Archive for Divine

Old School

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2012 by dcairns

When John Waters appeared at Edinburgh Film Fest to talk about his career and his monologue-movie THIS FILTHY WORLD, he spoke of the tragedy of Divine’s passing — not only did his star miss out on the success of HAIRSPRAY, but his death cast a pall over the film. “Who would say ‘Let’s go see that comedy starring that guy who just died?'” he asked, rhetorically. This didn’t stop a drunken female fan in the audience from bellowing “I would!” Waters, who is a real gent, which one might not guess from some of his movies, looked slightly pained, and answered, with great restraint, “Yes, but you know what I mean.”

Well, I’d been meaning to revisit THEY ALL LAUGHED, and Ben Gazzara’s passing seemed as good a reason as any. Fiona had never seen it. While not having Gazzara around any more is a cause for sadness, in a way it was good to see the film with a slightly different pall over it than the usual one, which is of course due to the presence of Dorothy Stratton, murdered before the film came out. And it’s hard to separate that tragedy from the movie’s history. When the distributors decided to write the film off, Bogdanovich bought it back from them and distributed it himself, which bankrupted him.

So the movie has baggage — it also has John Ritter, who died much too soon, and a lingering view of the twin towers during the opening credits. A pretty heavy load for a movie to bear when it’s trying to coast along on charm.

Because there’s virtually no plot, something which perplexed me when I saw it as a kid (it was one of the few movies our local VHS/Betamax rental place had in stock). I got the distinct impression I was missing something — a bunch of characters are set in motion for obscure reasons, move around Manhattan, get up to mysterious stuff, switch partners, fall in love, and then it’s over. I grasped that some of the men were private eyes, and I grasped who they were following — Audrey Hepburn and Dorothy Stratton — but since the husband-clients who engaged the ‘tecs spend most of their time offscreen, and are virtually never seen conferring with their hired snoopers, I had little idea why anything was happening. It’s like Truffaut says to Hitchcock, whenever A & B are discussing an absent C, the audience scratches their scalps and wonders who the hell C is.

On top of the puzzlement, there’s an almost total lack of dramatic tension, a necessary ingredient in farce and screwball, I’d have thought. Some of the slackness comes from our not being sure what’s afoot, some of it from a genuine sense of there being nothing at stake. The characters deal with romance in such an easy-going manner — the film takes it as read that everybody is unfaithful to everybody else, and nobody seems to mind except a couple of unsympathetic husbands — that it’s hard to get engaged with the entanglements of the lead characters.

Yes, characterS — the hero role is split between Gazzara and Ritter. BG brings movie-star manliness and dignity to a bed-hopping character who arguably lacks dignity in some key ways, while Ritter, as absolutely everybody has pointed out, is playing Bogdanovich, down to the blazer and big plastic specs. His impersonation is so good he illuminates the ways in which Ryan O’Neal before him had channelled the Bogdanovich persona. But O’Neal’s own, more muscular personality still came through, whereas Ritter is subsumed.

The other cast member who suffers is Colleen Camp, who most people seem to find annoying in this. I think the problem is that she’s been drilled in the mannerisms of Madeleine Kahn in WHAT’S UP, DOC? (herself modeled on the henpecker in BRINGING UP BABY), and it’s too one-note, especially as the character has more screen time and seems intended to be at least somewhat appealing.

BUT — there are compensations for all of the above, even for those who don’t like country music (yes, it’s set in New York and has a largely country music soundtrack, with a splash of Sinatra and Benny Goodman). Bogdanovich’s conceit of transposing screwball style onto a 1981 location-shot New York movie is, in itself, quite charming. Patti Hansen (now Mrs Keith Richards) is a sensational discovery (rather eclipsing Stratton) as the lady cab driver who casually flirts with Gazzara. She’s got cute freckles and an unselfconscious manner which suggests she doesn’t quite know what she’s doing but trusts it all to work out.

There’s a very young Elizabeth Pena!

Bogdanovich’s daughters play Gazzara’s daughters, and are terrific — everybody’s got the Bogdanovich 40s timing down pat.

Audrey Hepburn has too little to do — it’s an odd romantic comedy which spends most of its time stalking — but when she finally gets a line or two, the film gains emotion. But it’s weird, with one character getting divorced, how Hepburn never seems to consider ditching her fat-cat hubbie for new love Ben. Hard to feel heartbroken for her. Maybe she’s afraid she’d lose custody of her kid, but if so, that’s a dramatic point which the film ought to bring out. It’s as if PB is so intent on keeping things light, he forgot to charge the story’s batteries with some actual motivating power.

To be honest, skipping through the director’s filmography, it’s a problem I tend to find in his original screenplays. Where the source material provides an edge, you get THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Where he has to engage with the dynamics of the thriller, as in TARGETS, it’s rather electrifying, in part because of his discomfort with the nastier qualities of the genre (and his story collaborator, Polly Platt, was a good influence). But Bogdanovich on his own wrote AT LONG LAST LOVE — not as awful as its reputation suggests, but singularly lacking in forward momentum.

The movies Bogdanovich admires usually only seem to coast along. While I admit I can’t remember a thing about the storyline of TOP HAT, I do recall that THE GAY DIVORCEE sets up narrative expectations early on and even delivers a superb plot twist. And Hawks’ disparagement of plot should never be taken at face value — his characters nearly always have goals.

