is surprisingly underrepresented on film).The great thing about the film is that for an historical epic there are few actual historical personages(just the court of Louis XVI, played by Pierre Renoir) and no main characters or heroes to speak of. And it’s still stirring and beautiful.

    Oh and I also think ”Boudu Saved From Drowning” is a really great film. Renoir never made a bad film. Even ”Swamp Water” compromised by Zanuck is good.

    One Renoir film that I find it hard to get into is ”The Golden Coach”. I think it’s very good but I find it hard to enjoy. ”French CanCan” and ”Elena et les Hommes” on the other are a delight from beginning to end.

    Glad you mentioned ”La Petite Theatre de Jean Renoir”, almost no one who call themselves Renoir fans even acknowledge it’s existence.

  52. For years I thought Renoir was maybe just “not for me”, having quite liked but not been blown away by the canonical pair, then I saw The River and The Southerner, which struck me as wonderful, poetic and not like anybody else. I suddenly saw what everybody was so keen on. Woman on the Beach was certainly unusual but didn’t reach the same heights for me. It’s likely that I’ll give a week to Renoir to see what happens next.

  53. OMG — I forgot Boudu! An absolutely timeless masterpiece, as relevant today as the day it was amde. Startling too in that it’s an adapation of a stage play but is one of the most gorgeous out-in-the-open-air movies ever made.

    And La Marseillaise is very fine indeed. There’s a rather startling hommag to it at the opening of Truffaut’s sadly neglected Woolrich adaptation La Sirene du Mississipi (that’s the correct spelling, BTW.)

  54. He dropped a “P”? Why, that radical young whippersnapper!

    Am starting to formulate a Renoir viewing plan…

  55. Arthur S. Says:

    Well the thing is that the original play is fairly routine stuff. In that play by Rene Fauchois, the play is told from the point of view of the bourgeois bookseller and Boudu is seen as the other. Michel Simon(who can be considered the co-auteur of this film) liked the character of Boudu which fit his own anarchic spirit. He played Boudu in the original run and he and Renoir had such a ball making ”La Chienne” that they decided to take ”Boudu” and go to town with it and their film has very little to do with the original play.

    Fauchois made a big fuss about it and years later when the Renoir film became seen as the classic that it is he decided to forgive it. The thing is if Simon wasn’t cast in the original production I doubt that film could have been made.

    ”Boudu Saved From Drowning” is a sequel to ”La Chienne”. Picking up from the last scene of that film. Of course the characters are different and there’s nothing in Boudu’s mannerism to suggest a homicidal past but the jet-black comedy and satire of that film(which Lang did away with in his fine but inferior remake) carries over seamlessly in ”Boudu”.

    And how can we forget ”Partie de Campagne” when we talk of films ”en plein air”(to use a term from the Impressionists).

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