Archive for Audrey Hepburn

Congruence #2: Entrances

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2009 by dcairns





A kind Shadowplayer sent me a copy of Thorold Dickinson’s SECRET PEOPLE, which features the first major performance by Audrey Hepburn, so always gets a sort of footnote position in the history books, but deserves better. A rather downbeat tale of terrorism and espionage, it stars Valentina Cortese as Hepburn’s big sister, lured into an assassination plot by her lover, Serge Reggiani. The film has an unusual narrative, perhaps not entirely successful in its jumps and re-starts, but intriguing to watch. The biggest narrative surprise is when the bomb plot is set in motion, and Dickinson then cuts to the aftermath. Reggiani, like the audience, is desperate to know what happened.

Cortese. standing at the window of her London flat, begins to tell him.

As she talks, she moves left —

— and walks into the flashback she just started to narrate.

It’s a startling transition, and all the more striking when you imagine how it must have been shot. Dickinson would have had the bedroom set constructed next to the terrace where the party is unfolding, a dreamlike conjunction of entirely separate places.

There are a few uses of this kind of technique elsewhere in cinema. Dickinson might conceivably have been influenced by the moment in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP where Roger Livesey swims back in time forty years in a single continuous shot. But it just occurred to me that he would have made a point of seeing LA RONDE, since it stars Anton Walbrook, directed by Dickinson in two of his best perfs (GASLIGHT, THE QUEEN OF SPADES). And in the five-minute opening shot of LA RONDE, Walbrook walks from a nocturnal Viennese street onto a theatre stage somehow erected in the midst of it, back onto the street, which then becomes a movie studio, then a street again, then daylight, then night again…


And then there’s this moment in THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, where the Baron begins to narrate his tall tale from the stage of a theatre. He speaks of the Turkish court and its seraglio. Gilliam cuts to an actor playing the Great Turk being shepherded onto the stage —

But as he enters, we find it’s a real Turkish harem, and the actor is now therefor a real Great Turk. We’re inside Munchausen’s tale, having not just moved back in time, but into a slightly more slippery form of reality, the lie-truth of a Munchausen memory, and again we’ve done it without a cut or dissolve.

The effect, like the film, is somewhat Felliniesque, but Gilliam’s trick  shot does feel akin to Dickinson’s, and it’s thus interesting to note that both SECRET PEOPLE and MUNCHAUSEN feature Valentina Cortese, who for Gilliam plays the Queen of the Moon (a giantess with a detachable head). Did Gilliam check out some of her earlier work and get inspired?


Thanks to Susan VandenBergh for SECRET PEOPLE.

UK shoppers: The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition) [DVD] [1988]


Euphoria #2

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 30, 2007 by dcairns

Thanks for the suggestions I’ve already had for future editions of Cinema Euphoria. I’ll get to them over the coming weeks. Here’s my own first nomination.

I’ve written before about my love of William Wyler’s work. Here’s an offshoot of it, a piece of informal, or unofficial cinema that gives me great pleasure whenever I see it.

Audrey Hepburn’s screen test:

Partly it’s the human thing of responding to a smile with a smile. But what I like most is…

Wyler told Thorold Dickinson, who was shooting this test, to let the cameras roll on after the test was supposed to be over, and just talk to Hepburn, to get an unaffected, natural look at her. Audrey at first is quite stiff — like most intelligent kids, she tries to make a good impression by being Very Serious. And she’s probably getting further and further from landing the part the more that goes on. Then an emotive memory surfaces, and she appears vulnerable, and I would think Wyler’s interest would perk up at that point. And then, at the end, the grown-up asks a silly question and like all smart kids Audrey can’t help laughing at the silly grown-up, and also delights in having got one over on the Germans. And that smile has to be the moment when she got the part.

It might be interesting to blog on a few more examples of informal cinema, stuff that isn’t quite a film, but isn’t anything else. I have a newsreel I’d like to show you all, for instance. And suggestions are, as always, gratefully received.

Henri Alekan goes to work…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 29, 2007 by dcairns

Aud abed

Audrey's Cornice

Audrey's not tawdry

Audrey's cornice 2

The Kuleshov Effect


…and magic happens.