Archive for Francois Truffaut

The Halloween Intertitle: Wax Eloquent

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2021 by dcairns

I last visited Maurice Tourneur’s FIGURES DE CIRE — WAX FIGURES — ten years ago. It’s a 1914 spooky short with missing footage and film decay which only make it creepier.

One of the earliest MT films, it’s made with considerable panache, and both Tourneur and his cast seem to know how to do this horror movie genre that hasn’t been invented yet. NOSFERATU, for instance, is still eight years in the future. Maybe the fact that one of the leads is an import from the Grand Guignol theatre is a help here?

Sidenote: while Maurice Tourneur was making films for German company Continental Films during WWII, and his son Jacques was in Hollywood making spooky thrillers, the actors of the Grand Guignol were still hard at work providing gross-out thrills and chills to Parisian theatregoers, who now numbered among them large numbers of uniformed German visitors. The SS, surprisingly, really enjoyed shows of sadistic violence. But behind the scenes, a number of the actors were in the Resistance, working to defeat their audience. I’ve always felt that scenario — the fake horror on stage and the real stuff sitting out front — would make a much better movie than Truffaut’s LE DERNIER METRO.

My latest viewing left me with a fresh respect for the stagecraft of Tourneur and leading man Henri Roussel. As director and star explore the midnight waxworks display with a slow creep leftwards, Roussel is always ONE EXHIBIT BEHIND: the camera reveals the next sinister tableau while Roussel is still peering at the last one — we get to anticipate his reaction — and anticipate, and anticipate. Finally he’ll turn, and give a little jolt of surprise at the next scene of infamy.

As the film reaches its climax, so does the nitrate decomposition, blinking in as sepia thunderflashes or flickering at the edge of frame like a devouring fire. The process of decay seems to be working in close collaboration with the filmmaker. Nothing is ruined, everything is enhanced.

And then, the classic Tourneur trope (pere et fils): THE MOVING SHADOW.

I feel the urge to delve deeper into M. Tourneur. I’ve seen lots, but there are lots more.

Needs music. I used the 5th movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and found it synched beautifully, gesture by gesture.

A Letter Written By Hand

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 5, 2020 by dcairns

Yay — this blogathon is going to have at least THREE posts!

You know, the ironic thing is, the project I’m working on which has so far prevented me writing anything myself, is about a late film. Posthumously released, in fact, and it doesn’t get very much later than that,

So, we have David Ehrenstein’s contribution, which I’ll be formatting for Shadowplay today and posting tomorrow, but today, here’s Erin from Cinematic Scribblings with her thoughts on Francois Truffaut’s death-haunted late film, THE GREEN ROOM — here.

Litvak Lit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2020 by dcairns

“I may not be talented, but I am very, very intelligent!” yelled Anatole Litvak in an argument with his screenwriter, Peter Viertel (according to Viertel).

James Cagney called Litvak “a natural-born asshole,” and the seeds of his early retirement were sown in the making of Litvak’s CITY FOR CONQUEST. They just took a while to sprout.

Elia Kazan, directed by Litvak twice in his brief stint as a WB character mook, pondered, as Richard Schickel put it, “if this character could be a director, why not him?”

Trying to research Litvak a little, I find there’s one book, but rather expensive (but can anyone recommend it?) and most of the references I find in the university library system are about things like income tax, poker games, horse racing…

There’s an anecdote somewhere about Hall Wallis being furious because Litvak shot twelve takes of a close-up of Bette Davis and printed the worst. He was sure by take 12 Bette had forgotten what the scene was and why she was in it.

Bette herself, who was Litvak’s lover when they made THE SISTERS and ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO, called him “a slave to his preconceptions.”

Arthur Laurents rewrote “every line” of THE SNAKE PIT, he claimed, and seemed a bit annoyed that Litvak was “too busy” (shooting the film, in fairness) to come to the arbitration hearing, with the result that Laurents received no credit.

Litvak does not rate a mention in Sarris’s The American Film. Well, he had to find room for Theodore J. Flicker, get in on the ground floor of THAT major filmography-to-be. (THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST is one of my very favourite films, but still…)

So, Litvak or shit-sack?

Bertrand Tavernier claims a degree of shame for his neglect of the Russian/Ukrainian filmmaker: “we let somebody like Anatole Litvak die without ever meeting him – and he lived in Paris! Litvak is somebody whose films I’ve since discovered from the Thirties and Forties, as well as his documentaries for Capra: Litvak made the best of the Why We
Fight
series. But in the Sixties, Truffaut, in order to boost Bonjour Tristesse
(Otto Preminger, ’58), which he loved, knocked other directors who had
adapted Françoise Sagan. One of them was Litvak [Goodbye Again]. And stupidly, we followed Truffaut. Because Litvak s last films were bad, we refused to investigate his career. And his career had started in Russia; then he went to Germany and France, where masterpieces in the Thirties like Coeur de Lilas (’32) which contains scenes and a use of sound as imaginative as Renoir- as well as interesting films like L’Equipage…”

The late films aren’t even bad, I think. As with a lot of late work, familiarity with the earlier films and a bit of sympathy go a long way.

The Russian work Tavernier refers to is unlisted on the IMDb and because nobody thought to ask Litvak about it when he was alive, I’m uncertain we can know much about it. (Here’s where I wish I owned that expensive book.) The Encyclopaedia Britannica confirms that Litvak, after fighting in the Russian side in WWI, “began acting in his teens at an experimental theatre in St. Peterseburg,” then directed several short subjects for Nordkino studios, before he left for a career shuttling between Paris and Berlin in 1920. The earliest credits we have are as assistant director for fellow emigres Tourjansky and Volkoff, and on Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON, as well as editor on Pabst’s JOYLESS STREET, but there must be other credits we don’t have — he couldn’t, surely, have become an editor without first being an assistant. Still, those remarkable stylists must surely have exerted powerful influences on the budding director, adding to anything he’d soaked up from whatever Russian filmmakers he worked with.

“Tola” is often attributed with expressionistic tendencies, which is true enough. It’s assumed these were absorbed in Germany, but they might also come from Russia and France — one reason NAPOLEON is such a stonking piece of cinema is because Gance had seemingly absorbed every stylistic tendency the medium had thrown up.

Since none of Litvak’s Russian work is available or even identified to me, his first German film, DOLLY MACHTE KARRIER (1930) is unavailable, and frustratingly, though I’ve been able to see a sampling of the early French and German movies, I haven’t located two British versions of German and/or French originals, TELL ME TONIGHT and SLEEPING CAR, which feature interesting people like Magda Schneider, the awful Sonny Hale, Edmund Gwenn, Ivor Novello and Madeleine Carroll.

There are also odd bits of TV work and a short documentary about refugees that remain stubbornly buried. But all the films from Litvak’s US period on are accessible, which puts him ahead of the Cromwells and Milestones of this world. I won’t be writing about, or probably even seeing, ALL of them. But I aim to provide a bit of an overview of the man’s skills and incredible dynamism.