Archive for France

Vital titles

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2009 by dcairns

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The ’30s was a GOLDEN AGE of titles, I tells ya! And that goes for logos too.

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Continental films is probably the most infamous of these, since they were a German company set up in Paris during the occupation. Filmmakers like Marcel L’Herbier and Maurice Tourneur made films there — while Tourneur’s son Jacques was making movies in Hollywood — but they were never political. Goebbels had said that French movies “should be light-hearted, frivolous and, if possible, stupid,” which suggests that he really missed his vocation as a Hollywood studio executive (a stressful job, but if it all goes wrong you can “return to your roots in community theater” rather than feeding cyanide to the wife and kids). All the filmmakers who worked at Continental were tainted by the connection to Germany, although they were no more guilty of collaboration than anyone whose work aided the economy — most of them felt they were struggling not only for their own survival, but to keep French film-making alive. See Bertrand Tavernier’s marvellous and funny LAISSER-PASSEZ for more details.

The biggest scandal was caused by Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU, of course. A tale of a poison-pen letter campaign in a small town, it was actually hated by the Germans, since it made anonymous denunciation look like a bad thing (although the S.S. were receiving so many anonymous tip-offs from the French citizenry, they couldn’t even investigate them all). London Radio pronounced a death sentence on Clouzot for this unpatriotic movie. After the war, as the denunciations continued, this time for collaboration (if you had annoying neighbours, the occupation and its aftermath was a golden opportunity to be rid of them) and LE CORBEAU was banned, with its director receiving a lifetime ban from film-making. This was later commuted to five years, and within three, Clouzot was back, with MANON — which is even more savage. “I directed it with my whole heart,” said Clouzot.

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The Divine Max.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2007 by dcairns

Lola Montes

Something of a mystery: I’ve been using Edinburgh College of Art library for literally DECADES, and never come across the little B.F.I. book on Max Ophuls I picked up today — yet the book is damn old: the price label says 95p.

It’s a real treasure trove, especially for the erudite and unbelievably poignant interview conducted by Truffaut and Rivette shortly after LOLA MONTES had opened to weak box office. Ophuls is full of plans for the future, discussing the films he’d like to make and the ones he feared he might have to make as a compromise, to prove himself bankable — ‘At this point also, I’m telling producers: “I advise you to make my next film, but not the one after that!” Of course, Ophuls would soon be dead, LOLA MONTES his last work.

Apart from the poignancy of films he would never live to make (and tantalisingly, Ophuls speaks of Balzac’s La Duchesse de Langeais,now filmed by Rivette: “I loved the way he had the people subjected to the pressure of political events,”) there is the poignancy of this description of a film he began but never finished, L’ECOLE DES FEMMES, with actor and theatre manager Louis Jouvet —

‘It was an experiment for me: I had to follow Jouvet and his actors with my camera during a performance, with an audience present and without trying to make a cinematic adaptation of the play. I wanted to show the actor when he leaves the stage and follow him into the wings while the dialogue is still audible. I wanted to profit from the play of light in front of and behind the footlights, but without trying to show the techniques of theatre. I never moved away from the characters, even when they stopped acting, because that didn’t mean they had stopped living. I had scarcely filmed anything except the opening shot: a camera traverses the theatre, over the spectators’ heads, and Jouvet, seated on this camera-platform, puts on makeup, transforms himself, unnoticed by the public in the auditorium, as the lights gradually dim. And as the camera crosses the curtain, it vanishes, and Arnolphe (Jouvet’s character) remains on stage, alone. This first shot was also the last. Three or four days later, I left for America.’

Ophuls with the almight Danielle Darrieux.

Jouvet had smuggled Ophuls into neutral Switzerland after France fell to the Nazis: Ophuls had been putting out anti-Nazi radio propaganda, full of satire and invective, and would have been arrested if he’d stayed in France. That contribution to art — saving Ophuls’ life — is more than enough to justify Jouvet having a street and a theatre named after him in Paris:

In fact, Jouvet also contributed massively to cinema through his elegant performances for Carnè (HOTEL DU NORD), Clouzot (QUAI DES ORFEVRES), Duvivier (LA FIN DU JOUR), Christian-Jacques (UN REVENANT), Maurice Tourneur, Pabst, Feyder, Allegret, Renoir…

Monsieur Jouvet, I raise a glass in your honour.

Who, me?

Vive La France!

(Not many jokes in this piece, I love these guys too much!)

Les Filles de Feu

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2007 by dcairns

“Scènes de la vie parallèle…” 

My last couple of entries were pretty silly, maybe because I just saw Jacques Rivette’s DUELLE (UNE QUARANTAINE) and my brain fell off. There’s no way I’m going to formulate any coherent thoughts about this film for some time, and coherent thoughts probably couldn’t do justice to it anyway, so here are some INCOHERENT ones:

The goddesses of the sun and moon compete to obtain The Fairy Godmother, a magic gem, in modern Paris.

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The music is provided by a pianist improvising along with the action. That may be how Neil Young scored DEAD MAN, but he wasn’t visible IN the film, doing it. Here, Jean Wiener the old chap at the ivories, is clearly visible in the background of shots, tinkling away in bars, dance halls and hotel rooms. I was hoping he’d turn up in the aquarium too, but I guess that was ruled too obviously weird.

Lots of creaking in this film! As the dolly trundles over wooden floors, a cacophony of straining wood announces its presence. Since the film has a very live soundtrack, there was obviously no way to eliminate these extraneous sounds, so they kind of make a mild virtue of them. The camera movements, couples with the moves of the actors, are extremely elegant and elaborate, and the symphony of sounds that accompany them all can be seen as atmosphere.

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Awesome costumes all round. The romance of 1976, with added ‘thirties vibe, plus MASSIVE sunglasses; veils; many hats; a silver-tipped cane and a magic gemstone activated by drops of blood…

Jean Babilée is an amazing physical presence, not just when he does his acrobatic feats, but just in his general movements, which are all like dance, even when maybe he’s just moving around so you can’t see how short he is next to the women.

“I love the artist’s use of the colour blue,” – Ryan O’Neal in BARRY LYNDON.

Jean Wiener’s daughter, Elizabeth, turns up briefly. I only know her from Clouzot’s pop-art psychodrama LA PRISONIERRE, which deserves to be more widely seen. A gripping tale of kinky sexual shenanigans among the kinetic art set.

Both DUELLE and LA PRISONIERRE are available only from France, without English subtitles. Being linguistically handicapped, I experienced both films thanks to live translation from the multilingual Mr. David Wingrove, who acted as what the Japanese might call a Benshi, or film describer. He was constantly wondering if DUELLE’s dialogue seemed incoherent because of the wine he’d drunk, or because it really did make very little conventional sense. By the end he was assured of the latter.

DW didn’t have time to translate the accompanying mini-documentary, but I noticed they showed a DUELLE poster in between images from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and MULHOLLAND DRIVE, which seemed almost right…