Archive for Dalio

Sinking Ship

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by dcairns

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It’s the dying days of WWII (weren’t they all?) and Germany is close to surrender. A general, his catamite, an Italian fascist, a French journalist and arch-collaborationist, and various other unworthies escape by submarine and make for South America where the plan is to lay the groundwork for the Fourth Reich. Along for the ride is an abducted doctor, required to care for an injured Nazi wife, and Rene Clement with his film crew, making LES MAUDITS, an imperfect but largely gripping and very timely 1947 war thriller. With the doctor’s connivance, the pack of rats gradually turn on one another, sweating in the close quarters of their submerged iron coffin…

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This kind of thing needs to be very carefully worked out in plot terms, and it’s a little sloppy, but Henri Alekan’s cinematography conjures the claustrophobic milieu with noir/documentary conviction and intensity — at one point, we pull back along the entire length of the sub from the inside, establishing just how cramped and inhuman it is, and setting up the geography for the grisly adventure ahead. DAS BOOT invented nothing.

Poor Paul Bernard’s facial scarring marked him for weasel roles throughout his career — even during the occupation his characters (eg for Gremillon) always seemed like a commentary on collaboration and betrayal); Joe Dest makes a repellant Nazi martinet, his homosexual obsession with Berlin rent-boy and hired muscle Michel Auclair quite startlingly apparent. Henri Vidal is the staunch hero, whose Yojimbo-like plan to turn his captors against one another could stand greater development.

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*Coughs politely*

Oh yes, and Dalio, as the Nazis’ faltering South American agent, always a master of vacillation and anxiety.

As with Clement’s other war films, the reliance on stock footage, albeit really good stock footage, can be distracting, and how are we meant to feel about REAL burning ships in our entertainment? Because this is smart and sophisticated but it’s still a thriller, DIE HARD on a sub, with less punching and more psychology.

Whore Leave

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2015 by dcairns

 

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“If she’s not a whore, she’s a bore,” was one of Billy Wilder’s writing rules, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. In an era where women were typed as sexually virtuous or otherwise (unlike today, of course), Wilder excelled because he rejected such black-and-white distinctions, always looking for the lustiness of the virgin or the romantic leanings of the slut.

THE WORLD’S OLDEST PROFESSION is a 1967 compendium film which largely misses any such nuance, but it’s of some interest since it’s one of the few places where you can see the nouvelle vague and the Cinema du Papa butting up against one another. What makes the whoring boring is that nearly all the (male) directors adopt a jocular tone which seems quaint to the modern viewer, and not particularly funny. It probably doesn’t help that the film’s chronological traipse through history prevents the producers from leading with the strongest short. Michele Mercier dons fur bikini for Franco Indovina, showing prostitution to be as old as the sabre-tooth, Mauro Bolognini visits ancient Rome ahead of Fellini with Elsa Martinelli as an aloof empress, Philippe de Broca posits Jeanne Moreau in the age of the French Revolution, but none of them has any real wit, perhaps because none of them really has anything to say about the subject. It’s sometimes the case in anthologies that the one with the least reputation will try the hardest, and here German TV director Michael Phleghar Pfleghar transcends his unattractive surname, which sounds like a nasty lung infection, with a jaunt through the Belle Epoque in the company of Raquel Welch. For all its breezy tone, trendy technique (zooms AND freeze frames, Herr Pfleghar?) and luscious art nouveau sets, this earns points for daring to suggest that making a living on your back might not be all jollity and multiple orgasms.

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Claude Autant-Lara tackles sex work in the sixties. Perhaps he was desperate to show himself up-to-date and with it. But actually, though he doesn’t have any point to make in particular, his tall tale about a belle de nuit and her chauffeuse/poncette is the most amusing of the film’s chapters. It has a walk-on by the great Dalio, who outclasses everyone around him, and it has a number of daft ideas bolted together in a ramshackle but at least unpredictable manner.

The next transition is where it gets exciting, as we cut directly from a director who dates from the avant-garde scene of the twenties, to Monsieur Contemporaire himself, Jean-Luc Godard, who effortlessly blows his predecessors out of l’eau with ANTICIPATION, OU L’AMOUR EN L’ANS 2000, a slight reprise of ALPHAVILLE and a farewell to wife/muse/collaborator Anna Karina. I’m sure I read somewhere that the movie was a contemptuous send-off, with JLG humiliating his straying wife with a shot where she drinks from a spray can, framed to look as if she’s being urinated on. I’m not sure I buy this. One would have to ask what Godard has against his male star, since he films him the same way, and one would have to assume that Karina had no idea what was going on and was incapable of defending herself. The spray is a fine mist, not a squirt of liquid as it easily could have been, and just seems part and parcel with the movie’s bizarro sci-fi nonsense.

