Archive for Elga Andersen

Danger!

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2019 by dcairns

FACT: Steve McQueen liked to have his middle name written on the walls of his sets.

This is from LE MANS, directed by Lee H. Katzin, the man who brought you THE PHYNX, for which you were not sufficiently grateful in my view.

Part of the reason I hate all sporting activity is that it’s noisy, horribly noisy. If the sound of the activity itself isn’t upsetting, the audience steps in and screams its collective nut off to make up for it. Name me a sport that’s pleasant to listen to. I have misophonia, so bear that in mind when you make your terrible suggestions.So you might imagine I’m not keen on racing car action, but in fact I can tolerate it well enough in a fim because films have sound design. They’re not just random awfulness, despite everything Michael Bay can prove to the contrary. So I could put up with the roaring in LE MANS — about seven-eighths of the film is VVVVVVVRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!! — and I even kind of appreciated the lack of plot, subplot, character development, sympathy, philosophy and sex. After all, John Frankenheimer’s GRAND PRIX, which is equally impressive visually — all those low angles of tarmac skudding by millimetres from our eyes — attempted to have all those elements, and they were boring. LE MANS would probably like you to call it existentialist, since McQueen barely speaks and it’s all about his life-and-death struggle with his gears and the road, but what it is, really, is underdeveloped. But it does offer an array of very good documentary footage into which the meagre story has been inserted with some skill.

The main speechifying bit is when Elga Andersen suggests to McQ that when men risk their lives, they ought to have a very important reason, an unanswerably good argument to which he responds with pure screenwriter bullshit. Move on quickly. There’s some fine visual direction and cutting. Two spectacular crashes at what we could jestingly call the second act curtain illustrate this well. In one, a minor “character” comes a cropper, his car buckling like so much wet cardboard, settling into a tattered heap from which he emerges, jerkily. Katzin and one or more of his five editors have started snipping frames, so that the inevitable slomo jolts back and forth to normal speed, giving the staggering motorist a broken, spasmodic gait — at all makes his progress away from the wreck, which we expect to explode at any instant — seem painfully protracted, and indeed just plain painful.

Moments later, McQueen also crashes, slamming into the barriers, which warp fantastically as the car crumples and splits, finally coming to rest, a twitching McQueen visible through the shattered windscreen (big ugly zoom). And then the action replays — in McQueen’s mind, we assume — and we get the whole thing again from new angles and with more slomo, step-printing until the persistence of vision almost breaks down. Fiona was MOST impressed here — clearly, the action is a traumatic flashback, and she interpreted the exterior views as representing the kind of dissociation, distancing, that some have reported experiencing during accidents.The end credits worried me by thanking one of the drivers for his “sacrifice” — I assumed the poor bastard had died, and thought this was a rather tactless way of describing something that wasn’t, one presumes, voluntary. In fact he “only” lost part of his leg. The lower part, I hope. If it’s the upper part there’s usually not much they can do.

I still wouldn’t call it a sacrifice. “We would like to thank XXX for his horrible mishap” would seem more accurate.

Motor racing, you see, is a very bad thing. Don’t do it. You only have a limited number of legs to sacrifice.

 

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Spies in Black

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2010 by dcairns

Two French spy flicks — MATA HARI, AGENT H21 with Jeanne Moreau (!) and LE MONOCLE NOIR.

My model for this kind of thing is Clouzot’s LES ESPIONS, an existential/absurd nightmare of surveillance and menace, in which the entire population of the film is gradually replaced by secret agents. It’s like Ionesco or something. Doesn’t entirely work (abandoning the tight spatial constraints of the first two-thirds for a muddled climax feels like a desperate mistake), and its box office failure nearly killed Clouzot’s career, but it’s my starting point for thinking about French spies. This would seem grotesque to a French film buff, since the genre’s been such a popular and productive one across the channel.

I expected MATA HARI to be sheer nonsense, and it kind of is, but it’s highly entertaining nonsense. The director is Jean-Louis Richard, Moreau’s hubbie at the time, and actor and very occasional director. His final movie in that capacity was soft-core Milo Manara adaptation LE DECLIC (AKA CLICK!), which I’m ashamed to say I’ve actually seen. As one is used to saying of modern American blockbusters, “It’s not bad, for what it is.”

