Archive for Bertrand Tavernier

Litvak Lit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2020 by dcairns

“I may not be talented, but I am very, very intelligent!” yelled Anatole Litvak in an argument with his screenwriter, Peter Viertel (according to Viertel).

James Cagney called Litvak “a natural-born asshole,” and the seeds of his early retirement were sown in the making of Litvak’s CITY FOR CONQUEST. They just took a while to sprout.

Elia Kazan, directed by Litvak twice in his brief stint as a WB character mook, pondered, as Richard Schickel put it, “if this character could be a director, why not him?”

Trying to research Litvak a little, I find there’s one book, but rather expensive (but can anyone recommend it?) and most of the references I find in the university library system are about things like income tax, poker games, horse racing…

There’s an anecdote somewhere about Hall Wallis being furious because Litvak shot twelve takes of a close-up of Bette Davis and printed the worst. He was sure by take 12 Bette had forgotten what the scene was and why she was in it.

Bette herself, who was Litvak’s lover when they made THE SISTERS and ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO, called him “a slave to his preconceptions.”

Arthur Laurents rewrote “every line” of THE SNAKE PIT, he claimed, and seemed a bit annoyed that Litvak was “too busy” (shooting the film, in fairness) to come to the arbitration hearing, with the result that Laurents received no credit.

Litvak does not rate a mention in Sarris’s The American Film. Well, he had to find room for Theodore J. Flicker, get in on the ground floor of THAT major filmography-to-be. (THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST is one of my very favourite films, but still…)

So, Litvak or shit-sack?

Bertrand Tavernier claims a degree of shame for his neglect of the Russian/Ukrainian filmmaker: “we let somebody like Anatole Litvak die without ever meeting him – and he lived in Paris! Litvak is somebody whose films I’ve since discovered from the Thirties and Forties, as well as his documentaries for Capra: Litvak made the best of the Why We
Fight
series. But in the Sixties, Truffaut, in order to boost Bonjour Tristesse
(Otto Preminger, ’58), which he loved, knocked other directors who had
adapted Françoise Sagan. One of them was Litvak [Goodbye Again]. And stupidly, we followed Truffaut. Because Litvak s last films were bad, we refused to investigate his career. And his career had started in Russia; then he went to Germany and France, where masterpieces in the Thirties like Coeur de Lilas (’32) which contains scenes and a use of sound as imaginative as Renoir- as well as interesting films like L’Equipage…”

The late films aren’t even bad, I think. As with a lot of late work, familiarity with the earlier films and a bit of sympathy go a long way.

The Russian work Tavernier refers to is unlisted on the IMDb and because nobody thought to ask Litvak about it when he was alive, I’m uncertain we can know much about it. (Here’s where I wish I owned that expensive book.) The Encyclopaedia Britannica confirms that Litvak, after fighting in the Russian side in WWI, “began acting in his teens at an experimental theatre in St. Peterseburg,” then directed several short subjects for Nordkino studios, before he left for a career shuttling between Paris and Berlin in 1920. The earliest credits we have are as assistant director for fellow emigres Tourjansky and Volkoff, and on Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON, as well as editor on Pabst’s JOYLESS STREET, but there must be other credits we don’t have — he couldn’t, surely, have become an editor without first being an assistant. Still, those remarkable stylists must surely have exerted powerful influences on the budding director, adding to anything he’d soaked up from whatever Russian filmmakers he worked with.

“Tola” is often attributed with expressionistic tendencies, which is true enough. It’s assumed these were absorbed in Germany, but they might also come from Russia and France — one reason NAPOLEON is such a stonking piece of cinema is because Gance had seemingly absorbed every stylistic tendency the medium had thrown up.

Since none of Litvak’s Russian work is available or even identified to me, his first German film, DOLLY MACHTE KARRIER (1930) is unavailable, and frustratingly, though I’ve been able to see a sampling of the early French and German movies, I haven’t located two British versions of German and/or French originals, TELL ME TONIGHT and SLEEPING CAR, which feature interesting people like Magda Schneider, the awful Sonny Hale, Edmund Gwenn, Ivor Novello and Madeleine Carroll.