In the end, THEY ALL LAUGHED is pretty enjoyable — we didn’t know precisely why we were watching, but we never felt like switching off. And the film would appear to be seriously overlong, at nearly two hours, but survives. I can’t resent its formlessness too much — the plots of Bogdanovich’s best films, which are seriously good (PAPER MOON was my first exposure to The New Hollywood, and I still love it) always threaten to disintegrate, and hang together against the odds. So one should allow him the odd film which doesn’t quite make it to the finish line intact. The sad thing about his career is that Hollywood, or the public, or fate, did not allow him these “failures”.

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The Max Factor

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , on October 20, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-199924From Ophuls’ DIVINE.

Here’s a good bit from the Max Ophuls interview featured at the back of Faber’s 1974 book Masterworks of the French Cinema. I figured not everybody can get their hands on this, and it may not be worth buying the book secondhand just for this bit. The screenplays which make up the bulk of the book (AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT, LA GRANDE ILLUSION, LA RONDE, THE WAGES OF FEAR), translated from French and printed in a non-traditional format, are not all that useful to most people in this age of DVDs, but the appendices have some nice stuff ~

“But I really became a producer by accident. One night I flopped so terribly in a dramatic part that the next day the Manager of the Dortmund Theatre summoned me to his office. As I was paid for playing both comic and dramatic roles, he told me, I would have to take a 50 per cent salary cut. To soothe my indignation he hesitantly suggested an alternative. I could stop playing altogether and become a Regisseur, a director, keeping my original salary. My actor’s pride was deeply insulted — but a few days later I accepted.”

To justify his acceptance to himself, he argued at the time that in his new position he would make actors play their parts exactly the way he himself would have played them. “So through the actor I’ll prove that really and truly I should have played the part myself and that I am a much better actor than anybody had thought…”

No Future

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2008 by dcairns

Wanda's Early Morning Cafe 

What better way to spend an evening than by watching a 1939 French melodrama by a German director, dubbed into Italian and given a simultaneous translation into English by our own private benshi film narrator David Wingrove?

SANS LENDEMAIN (Without A Future), directed by Max Ophüls, is perhaps a minor work by this great director, but it beats the pants off DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO, made the next year. That curiously flat follow-up to Anatole Litvak’s highly successful MAYERLING (Litvak, Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer — Hollywood contracts all round!) never quite takes off, has few Ophülsian flourishes, and ends with a weird newsreel montage intended to stir the people of France to intense resistance to the oncoming Nazi threat. Since France’s active participation as a combatant in WWII ended about 30 seconds later, the need for Ophüls’ propaganda exercise was swiftly obviated, and he fled the country.

But this slightly earlier film has lots and lots going for it. Edwige Fieullére plays the lead, as she would in DMAS, and she’s a classic Ophüls suffering woman sacrificing all for love. In a great film like LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN or THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… this would be completely convincing and compelling, both psychologically and sociologically. This being merely a good film, the thrust of the story doesn’t carry as much wait, and it’s possible to object to the tragedy: “If only…” or “Couldn’t she just…” But it still has an impact.

Ophüls attempts plenty of broad stylistic effects in this one, and there are several of his long tracking shots as well, plus elaborate crane movements following characters up staircases, an Ophüls staple. One weird moment sees a snowfall of what appears to be feathers, pouring slowly past a cabin window. I was reminded of the amazing moment in MADAME DE… when a torn up letter thrown from a carriage dissolves into a snowfall.

Avalanche

Fieullére plays Evelyn, a fallen woman working as a stripper and dance hall hostess at La Sirene, a sleazy yet oddly Paris beautiful night spot. The director and his crew — designer Eugène Lourié (a favourite of Renoir’s) and cinematographers Eugen Schufftan (the man with his own PROCESS) and Paul Portier, assisted by Henri Alekan(!) go all Von Sternberg on us, bisecting and trisecting the screen with lace and veils and curtains. The Divine Max also fills the screen with tits, much as he did in DIVINE, the ’30s French answer to SHOWGIRLS.

Stage Door

Showgirls

Meeting the great love of her life (and probable father of her child) after ten years, Edwige concocts an elaborate and expensive charade to convince him that she’s still the virtuous woman he once loved — not to deceive him into marriage, but simply to experience a few days of the love she once shared with him. Since she cannot afford an expensive apartment to carry off the deception, she borrows money from a gangster and pimp. The stage, as they say, is set…

Street with No Name

(Murdo, Hound of Zaroff, runs past La Sirene clutching a human hand in his jaws.)

Quite a few of the director’s effects don’t come off in this film, and there are sometimes so many ravishing compositions to choose from that the editor apparently gets confused, and confuses us in turn. But Ophüls frequently impresses, and finally attains the sublime, right at the end of this film, with three shots of desolating ABSENCE. The places seen minutes before are shown once again, minus the characters.

It’s like a thirty-second sketch for the end of Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE.

gone...

..gone...

...like a turkey in the corn.

“I adore the past. So much more restful than the present. So much more dependable than the future.” ~ Anton Walbrook, LA RONDE.