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Judge for yourself. Hmm, it may be a tiny bit sexual.

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Heh heh heh.

Whereas Lemmy Caution drove into Alphaville from outer space in a car, our slow-talking hero (from a world where time moves at a different rate) jets into planet earth by plane, in shots recalling LA JETTEE, only moving. As with his ETRANGE AVENTURE, the director conjures his future world entirely from available locations, in this case CDG Airport and an anonymous hotel. The first woman provided for our weary traveller doesn’t stimulate him because she won’t talk, though she does have a remarkable dress, which she removes — Godard serves up b&w photography, avant-garde soundscapes, and full-frontal nudity, making his segment seem like not just a different era but a different century of cinema from the rest.

(It’s interesting that when intellectual filmmakers like Herzog (in WILD BLUE YONDER) and Godard do scifi, the science tends to be completely bogus pulp nonsense. The genre conventions of sci-fi are ripe for satire always, but are these smart guys really so ignorant or uninterested in the way things work? And throwing in random science words is only a very vague approximation of how pulp space operas operate.)

Karina is shipped in as replacement and explains that in the far-flung year 2000, prostitutes all specialise, so that they either do physical stuff or just talk. So Karina just talks, or rather recites. Like Captain Kirk, the visitor must show her the ways of love… The show isn’t any more progressive politically than those before it — Godard was pretty slow to “get” feminism (BRITISH SOUNDS, made for Granada Television in the UK, addresses women’s issues with a short discussion in voice only while the camera stares impassively at a naked pubic triangle, as tone-deaf a visualisation as you could wish for; and as late as ARIA he was still using naked women as set dressing) but cinematically it’s advanced, alright. The writer B. Kite once suggested to me a good way to view the old and new waves. There was undoubtedly brilliant popular music before rock ‘n’ roll, but its arrival released a lot of energy.

No question

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2012 by dcairns

Today I turned 45. Older than Bogart when he embodied world-weariness in CASABLANCA. MUCH older than the impossibly louche Peter Lorre, the suave Paul Henreid or the perennially middle-aged John Qualen.

Re-watching CASABLANCA… reluctant to say anything about it, not so much because so much has already been written, but because I find so little of it compelling or adequate. I remember Umberto Eco making an exciting case that the film’s success lies in its resemblance to other movies, its packaging together of favourite moments and stock characters into a sort of ultimate Pizza Combo (although I don’t think he used those exact words). Which might work as a description of STAR WARS and some other films, like maybe RIO BRAVO, but doesn’t seem adequate to the defiantly non-generic CASABLANCA. Of course, it’s the film which has come to embody classic Hollywood, and it features a lot of iconic actors doing what they do. But the film works for modern kids who have barely seen any 40s cinema and who don’t know most of these actors at all, I think. Just as Joseph Campbell’s comparative mythology downplays the individual details that make each story different and interesting, so Eco’s semiotics underrates the originality of the Epstein-Epstein-Koch-Burnett-Alison scenario.

And consider — CASABLANCA, a wartime-romance-thriller (with singing) was followed by quite a number of films, many with Bogie, which self-consciously tried to duplicate it’s pleasures, none of which was as good or as successful.

William Goldman proves that Nobody Knows Anything by first arguing that the first ten pages are of crucial significance in any screenplay, then alleging that CASABLANCA’s opening is hideously trite and flabby — yet we meet Peter Lorre and Bogart before those minutes are up.

Then you get Robert McKee laboriously explicating the subtext of every line, which is fine as an illustration of how good dialogue uses subtext, but only gets you so far, just as dissecting a frog does not actually enable you to make a frog of your own.

And you get all the “they were still writing it as they were shooting it” stuff, which CAN’T, surely, be true — and it’s used to try and prove that scripts don’t matter or that everything is down to luck. Of course, you can’t get by without luck, but you can’t get by without skill either, when it comes to making something as cunning as this film.

