Archive for Flesh and Fantasy

Emordnilap

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on November 16, 2011 by dcairns

EMORDNILAP is PALINDROME backwards, you see.

A palindrome isn’t, as one might assume, a nightmarish gladiatorial arena where unfortunate enemies of the state are thrown to a ravening Sarah Palin to be disemboweled in her slavering jaws. So we can relax. It’s merely a word that reads the same backwards as forwards. But it does, like many words with terribly precise meanings, get mushed around to merely mean “a backwards spelled word”.

Which leads me to director Reginald LeBorg, who helmed the above short subject. Poor Reggie was probably the least talented Viennese director in Hollywood, outclassed as he was by Lang, Wilder, Zinnemann… He may have been the least talented Viennese PERSON in Hollywood. When Duvivier’s compendium film FLESH AND FANTASY got chopped up, a spare episode was selected for expansion into feature form, and LeBorg got the job of shooting the added scenes for what became DESTINY. Given that he had a fraction of Duvivier’s vast budget, and a script that threw in three completely new and irrelevant opening sequences to pad things out, I guess he was seriously disadvantaged from the start, but let’s just say that the seams show…

But my point is, LeBorg was born Reginald Grobel. GROBEL. LEBORG. Think about it.

As for Yvonne DeCarlo, famed as she later would be for her Sondheim work, she didn’t seem to get much chance to sing in the Hollywood movies I’ve encountered her in, most notably CRISS CROSS (though she does essay a memorable mambo with Tony Curtis in that). So it’s nice to see her giving those lungs a work-out here.

Drowned Out and Cut Short

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2008 by dcairns

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I wish I’d recorded Julien Duvivier’s LYDIA on a previous occasion when I had the chance — it played on the late-lamented Carlton Cinema cable channel quite a bit, I think. Instead I downloaded it and got a pretty good copy, good enough to show what a handsome, plush film it is, but with a curiously distorted soundtrack.

Basically, all the music and sound effects were way too loud. Miklos Rosza’s beautiful score, which there is a lot of (I love Miklos but he could overdo it slightly) swamped the dialogue. The FX track wasn’t able to completely smother speech, but it did become very strange when every footstep or rustle of clothing popped out at high volume, announcing how artificial it was. I couldn’t work out HOW such a version of the film had come to exist — it seems like somebody must have access to the original unmixed tracks and put them together in this peculiar way on purpose.

There was another problem — the ending. A weird jump dissolve in the middle of a shot, and then a VERY abrupt transition to the end credits a few seconds later, in which the background score gets chopped off before it can fade. Apart from it’s technical sloppiness, the conclusion seemed dramatically wrong too — we were clearly very close to an ending, but it hadn’t quite come along. “That CAN’T be the ending!” protested Fiona. But it was all the ending we were going to get. It reminded me of the stories about the truncated version of KISS ME DEADLY, which I’ve never seen, where a damaged print resulted in an ending where the house blew up prematurely and we never even knew if the supposed hero escaped with his life. And for years that was the only version in circulation, resulting in critics heaping praise upon Robert Aldrich’s courage in ending the film so harshly.

I’d love to know how this version of LYDIA came to exist, but not as much as I’d love to see an intact one. Duvivier certainly suffered from studio-imposed truncations in Hollywood — episodes of TALES OF MANHATTAN and FLESH AND FANTASY were lopped out. The W.C. Fields section of TOM has since been restored, and while it’s easy to see why Fields’ desperate physical condition appalled the studio suits, it’s a bit harder to see why his only-slightly-less-desperate p.c. in previous films apparently didn’t bother anyone. The deleted chunk of FAF got padded out to make a whole new feature, DESTINY, with such weird results that I really must write about it. But back  to LYDIA.

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The film is billed as a remake of Duvivier’s French classic CARNET DU BAL, in which a widow, Francoise Rosay, rediscovers the old dance card from her first ball, and goes in search of the men she danced with, to see how differently her life might have turned out. It’s a lovely idea, leading to an episodic structure in which the cream of 30s French acting strut their stuff in a series of brief scenarios — the weakness of which rather let the film down.

LYDIA borrows only one idea from its predecessor — the first ball is seen in flashback through Lydia’s eyes, as a glorious production number, and then revisited as it really was, a much smaller, almost tawdry affair. But while CARNET brackets the film with the two versions of the ball, LYDIA boldly disposes of the idea a couple of scenes in. When Joseph Cotten, fresh from CITIZEN KANE and in old age makeup again, invites his former competitors for Lydia’s hand to meet her once again, after she’s been honoured for her charity work (blind and crippled orphans), Lydia (Merle Oberon under an inch of Westmore latex) reminisces about the wonderful ball, filmed in slow motion –

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– and Cotten gently corrects her. All these transitions, by the way, are done by direct cutting, about twenty years before the nouvelle vague popularised it. Since apparently Cotten was cast because Orson Welles, a Duvivier fan, recommended him, possibly the unusual straight cuts across decades are influenced by similar moments in CITIZEN KANE. Duvivier does occasionally shoot from floor level, too.