There are also odd bits of TV work and a short documentary about refugees that remain stubbornly buried. But all the films from Litvak’s US period on are accessible, which puts him ahead of the Cromwells and Milestones of this world. I won’t be writing about, or probably even seeing, ALL of them. But I aim to provide a bit of an overview of the man’s skills and incredible dynamism.

Checking boxes

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2018 by dcairns

You know how I said I was really busy viewing film festival submissions and art school applications? Well, I have less of the latter to view this year, as it turns out, so that’s not so bad. The whole thing is still a KARMIC SEWER, though — with a few clicks, I sentence to death the dreams of young hopefuls, again and again. It’s not the most enjoyable sensation. And in the few instances where I can honestly give a wholeheartedly welcoming response, I have no way of knowing if it will bear fruit: someone further up the food chain may doom the applicant for their own reasons, or the talented applicant, having received a better offer, may take their skills elsewhere.

Still, I managed to watch the first two installments of Bertrand Tavernier’s TV series Voyage à Travers le Cinéma Français, which is ace, even better than Scorsese’s similar shows, and that gave me a clue as to what to watch for this fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten. It even gave me the key image (above). Now the piece is up and you can rush over and find out what film it is.

Here.

Muckrakers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2016 by dcairns

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I always had slight doubts about the authenticity of my South Korean DVD or Zulawski’s LA FIDELITE, but when I finally got around to playing it and the label promptly shredded off of disc 1, I began to think it might not be wholly legit. The muddy transfer and the odd ratio of 14:9 — not anyone’s standard frame, anywhere, since the sixties — seems to further suggest that I may have been sold a pup.

The film itself is fairly terrific, and I should invest in an upgrade. Zulawski’s partner, Sophie Marceau, with whom he had already made three films (which I still have to look forward to), stars in an adaptation/update of Madame La Fayette’s 1678 novel La Princesse de Cleves. I must admit I’d underrated her, having only seen her in Tavernier’s DARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER and the Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. Oh, and bloody BRAVEHEART. None of which are her best work, it seems. I hate BRAVEHEART, in which her main purpose, like that of most female leads in action films, is to alibi the lead’s heterosexuality (but see here for a problematizing fact-check at around 3:50). On D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER she was responsible for getting octogenarian maestro Riccardo Freda fired from his last chance of directing a film, which rather makes me despise her. Later, giving her opinion about the film, she said that there was too much about Philippe Noiret and the other musketeers and not enough about her. Needless to say, I found her cold-blooded bitch character in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH quite convincing.

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But in fact, whatever she may be like in real life (and I have no actual way of knowing), she can be a tremendously sympathetic and intelligent and compelling presence onscreen, as LA FIDELITE shows — she humanizes the extremes of Zulawski’s cinema in a way no other actor I’ve seen can do. In fact it’s the husband character in the film (Pascale Greggory) who goes in for more of the director’s favoured mannerisms, flailing, spasming and twitching, though he does this less often and less frenetically than, say, the stars of POSSESSION. In fact, in many ways he has the feminine role, stuck in the role of “good spouse,” largely passive and pensive — he even writes a message on a mirror in eyeliner (it’s a lengthy quotation, so lipstick wouldn’t have worked).

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As so often with historical material dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age (the twenty-first century, just), there are some awkward plot hurdles where society today may not offer exact analogues for the source’s action. Here, Zulawski contrives a subplot about illegal organ-trading which doesn’t seem to even try for plausibility — a shot of bootleg eyeballs shows a fuming tray with eyes, complete with eyelids and dainty eyelashes — periodic bursts of John Woo-style slomo machine-gun action interrupt the relatively naturalistic moments of emotional turbulence with surprising frequency. Relocating the plot from the world of aristocrats to the world of a modern press tycoon works neatly, though, and the film does remind you how detestable the tabloid press is. Hilariously, the saturnine tycoon is called Rupert Mac Roi.

Marceau emotes movingly, and indulges in vigorous sex scenes with Greggory while yearning for loutish-yet-sensitive Guillaume Canet. She’s also convincing as a photographer and artist. Edith Scob blows a raspberry. She didn’t do that in EYES WITHOUT A FACE — her mask would have blasted off.