More intriguingly, the WWI romp (and the incongruence of that descriptor should clue you in to the kind of dissonance to expect) was co-produced and co-written by Francois Truffaut, who I guess had to eat. Truffaut is credited with dialogue, which I’m in no real position to judge, since he made the technical error of writing it in French, but his connection to the film also resulted in an eccentric cameo by Jean-Pierre Leaud, utterly pointless except for its sheer point-and-laugh entertainment value (think Belmondo in CASINO ROYALE) and a score by Georges Delerue.

Ah, Delerue! My Sansa Media Player (highly recommended) is stuffed with his film scores. He enhances the beauty and resonance of any film, even one as already heartbreaking as THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE. Given a piece of dumb froth, he injects it with emotion… strikingly, while a film will be unbearable if it attempts to latch onto unearned emotion by hitching itself to some major issue or real-life tragedy (most commonly, the Holocaust), it can only benefit from a score that’s too beautiful. The movie really doesn’t merit such a lovely soundtrack, but it doesn’t cause any problems. Beautiful music, like beautiful photography, is never destructive as long as it’s used with taste.

The movie begins with Mata (agent H21 — presumably her predecessor, Agent H2O, was liquidated) doing her pseudo-Javanese nightclub act, in a diaphanous top. Richard tracks past audience members exchanging expository sound-bites of scene-setting, panning to the floor as the opening titles are sketched in. In the front row sit the real sketchers, artists and amateurs attempting to draw Mata as she dances. Except the last artist isn’t drawing, he’s just writing numbers. And then we realize that Mata’s exotic dance involves frequent and eleborate finger gestures, by which she’s signaling a coded message to the man with the pencil…

This sequence tells us several things: (1) The movie is cheerfully dumb and ahistorical (2) It’s inventive and cute (3) Jeanne Moreau will be showing her breasts. All of which are central to Richard’s purpose. In fact, they are Richard’s purpose.

Later, in a suspenseful bit, Moreau distracts Jean-Louis Trintignant while his valise is rifled, then falls in love with him. The WWI romantic stuff, complete with stock footage, recalls JULES ET JIM, arguably a mistake (Rule #1 is never remind the audience of a great film while making them watch a silly one).

Silly as it is, the movie is entertaining and occasionally exciting. The last third suffers from the unavoidable predictability: once we can see how Mata’s going to get caught, it’s a drag waiting for it to happen, and the final execution arrives none too soon. Bang! The abruption, simplicity and brutality of the slaughter is shocking and effective, the camera lingering a moment on the slumped corpse… and then Richard proves himself a true hack by dissolving to a slomo shot of Moreau et Trintignant romping in a field of long grass. He falls at the last hurdle, failing not only as a filmmaker but as a critic and audience of his own work — anybody can see that the ending was more striking and powerful without that bit of faux-impressionist cheese.

LE MONOCLE NOIR is from Georges Lautner, whose LA PASHA I semi-liked. This is maybe better: it has a definite style, that early sixties b&w expressionist noir look most commonly found in the German krimi. It avoids the flashy attempts to be with-it that seemed so jarring in PASHA. And indeed, LMN was so successful it spawned two sequels, both starring Paul Meurisse as the titular spy, known by his black monocle.

A disparate group of fascist conspirators are gathered in a chateau to await the arrival of a Martin Bormann type, a high-ranking Nazi escapee who’s supposedly going to lead their movement. But, in an echo of Clouzot’s headspinner, most of the cast are actually double agents, working for Russia, Germany and France. Meurisse has recognized his East German counterpart (Elga Andersen, voluptuous and saucy) and she has recognized him, but the Russian is unknown to both of them. This being a French movie with Nazi villains, the commie spies aren’t actually baddies, just additional counters on the board.

Rolly-polly drolerie from Bernard Blier (right).

The film has a certain sly drolerie, augmented by the presence of Bernard Blier as a small-town police chief: he also introduces the film, saying “Tonight, the secret agents will have no secrets from us. See you soon.” The charm is slightly marred by off-color jokes (Andersen: “Ever since the fall of Berlin, if I make love out of doors, I feel like I’m being raped.” A line even Tarantino might balk at) and tonal uncertainty — a genuinely gripping chase ends with a sympathetic character murdered, and the heroes expressing no emotional reaction. The movie could play its games much better if there were no innocent civilians in it at all.

Actually, that might be true in real life too, of all espionage, and all wars.