By getting the misremembered ball out of the way, treating it almost as an incidental gag, Duvivier is now able to use the idea of faulty perception as a motif. Lydia’s first beau is a sportsman who impresses her with his eloquence — except he’s a big dope and his poetic soul is all her own projection. When he gets drunk and tries to be over-friendly, she misinterprets his clumsy affection for a rape attempt. Lydia’s blind pianist suitor composes a piece based around her face, as it was described to him by a child — but the description was faulty, so he has the hair and eye colour wrong. With a dashing sailor, Lydia sees undying love where there’s only the whim of the moment.

As if all this incident weren’t enough, there’s historical incident (the invasion of Cuba), music hall entertainment, imaginary landscapes –

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– and Edna May Oliver, in her final role, as Lydia’s domineering but sweet grandmother. With her booming voice and rangy form, EMO is an impressive presence, and that face! A sort of elongated hippopotamus seems to have been worked into it somewhere.

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Hard to assess how good or great the film is with this flawed copy, but the visuals are superb. Lee Garmes photographed it, and Vincent Korda designed it, and it’s frequently breathtaking. Big studio gloss, but executed with intelligence and taste. Merle Oberon has never been so good, and so animated — she seems to feed off EMO’s considerable energy, and they make a brilliant and unlikely screen pairing. One shot where EMO lopes across her lobby and the much smaller Oberon trots along behind her had a beautiful comic choreography to it. Oberon also manages the transition from stroppy teen to elderly lady, with several stages in between. Then there’s Cotten, as likeable as ever, who’s given one of the film’s most quietly devastating moments, when Oberon pays him what she thinks is a complement:

To his father, the butler, Cotten observes, “I’ve just been told I’m a gentleman.”

Dad: “So you are, my son.”

Cotten looks grim. “A gentleman is never told he’s a gentleman.”

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Also — if you can get a copy right away, do so: it’s very Christmassy.

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The Great Duvivier Giveaway

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2008 by dcairns

Yes. In a daring rear-guard action to promote the reputation of defunct French film director Julien Duvivier, Shadowplay is GIVING AWAY DVD-Rs copied from a decomposing late ’80s VHS off-air recording “borrowed” from the Lindsay Anderson Archive in Glasgow. I will personally send a copy to everyone who asks for one. The quality will of the disc be shit. The quality of the film is unspeakably superb.

While I would hope all regular Shadowplayers will jump at this chance, I also want to hear from lurkers and loiterers who don’t usually expose themselves in the Comments section. “Come out in the light and let’s have a look at you!” This is partly just an excuse to involve more of you. This is an open-ended, long-standing offer, until somebody brings out an official release of this movie with subtitles, or hell freezes over, whichever comes first.

By accepting this once-in-a-lifetime lunatic offer you undertake to watch the film, copy the film, recommend the film, distribute the film, and if it becomes possible, by the rights and publish the film on your own DVD label, which you have to call DaViD DVD. Apart from that, there are no obligations. No salesman will call.

What are you getting? LA FIN DU JOUR is a tender, funny, tense and beautiful drama set in a troublous home for retired actors. It stars Victor Francen, Louis Jouvet and Michel Simon. Ironically, while playing characters in their late sixties, the three stars were only in their ’40s or ’50s. Porridge-faced insult to physiognomy Michel Simon was only a few years older than myself – which makes me feel really good.

Although Duvivier practically cultivated the image of anonymous artisan, in fact this is one of his most personal films. An actor in his youth, Duvivier switched to directing after a traumatic incident in which he “dried” and “died” on stage, a scene recreated in this movie. Despite being about oldsters, LA FIN DU JOUR is bristling with action, suspense, suicide attempts, madness, adultery, concussion and grumbling. And it has definite remake possibilities if Hollywood is listening.

The year was 1939 and the French film industry was about to be upset, violently. Duvivier would spend the war years in America, where he made THE GREAT WALTZ, FLESH AND FANTASY and TALES OF MANHATTAN, which are far easier to see than most of his French films. I’d say that if you like the American movies, you’re certainly in for a treat if and when you see the French ones.

A TASTER! But a perverse one: this is the end of the movie, so you might not want to look. (SPOILER ALERT) One of the characters has died. In his will, he explains that he’s written his own funeral oratory, because he wants to know what people say about him after he’s gone. He was an untalented, unsuccessful actor, so this is really his last chance to rewrite his career as a triumph. It falls to his worst enemy to read the vainglorious self-penned elegy…

Isn’t that great? Now let’s be having you.

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