Reading Howard Koch’s memoir, As Time Goes By, gives an insight into the process. Koch joined with project after the Epsteins and kept on it after they were seconded to another job in Washington — they later came back and continued to work more or less separately. The process was somewhat chaotic, but Koch was used to collating and connecting material at speed — he had worked with Orson Welles on the radio, turning over Mercury Theater of the Air productions in a week.

There was a play, and the first half of the script existed several weeks before filming. On the one hand we’re told that nobody had decided who was getting on the plane at the end, but we also hear that George Raft turned down the lead because Rick doesn’t get the girl (Warners memos reveal that they turned him down). The ending Koch and the Epsteins settled on was, in most of its basics, already in the play.

Some of CASABLANCA’s best scenes are positively symphonic in their complexity — the long sequence in which the refugee girl Annina is saved from Captain Renault’s clutches provides not only a subplot mirroring Ingrid Bergman’s own upcoming dilemma with Bogart, it ramps up the Nazis’ pressure on her husband, it has the Franco-German singing match which first shows Bogie taking sides, it completes the character arc of Bogie’s jilted girlfriend Yvonne who rediscovers her patriotism in a tearful closeup, and provides excellent comic bits for “Cuddles” Sakall, Marcel Dalio, Dooley Wilson and many others. It’s a film full of inveterate scene-stealers adept at creating opportunities for beautiful moments, and who them play fast and sly in case the director spots them and objects.

“If someone loved you…”

Koch’s book is also a useful counter-narrative to the idea that Michael Curtiz only cared about the look of his films — in fact, Koch argued for the political elements while Curtiz favoured the romance, resulting in a fortuitous balance that Koch credits with the film’s unique success.

Random thoughts ~

There are a lot of slightly camp men in this film*. Lorre of course portrays Ugarte as masochistically in awe of Bogie’s machismo. He says “You despise me, don’t you?” with a hopeful tone, which makes it hilarious: Bogart obligingly plays the top, and responds with the perfect “If I gave you any thought I probably would.” Bogart flirts shamelessly with all the camp men, but with the casual aloofness of a sadistic tease.

The first character killed on-screen dies right in front of a big poster of Marshall Petain. Maybe one of the good things about 40s filmmaking was that, flag-waving aside, it was a period when Hollywood films could actually take a political stance and not try to bodge it by simultaneously taking the opposite stance. Here, they kill a man right in a real, living politician’s big face.

Bogie, an American in Paris, and Bergman, a chic European, embark on a “No questions” love affair where they don’t share any biographical details — was this the inspiration for LAST TANGO IN PARIS?

Curtiz to Koch: “Don’t worry what’s logical. I make it go so fast no one notices.” If you start unpicking the ending, a lot of it falls apart, but the pace and the actors’ conviction sells it.

Speed comes in handy when they pull off a great screenwriting trick — drama oscillates between the two poles of “All is lost!” and “Saved!” As a drama builds, you want the wiggly graph line that soars to hope and plunges to despair to get very jagged indeed, and at the climax you try to make a complete switcheroo from disaster to triumph (or vice versa) in as little time as possible. In this one, Bogart goes from completely screwed to hero of the day on the single line “Round up the usual suspects.”

Bogart and Bergman kiss and we cut to a searchlight. “They’ve done it,” Fiona declares. Afterwards she observes that the film is strikingly modern — in fact, could you make the film today and have the leading lady cheat on her husband, then leave with her husband, who knows about it and accepts it?

Koch quotes a young audience member in the 70s who tried to describe why the film moved him: “CASABLANCA shows you things you really long for. There are all these graspable values floating around in the film. It’s full of a lost heritage that we can’t live. Life is no longer like that.” Moral certainties, I guess — but even in the film, which Koch admits shows a kind of life that never really existed quite as we see it on screen, the characters do have to struggle to locate those graspable values and hold on to them.

*In Suspects, David Thomson humorously postulates a romance blossoming between Rick and Renault after film’s end. It would make sense of Renault’s change of heart, and Claude Rains is certainly very ooh-la-la in the role. Meanwhile, Greenstreet pouts and puckers constantly (far more than in MALTESE FALCON where he’s coded gay), Lorre and Dalio are both craven puppies fawning on Bogie, and Conrad Veidt’s Major Strasser really really wants to get his hands on Victor Laszlo.

How long since YOU watched CASABLANCA?

Written with a nod to the Self-Styled Siren, who writes about classic movies from the heart.

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