Archive for Danger: Diabolik

The Sunday Intertitle: Za & Za

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

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“Za la Mort and Za la Vie with old aunt Camilla live happily in the countryside.”

And they have a really nice kitchen, actually.

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This domesticity is a surprising element, since Za la Mort is a kind of super-criminal. But he only uses his powers for good.

The Italians were quick to copy Feuillade’s supervillain capers like FANTOMAS, but, while the Frenchman is clearly at least somewhat enamoured of his invincible bad guy, the Italians, as we’d see even more clearly later in DANGER: DIABOLIK, basically had more sympathy for crooks than cops.

This is I TOPI GRIGI (1918), which I missed last year at Bologna but am catching up with now.

Za la Mort may be a criminal, but he’s up against much worse criminals, one of those secret societies you hear about. To be continued…

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The faces are extraordinary. Za la Mort (left) has just saved this young chap, and his little dog too, from a street gang.

TO BE CONTINUED

Jamais

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2016 by dcairns

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I think I’d seen MAUVAIS SANG (ridiculously translated as THE NIGHT IS YOUNG) in around ’88, but maybe I only saw bits, on TV. At that time I thought Beineix was cool and I found Carax annoying. Now, though Carax is perhaps a bit precious at times, I regard my late-teenage affection for BETTY BLUE and DIVA as mostly youthful folly, and Carax seems like the true filmmaker.

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What’s black and white and red all over? This film, though it also has grey, and blue (so it can do Godardian tricolor shots) and the hero’s jacket is a sort of leather harlequin thing with a lot of yellow, a colour that appears otherwise only on the ubiquitous yellow cigarettes the cast smoke. Those yellow cigarettes, and the film’s fictional STD and sinister big pharma company (“Darley-Wilkinson” — always say the name twice, ominously — and those initials recall Griffith, from whose vaults Carax is stealing a disease called cinema) show Carax’s interest in world-building — a few little clues tell us that we’re at a slight remove from our usual reality. I suspect Carax of being inspired by REPO MAN.

The only movie flat-out quoted with a clip is the Pathe-Natan production LA PETITE LISE, seen on a TV set, and referenced in dialogue whenever the young Denis Lavant speaks of Julie Delpy’s character (“Ma petite Lise”). LA PETITE LISE, by the way, is the most important earl sound film that few of you will have seen. Like that film’s hulking hero, Lavant is newly released from prison but his freedom is to be short-lived…

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Lavant is so young! Bizarre and compelling and strangely beautiful, except when he smiles, terrifyingly, a lipless lesion crammed with crockery abruptly splitting his porous deadpan. He looks like if Lee Marvin had a monkey.

Fiona had been utterly charmed by Michel Piccoli in DIABOLIK. “Inspector Ginko is so NICE! He’s the nicest man in this whole film festival.” I don’t know if he’s that nice, but Piccoli plays him that way. He’s back here, older and heavier (Carax cruelly makes his aging crooks play lots of scenes shirtless. Crime seems very very homosocial, to say the least, despite the presence of Juliette Binoche.

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Binoche is already slightly annoying. But also sweet and gamine and surprising and stunningly photographed.

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The film is so fey — and it’s probably forty minutes too long — its B-movie antecedents moved their crime stories forward along with their romances, whereas this one drops the heist for huge stretches. I wish Carax was just 1% more into plot, or brought a friend along who was. But the charming bits are charming indeed, and the visuals beautiful, and Carax’s use of music, which somehow frustrated me as a kid (he cuts it off dead sometimes, like JLG) now seems generous and ecstatic.

EIFF is showing a season of Cinema du Look classics — LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF tomorrow!

Chamber of Dreams

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2016 by dcairns

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One after another, the films in out POW!!! retrospective turn out to be far better when seen on the big screen than one would expect — DANGER: DIABOLIK’s somewhat episodic plot seems to flow more smoothly, MODESTY BLAISE’s jarring tonal shifts seem more thought-through, and BARBARELLA —

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I used to assume that of the army of writers on this film (including Hammer scribe Tudor Gates, also credited on DIABOLIK), Terry Southern was probably responsible for the funniest lines, but when I got ahold of the Grove Press (!) edition of Jean-Claude Forest’s comic strip, I found they’d been lifted straight from its speech balloons. (“A great many dramatic situations begin with screaming!”) All of them are enhanced, however, by Jane Fonda’s witty and inventive line readings. How many ways of doing wide-eyed innocence ARE there? An infinite number, apparently. Fonda not only makes the film funnier, she defuses offense in the more exploitative scenes, reassuring us that good taste, and the heroine, will not be violated altogether.

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Embodying a very up-to-the-minute view of the future, 1968-style (the swishy shipboard computer seems like a riposte to 2001, but surely can’t be), the film is also, by movie standards, comparatively generous towards its source, crediting Forest once for co-co-co-co-co-co-writing, and once for design. Combining his art with the craft of production designer Mario Garbuglia (THE LEOPARD) results in wonderfully Felliniesque settings.

In my intro I said that Roger Vadim’s direction was the weakest link, but after watching the film with an audience I would have to retract that halfway — true, Vadim’s marshalling of his resources into camera coverage sometimes seems a bit random, so that you frown at shapeless footage of clearly magnificent environments and crowds — not as bad as CALIGULA, say, but a milder version of that effect — “I know we’re in an amazing set, but we just can’t see it!” As if, having covered his wife/star, Vadim had no clear plan for how to present anything else, and just let the cameramen roam about as if in a behind-the-scenes documentary. But the pacing of the film is really good. Despite their charms, DIABOLIK and MODESTY BLAISE are both peppered with dead spots in their talking scenes, partly a result of rather thin sound design, partly a result of directors who are either not so comfortable with actors (Bava, I’m afraid) or with comedy timing (Losey, unquestionably). BARBARELLA, in front of an audience, really PLAYS.

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