Archive for Edith Scob

The Little Theatre of Georges Franju

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2020 by dcairns

Georges Franju finished his long career making short features for French TV, of which the last, appropriately enough, is THE LAST MELODRAMA, scripted by his actor friend Pierre Brasseur, the mad surgeon in EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and featuring the essential Edith Scob from that film. It deals with a touring theatre troupe, an extended family,

At first, the film seems flat and lifeless. The major stylistic element is the zoom lens, jerked around for crude reframings. But the conjunction of theatre and “real life” (which, as we all know, is less real than theatre) in Brasseur’s script begins to allow Franju opportunities to flex his stiff imaginative muscles. Scob, dining al fresco with the troupers, goes into a monologue from La Dame aux Camélias, and Franju shoots her against the painted backdrop of the little theatre-wagon, fades up piano music, and intermingles life and art.

The film is played contemporary, late seventies, though it seems barely credible that such a set of strolling players could exist in the age of punk (or, in the case of France, slightly gone-to-seed hippies) and Brasseur’s memories of such a scene surely date from the late twenties. But let’s agree not to care about that. The elderly often appear chronologically adrift to the not-yet-elderly, so we consider this a benefit we’re getting from the unusual treat of having a sixty-seven-year-old director (and Franju at 67 looked a bit like the animatronic zombie-skeletons in LIFEFORCE, so we should really think 87). This Billy Pilgrimesque unstuckness may also be why everyone except the wee boy seems to be playing a character of a different age from their actual one.

The film begins with an iris-out, so Georges isn’t exactly trying to be with-it. The iris is echoed a bit later, too:

The company make a last-minute switch from La Dame aux Camélias to Les Miserables, due to Grabo having just played CAMILLE on TV. The boy is dragged up as Cosette and evokes the kid in KILL, BABY, KILL!

The archaic world of the troupers is disturbed by a startlingly camp biker gang, anticipating THE NINTH CONFIGURATION by a year. Maybe old George has his finger on the pulse after all… or he has his finger on where the pulse would be, if there was in fact a pulse. The gang leader, in his vinyl bolero jacket, is hardly a wild angel. “What are you rebelling against?” “Je ne sais quoi.”

The trouble with the gags is they have too much screen time. In Fellini’s ROMA, the bike gang at the finish get basically nothing to do except ride their bikes loudly through the nocturnal streets, representing for the director the fact that “Rome is now full of people with whom I have nothing whatever in common.” Franju and Brasseur are even more gen-gapped (Brasseur, in fact, had been dead seven years), which means they’re not in a position to write lines or extract performances suited to these characters.

Old-stager Raymond Bussières brings the authenticity of his years to the role of the most senior thesp, and gives mt favourite of the uneven performance. Even he is acting at a whole different pitch and pace to those around him, but I think they should have adjusted to him, not the other way around. Mostly, Franju seems to be satisfied with whatever anyone does.

Oh, and then Juliette Mills turns up and burns the theatre down. The stage in flames does make a fitting pyre for Franju, even though he has another eight years to live. Reminds me of the burning screen in Nick Ray’s demented-swan-song, THE JANITOR. That, and the image of a man killed for real by a blank-firing gun (his heart) are the grace notes.

I’m glad I saw this but it illustrates more the weaknesses of late work than the strengths. It’s hard to say whether the bigger problem is the old director or the dead writer. As with MANK, having a screenwriter you can’t interrogate without using a planchette, and whom you admire too much to rewrite behind his dead back, is a bit of a millstone.

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.

Holy ****!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2013 by dcairns

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We loved HOLY MOTORS, now that we finally caught up with it. I have very little history with M. Carax and will now need to catch up with those I’ve missed. Thankfully, we HAD seen TOKYO! so we’d met M. Merde, which may not help understand anything about his appearance in this film but does allow one to greet him as an old friend. A terrifying old friend who eats flowers and has a dog’s erection.

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Basically, in this film Carax’ main man Denis Lavant drives around in a stretch limo (a Fever Dream Double Feature with Mr. Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS is a must!) and assumes various disguises/characterisations. He has a dressing room mirror and a shitload of wigs and noses and stuff in the back. Oh, and Edith Scob from EYES WITHOUT A FACE is his driver. When Lavant dons these costumes he enters storylines which have the appearance of complete reality — he can even die, authentically, in these mini-films (HM is kind of a compendium film but without actual “stories” as such) but always returns to life and his strange “job”.

Some flickering half-light is shed on this by a tense meeting with Michel Piccoli, seemingly an employer, who worries if Lavant’s character fully believes in his work anymore. Lavant admits that things have gotten harder since the cameras became miniaturized to the point of invisibility. So these are films he’s appearing in, and thus the whole thing can be seen as a metaphor for cinema, and for Carax and Lavant’s parallel careers — the explicit references to past Carax movies fit neatly into this context.

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This may also shed some light on the funny and beautiful coda when the limo is retired to a parking garage with dozens of similarly Tex-Avery-elongated counterparts. And the cars have a conversation, their headlamps flickering as they speak. It’s the kind of conversation that occurs in dormitories when a few annoying people aren’t quite ready to sleep. Carax himself is one of the automobile voices.

How this ties in to the main film isn’t exactly clear (nor are Lavant’s domestic arrangements, revealed in his last scene, but they made Fiona howl with astonished laughter) but it helps to realize that Lavant seems to be riffing on the deleted first scene of SUNSET BLVD. Billy Wilder deleted this because audiences laughed as William Holden’s corpse was fitted with a toe-tag, little realizing they were chortling at their own fate, some of them. Deleted along with that moment was a conversation between corpses in the morgue, their sheeted forms lighting up as they speak, echoed the flashing lights of Carax’s serried limos (those blinking lights also remind me of Daleks).

SUNSET BLVD, of course, is also a movie about movies, with an elegiac tone comparable, in a way, to Carax’s.

Paul Duane suggests that Lavant is channeling Lon Chaney in this movie, which I guess is what prompted us to finally watch it. It’s true — the actor creating his own make-ups… Merde’s milky eye echoes a specific effect (achieved with egg skin) produced by Chaney in THE ROAD TO MANDALAY… there’s even a random ape scene, which could be seen as a Tod Browning homage.