Archive for Barbarella

The Drastic Mr. Fox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 2, 2021 by dcairns


Wes Anderson acknowledged Lasislas Starewicz as a big influence on his approach to animation in THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and ISLE OF DOGS — LE ROMAN DE RENARD (1937) would seem the most obvious connection.

Starewicz’s work might be better known if his sensibility weren’t so unique. It’s not that he saw animation as being other than the children’s medium it seems cursed to be — just that Starewicz was the Great Un-Disney. I just watched his THE INSECTS’ CHRISTMAS, the title of which alone gives you a sense of his itchy, uncomfortable vibe. A miniature wooden Father Christmas comes down off a tree and gives presents to all the beetles in the snow. It’s sheer madness.

The puppets (or actual bugs, perhaps) move quite herky-jerky in that 1914 short, but in RENARD, which took five years to make (with Mrs. Starewicz, Irene as co-director; their daughter, “Nina Star,” acts in some of their films; it was a family concern) everything seems to be on ones. The motion is smooth as velvet, even when the characters rush about — in fact, the Starewiczs sometimes slip into live action so a figure can vanish in a realistic motion blur.

And these mammalian protags and antags are much closer to child-friendly plush toys than the spiky bugs of earlier films. The trouble is, the story is by frickin’ Goethe, and it’s bloody horrible. Mr. Fox is a psychopath. His trickster activities have a lot of Brer Rabbit about them, but they’re all really nasty. The attempts to render things more comical are extraordinarily creepy.

The King of the Animals, a lion, naturally, is constantly hearing complaints about Renard’s depredations. Like, one time, they bring in a bier. On it is a chicken carcass, a victim of this vulpine Mack the Knife. Staggering around the bones is a little anthropomorphized chicklet, crying for its momma. Just horrible. You can’t not be impressed and depressed at the same time.

At one point, in his defense, Mr. Fox conjures up the fantasy image of his wife and child. The Starewiczs dutifully show the baby suckling at the (humanoid) breast of the mother — and her foxtit moves in a lifelike, fleshy way — I’m assuming the cloth is two-thirds full of sawdust or birdseed or something. Because that detail matters. You can’t make a proper kids’ film if the animals’ knockers don’t move right, just ask Ralph Bakshi.

When Renard spins one of his bogus yarns and describes how Heaven can be accessed via the bottom of the village well, we see the afterlife, populated by a choir of disembodied rabbit heads, each equipped with angel wings. Why do the rabbit heads have no bodies? Because farmers cut their heads off?

There’s SO much visual invention here and yet the movie will mostly make you sad and frightened. Still, the monkey lawgiver who peers at us from a screen within a screen is voiced by Claude Dauphin, also the President of the Galaxy in BARBARELLA, again on a screen of his own.

Durand Durand Durand

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 20, 2016 by dcairns


No, I’m not singing the PINK PANTHER theme tune — Durand Durand is a character in BARBARELLA who is introduced to us by Barb’s boss*, Claude Dauphin, and Durand singular is a character played by the selfsame M. Dauphin in LE MONDE TREMBLERA (1939), first mentioned yesterday. So I’m obsessed with completing this incipient trilogy, either by finding a third Dauphin sci-fi movie, or a third Dauphin movie involving a character called Durand. Call it OCD (Obsession Claude Dauphin).


Durand/Dauphin, assisted by the poacher from RULES OF THE GAME, has invented a sort of Strickfadenesque apparatus which allows him to expose a kind of photographic plate which then yields a sort of life-line which can be interpreted to yield the exact date of the subject’s forthcoming demise, no matter what causes it. It’s tested on a prisoner bound for the guillotine — the authorities attempt to pull a fast one by commuting his sentence — and he expires of an infarction on the spot and at the exact moment foretold.


Along for the ride is his backer, Erich Von Stroheim (a nimble and heartfelt bit of work from the occasional leaden star), whose Big Idea is to sell the machine to an insurance company which can use it to eliminate bad risks. But Dauphin/Durand, possessed of the Edison spark, wants his gift to be available to everyone who can afford it. The trouble is, once wealthy, powerful individuals have yielded to the morbid urge to gaze upon the hour of their ends, they tend to become disincentivized with regards to running huge corporations or whatever important work they do. Worldwide economic chaos looms. And then Durand/Dauphin, perhaps foolishly, pulls a Seth Brundle, getting drunk and testing his invention on himself…

Richard Pottier directs, not too ably — he persistently fails to match closeups so that a shot of Stroheim looking screen left is intercut with a shot of Dauphin also looking screen left. “What is there, screen left, that’s so interesting?” the audience wonders. But the photography and script are strong — Clouzot and his collaborator J. Villard pull of a great running gag with a poltroon who’s been promised he’ll live to be 100: bored already in his 40s, he attempts to shoot himself but continually fails… The film’s jarring tonal shifts aren’t typical of Clouzot, but its cynicism is — even as it positions itself as a warning against cynicism.


*Being Barbarella’s boss sounds like a pretty good position to have. How do you get to be Barbarella’s boss? Is there a form you have to fill in? I hate forms, but I would fill this one in quickly and efficiently. I guess, technically (and according to the credits) he’s actually President of the Earth, which sounds like a lot of work, responsibility etc. I wonder if you could leave the presidential duties to someone else and just be Barbarella’s boss. It would be worth being President of Earth if Barbarella was included in the deal, I guess, but I would worry that running an entire G-class planet might eat up most of my time and leave me with very little opportunity to tell Barbarella to do things (missions, etc), which would be a bitter irony indeed.

A Date for Your Diary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 19, 2016 by dcairns


Henri-Georges Clouzot co-scripted LE MONDE TREMBLERA (1939), in which Claude Dauphin (yay! Barbarella’s boss!) invents a machine that can predict, with total accuracy, the time of a given subject’s death, is quite an interesting piece of work. I mean, that’s a subject nobody else has tackled in that way, ever.

Fiona pointed out that Clouzot, who had been in a TB sanatorium for years, was uniquely placed to address this topic. And he gives us, in Dauphin’s cynical scientist, one of his most unsympathetic leads — and that’s arguably a crowded field.


Dauphin is essentially unrecognizable if you know him only from fifties and sixties films, as we did. Until he opens his mouth.

So, this is Barbarella’s boss’s first sci-fi film, and BARBARELLA is his last — we just need a middle one to complete the Informal Trilogy. Anyone?